Avoiding Bear Attacks

There are many dangerous creatures lurking in the woods, some of these creatures are big and others so small they can hardly be seen. So, what do you do should one come face to face with you?  It depends on the animal and it is a good idea to know what to do before you meet them, rather than try and talk it over with a wild animal that has just been surprised by your presence in his or her woods.

avoiding a bear attack
Brown bear and Grizzly Bears can weigh between 400 and 900lbs. They are about 4’ tall on all fours and over 7’ tall when standing on their hind legs

Bears are one of the most common dangerous creatures in the woods, they are large, fast, and have sharp teeth and sharp claws.  Some types of bears found in North America include the Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, Brown Bear and Polar Bear. Bears can be found almost anywhere in the wild and they all possess a strong protective instinct over their young.  One of the most dangerous situations you can find yourself in is surprising a mother bear while she is looking after her cubs.  There is very little she won’t do to protect them, and a human isn’t much of an obstacle. A bear that has become “cornered” is very dangerous as well and will attack without warning.

The first thing to do upon encountering a bear is to evaluate its body language.  Bears who are agitated will sway their heads side to side, make huffing sounds and clack their teeth.  They may also approach you with a lowered head and have pinned back ears.  Often they will run at you without warning when aggravated or threatened, however they may stand on their hind legs or even walk right up to a human to get a better look. For this reason don’t feed bears or other wild animals when hiking or camping and do not approach them if you meet on the trail or see one at the side of the road.

avoiding bears while hiking
Black bears are very common in North America. They are strong and will approach homes and campsites in search of food.

Bears rarely encounter humans in the wild so it may be as surprised to see you as you are to see it.  This is the kind of situation that is best avoided.  Bears are curious animals but when surprised will act very unpredictably.  When hiking through the woods, make noise by talking or wearing a bear bell that jingles as you move.  The noise will likely cause the bear to avoid you in the first place preventing an encounter.  Should you come face to face with a bear be very quiet or if necessary, try talking quietly to it while making a large detour around the animal.

Never run away from a bear, an up close encounter is not the time for sudden movements, back away slowly from the animal and don’t move if movement seems to aggravate it.  Often by standing still and appearing non-threatening the bear will walk away form you first.  Make yourself appear smaller and less of a threat to the bear by bending your knees or crouching down.

Never look the bear directly in the eye, this can be an instinctive sign of attack. Instead take a look when it looks away, through both your and the bear’s peripheral vision. This is true with many other wild animals as well.

Use distraction to get past the animal, if you can, drop or toss a small object that will catch the bears attention and slowly move away when it goes to look at what made the noise.  Just don’t throw anything directly at the bear or cubs.  Don’t use food either, the bear will only want more and now you have the scent on yourself.

bear safety outdoors
Bears are very curious animals and love to climb. Hang food when camping at least 12’ up in a tree and away from your campsite.

If the animal looks like it is ready to attack, keep as much of your clothing on as possible, including your coat or backpack for protection. Many people carry bear spray on them so slowly get it ready to use. When the bear starts to attack you, spray it in the face with the bear spray and if the attack continues, drop to the ground and cover the back of your neck with your hands.  Fall into a fetal position or on your stomach to protect your chest and abdomen.  Don’t scream, and remain motionless until you are certain the bear has left the area.

Report any animal attacks to the nearest park ranger and seek medical attention immediately.  If you are severely injured, stay put, and call or signal for help.

Bears will frequent campsites as the scent of food and an easy meal prove too much for them to ignore.  When camping, hang your food and garbage at least 12’ off the ground in a tarp well away from the campsite.  Make the tarp difficult to access from the tree where it is hanging, and should a bear come into the area, it will be far enough away from your tent to give you time to react.  Dogs can also attract and aggravate bears so keep them under control at all times when hiking and camping.

There are many different types of bears in the woods. Knowing how to avoid them and what to do if they attack can make all the difference during an unexpected encounter in the wild.

Copyright 2019 Mike Wilson