Camping, hiking, fishing and hunting often place you in a bear’s natural environment. There are some simple ways to avoid conflict with them, including:
- do not camp where fresh bear sign is found (e.g., scat, fresh diggings, claw marks on trees, tracks);
- pack all garbage out, including all food scraps;
- store all food and other attractants securely in your car or in a bear-proof food cache; and
- stay in groups and make noise as you walk to avoid surprise encounters.
Whether camping in a campground or in the backcountry, make your campsite a bear avoidance campsite by:
- always keeping a clean camp;
- keeping your sleeping area, tent, and sleeping bag free of food and odors;
- not sleeping in clothes that you wore while cooking or handling fish or game;
- cleaning barbecue grills and storing them so they are unavailable to bears;
- using bear-resistant trash receptacles and food storage lockers; and
- keeping pets under control at all times.
If you encounter a bear
Remain calm. Think ahead. Your actions are the best defense against a bear attack.
- Do not run: Bears can easily outrun humans. By running you may trigger an attack. Pick up small children and when possible stay in a group. Back away slowly and speak softly.
- Give the bear space: Back away slowly and talk in a soft voice. Do not approach the bear or make eye contact.
- Leave the area or make a wide detour: If you cannot leave, wait until the bear moves out of the way and ensure that the bear has an escape route.
- If the bear rears up on its hind legs: It is curious and trying to see you or catch your scent better. It is not a sign of aggression. Back away slowly and talk softly.
- Watch for aggressive behaviors: A bear may display aggression by swinging its head from side to side; making vocalizations such as huffs, snorts, whoops, or moans; displaying teeth or claws; jaw popping; swatting at the ground; staring with eye contact; panting; or laying its.ears back. These behaviours usually indicate that the bear is stressed, acting defensively, and asking for more space. Attacks rarely follow, but this is a warning to leave the area.
Understanding Bear’s Mindset
One of the best defenses against bear attack is your own brainpower. Your reaction to an encounter with a bear should be based on the bear’s behavior and the cause of that behavior. Understanding a bear’s state of mind is very important. Knowledge and understanding of bear biology, including bear behavior, bear aggression, bear food habits, and their ecology can empower you to decrease the chances of having encounters, and may help to diffuse aggressive encounters when they occur.
There are two main types of bear attacks on people, (1) defensive, and (2) predatory. Each type of attack warrants a different response; therefore, you must be able to tell the difference between a defensive and predatory attack.
Defensive Attacks and Aggression
Defensive attacks are a common cause of bear-inflicted human injury. In almost all bear attacks, bears are reacting defensively to a perceived threat to themselves, their cubs, or a desirable food source during a surprise encounter with humans. In these cases, the bear wants to defuse the threat (you), gather up their cubs (if present), and leave.
Recognizing Defensive Aggression
If you are attacked after any unexpected, surprise encounter with a bear, you can assume that it is a defensive attack. If the bear hop charges towards you, clacks its teeth, sticks out its lips, huffs, woofs, or rushes a few steps towards you and slaps the ground with its paws, it is warning you that it is nervous about your presence and that you are too close. Heed this warning and BACK slowly away. If these warning signs precede an attack, you can assume that the attack is defensive in nature. In a defensive attack the bear will charge toward you with its ears laid back. If the bear rears up on its hind legs it is trying to gather more information through sight, scent and sound to determine what you are and what your intentions are. A bear may circle downwind of you to get a better scent.
How to React to a Defensive Attack (as aforementioned)
- Do Not Run. Bears can easily outrun you. By running you may trigger an attack. Pick up small children and when possible stay in a group. Back away slowly and talk in a soft voice. Do not approach a bear or make direct eye contact.
- Leave the Area or make a wide detour. If you cannot leave, wait until the bear moves out of the way and ensure that the bear has an escape route.
- Once a bear that is displaying defensive aggression has made physical contact with you, you should be passive and play dead to diffuse the situation and minimize injury.
