3 Tips for Surviving a Bear Encounter

Outdoor adventures always carry the chance for close encounters with a wild animals. Most don’t require any preparation or defensive measures, but some do. In areas known as bear country, there are measures and precautions outdoorsmen must take to ensure they come out of the situation alive.

What Gear Prevents Bear Encounters?

There is not a lot to pack when it comes to traveling in areas frequented by bears. I have been taught not to carry bear bells, as they do not act as a deterrent or let the bear know you are around. Instead, carry a loud conversation with your group members. Bears in the area will hear you and may leave the area because of your presence. Also carry a deterrent. Bear spray has proven to be the effective against bear species in America, even more so than firearms.

What Can I Do When I See a Bear?

Should you or your group encounter a bear, the first thing to do is keep calm. Make yourself appear big and talk to the bear in a loud, even voice until it moves on. Avoid eye contact, as this could appear aggressive. Don’t split up. This can excite the bear and encourage it to give chase. It can also lead to personal injury while running through unfamiliar terrain, making you even more vulnerable. In a case in New Jersey, a group split during a bear encounter that lead to the death of one of the men.

While backpacking in Yellowstone National Park, I chanced upon a young grizzly. I stood straight and started talking to it. Within seconds, it decided I was not very interesting and continued on its merry way. All that was required was a level headed response.

Remember: Do not put yourself between a bear and cubs. This will incur aggressive behavior from the adult. Also keep clear of a bear that is hunting and do not fish in areas frequented by bears. They will approach if you have food.

If I’m Attacked by a Bear, Should I Fight Back?

Whether or not to physically engage a bear depends on the circumstances of the attack. An offensive attack is generally defined as when the bear is approaching you out of curiosity or with some kind of aggression. In these cases, use your deterrent when the opportunity arises. Should the bear move past that, fight back and try to strike the eyes and nose. Avoid being hit by the paws as they can incapacitate you in a single blow.

A defensive attack is when a bear is defending cubs or a source of food. Grizzlies have been known to mount fake charges when threatened. In these cases, slowly back away while still making yourself appear large and avoid eye contact. If you feel that the bear will attack you, apply your deterrent when it is close enough.

A grizzly encounter is the only situation I’ve ever seen anyone recommend the fetal position in the case of a physical striking attack. In this case, cover your neck and vital organs while remaining as still as possible. Once the bear is convinced you’re not a threat, it will move on. If this does not work and the bear continues to strike, fight back. Try and used a hard or edged tool such as a knife or rock.

The best way to come out of a bear encounter alive is to avoid it.

  • Know if your area is in bear country. If so, make sure you’re checking trails for bear scat and food remnants.
  • Avoid feeding grounds such as streams and rivers full of fish.
  • When camping, hang your food out of reach or lock it in a bear box.

The more aware you are, the better chance you have of going through your adventure without having to worry about a close encounter with a bear.