How to stay safe in bear country
Many people like to enjoy nature closely, by hiking in backcountry and mountainsides. But when you are in bear country, you should be careful and prepared.
Bear Safety Tips:
- Make lots of noise. Especially important when you are on a trail with restricted visibility, as well as those times when the wind is blowing towards you, meaning that bears will not have the benefit of your scent. What is most important is for the bear to hear your approach long before you are within its personal space.
- Travel in groups. Groups of people tend to make more noise, therefore reducing the chances of a bear encounter. Largeer groups offer the added benefit of appearing much more threatening and thus less likely to attract a bear attack.
- Stay alert! Even though you may be making noise, it is still important to stay alert and on the lookout for bears. Most bear attacks occur when the person was not aware of the bear’s presence until the bear was less than 50 m (164 ft) away.
- Always carry bear spray, and make sure that it is quickly accessible. It will be useless if it is buried in your pack. Practice quickly getting it out and preparing to spray. Bear sprays are an effective deterrent in very close range, emergency situations. When you find yourself in a situation where bear spray becomes necessary, you better be able to pull it out and activate it with little or no notice. It should be on your belt, and you should practice drawing it quickly.
If you see a bear, stay calm and give it plenty of room. Do not startle it; detour slowly, keeping upwind if you can, so it will get your scent and know you are there. If you can’t detour wait until it moves away from your route before proceeding.
When a bear first detects you, it may stand upright and use all of its senses to determine what and where you are. Once it identifies you it may ignore you, move slowly away, run, or it may charge. A wild bear rarely attacks unless it feels threatened or provoked.
On four legs, a bear may show agitation by swaying its head from side to side, making huffing noises and clacking its teeth.
A charge or retreat may follow. Flattened ears and raised hair on the back of the neck indicate aggressive intent. If a bear runs with a stiff, bouncing gait, it may be a false charge.
When the bear is aware of you and close:
A bear will feel threatened in a close enocunter. The bear’s natural tendency will be to reduce or to remove the threat. Assist the bear by acting as non-threatening as possible.
- Do not make direct eye–contact with the bear.
- Do not make any sudden moves.
- Do not run! Very important! You can never outrun a bear …
- The bear needs to identify you as a person, so talk in low tones and slowly wave your arms.
- Try to give the bear an opportunity to leave. Be sure the bear has an open escape route.
- Try to back away slowly.
When the bear is close and threatening:
- If you have a deterrent, such as a bear spray, be prepared to use it depending on how close the bear is. Try to scare the bear off.
- If you do not have a deterrent, or if using the deterrent is not successful, act as non-threatening as possible.
- Talk to the bear in a calm, but authoritative tone of voice.
- Do not startle or provoke the bear by making sudden moves.
- Never imitate the bear’s aggressive sounds, signals or posture. The bear is trying to establish dominance and imitating its moves is a challenge to its dominance.
- Back slowly away from the bear and drop a pack or any other item in order to distract the bear momentarily.
- The bear may be defending cubs that you have not yet seen or they have a food cache nearby. So try to look as non-threatening as possible.
There are Two Types of Bear Attacks:
Provoked Bear Attack:
You have done something that has provoked the bear. Quite often it’s not clear to the person what they have done to provoke the bear until after the attack.
It is important that you act passively, humble your posture and do not look directly at the bear. Always keep the bear in sight.
Lie down on the ground in the prone position, i.e. play dead, or climb a tree, these are both signs of submission to the bear and shows the bear that you are no longer a threat to them.
Never yell at the bear or throw things at the bear, these are obvious signs of aggression towards the bear.
Predatory Bear Attack:
The bear is hunting or stalking you! You are being treated as potential food. DO NOT PLAY DEAD IF THE BEAR CONSIDERS YOU FOOD!
You must defend yourself with whatever means are available, act aggressively towards the bear. Stand up on something high and try and make yourself look bigger.
Try to appear dominant. Try to frighten the bear. Yell, scream, shout and wave your arms. Jump up and down and fight back. Hold your jacket or backpack over your head to make yourself look bigger.
Use your deterrent (pepper spray). Fight back! Concentrate your efforts on the face, eyes and nose of the bear.