In the vast majority of confrontations between people and bears, the bear is trying to defend itself, its food cache or its cubs from perceived threat (you), and the bear’s reaction is entirely defensive. Actual predatory attacks do occasionally occur, but are rare. Behaviorally, it can be difficult to distinguish a predatory bear from a bear that is just curious or food conditioned.
Recognizing predatory attacks
Predatory bears don’t give warning signals or use threat displays or vocalize. There is no blowing, jaw-popping, hop charging, ground slapping, or bluff charging during a predatory attack. Predatory bears will be intensely interested in their victim, visually engaged. Predatory bears will keep closing in on you.
How to React to Predatory Attacks
- During a predatory attack you should be aggressive and fight back using any available weapon (bear spray, rocks, sticks) to stop the aggression by the bear.
- Fight back as if your life depends on it, because it does. Predatory attacks usually persist until the bear is scared away, overpowered, injured, or killed.
Safety Tips: A Summary
- Play dead if a defensive bear makes contact; always fight back against a predatory bear.
- If a bear is visible but not close, alter your route so that you will move away from its area.
- If a bear approaches, do not run. Remain calm, group together, and pick up small children. Continue to face the bear, and slowly back away. If the bear continues to approach, try to scare it away by shouting and taking an aggressive stance.
- If a black bear attacks, use bear spray and fight back using everything in your power—fists, sticks, rocks, etc.
- If a grizzly bear attacks, use bear spray or play “dead” by dropping to the ground, lying flat on your stomach with hands clasped together behind your neck, and bracing yourself with your elbows and toes. Leave your backpack on for added protection. Remain in this position until you are sure the bear has left the area..
How Close is Too Close?
Animals that live in forests, provincial, or national parks and refuges are wild. Even though they may look or act tame, they are not. Many wildlife professionals recommend remaining a minimum of 100 metres away from bears. Always follow local wildlife management guidelines. The consequences of approaching or feeding wildlife can be serious.
You are responsible for your own safety as well as the safety of wildlife. Wild animals should be allowed to forage for food, care for their young, sleep, and play without human disturbance or involvement.
Animals that are approached too closely may:
- run into traffic and get hit by vehicles,
- lose footing on cliffs and fall,
- become separated from their young or forced to abandon their nests or dens,
- become more vulnerable to predators because they are distracted by people or acquire a human scent, and
- abandon an important food source, reducing their chances for survival.
Bear spray plays an important part in reducing attacks during human encounters with bears. It is an effective deterrent of North American bears, but it can be adversely affected by wind, rain, temperature, and even how close the bear is when it charges.
When purchasing bear spray it is important to remember that pepper sprays (personal defense sprays) are not the same as bear spray. Although both types of sprays are made from oleoresin capsicum, it is the capsaicin and related capsaicinoids that are the active ingredients in bear spray. Therefore, if you see claims on a large can that state 10%, 20%, or 30% oleoresin capsicum, it is pepper spray (personal defense spray), not bear spray.
Bear spray labels will clearly refer to bears, and state it is a bear deterrent, bear repellent, or for stopping charging or attacking bears. Currently the EPA requires that the concentration of capsaicin and related capsaicinoids range between 1 and 2.0%. The variance in potency within this range is negligible, and all will affect the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs of a bear. The minimum size can the EPA will register currently is 7.9 ounces, or 225 grams.
Bear avoidance precautions
- Watch for bear signs such as tracks, diggings, rocks/logs rolled over or torn apart, scat, and claw marks.
- Don’t hike alone or at night. Groups of four or more tend to make more noise, appear more formidable, and can provide one another with assistance. Although bears may be encountered any time, they are most active at dawn, at dusk, and at night.
- Make your presence known. Talk, sing, clap hands, call out “hello,” etc., to alert bears of your presence. Don’t rely on bells; they are too quiet.
- Be especially careful near streams and waterfalls, when you can’t see the path ahead, or when walking near thick cover.
- Avoid carcasses. Report dead animals near a trail or campsite to a local wildlife management agency. Do not approach a carcass—a bear may be nearby.
- Avoid odorous items such as food or beverages with strong odors and scented personal hygiene products.