15 Tips for Surviving a Bear Encounter

By: the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.  | 
Bear cubs may look cute and cuddly, but mama is  usually nearby so stay away from the little ones.
Publications International, Ltd.

In North America, there are two species of bear -- black and brown (which includes subspecies grizzly and Kodiak bears) -- but it is often difficult to distinguish between the two. Both types are known to attack humans, and in the past century, approximately 100 people have died in North America due to bear attacks.

In the interest of not becoming part of that "grizzly" statistic, the following list offers a few tips to avoid or survive a bear attack.


1. Why Are You Here?

Avoid investigating dark, unknown caves or hollow logs, where bears make their dens, and avoid areas identified by scavengers, such as raccoons, as there may be a feeding bear nearby.


2. You're Kidding with the Camera, Right?

Leave pictures of bears to professional wildlife photographers. Many attacks have occurred because someone decided to try to snap a photo in bear territory. Bears don't like you, and they don't want their picture taken.


3. Whoa, Mama!

If you see a bear with a cub, leave quickly. A mother bear with her cubs is not open to negotiation. She will attack if she thinks she or her cubs are in danger.


4. Leave No Trace

If you're camping, pick up all garbage, cooking supplies, and other materials. Clean up thoroughly after meals, and secure food overnight high above the ground (by hanging it from a tree branch) to prevent it from attracting bears. Not only do sloppy campers damage the area's ecosystem, they're also more likely to come face-to-face with a bear that has followed their gravy train.


5. Keep a Lookout

As you hike through bear country, keep an eye out for claw marks or droppings, and note any scratched up trees or fresh kills, such as deer.


6. Raise a Ruckus, Ring a Bell

Some experts recommend tying a bell to your foot or backpack to make noise as you travel. You can also sing or holler at your hiking buddies. Just don't be a ninja. Bears don't like to be surprised.


7. Freeze! Stick 'Em Up!

Okay, so you've spotted a bear, and the bear has spotted you. Stop right there, and don't move. Speak to the bear in a low, calm voice, and slowly raise your arms up above your head. This makes you appear larger.Humans and animals can share the great outdoors if everyone behaves accordingly. Get prepared with the tips on the next page.­


8. Back Off

Clearly, you should try to leave now. Do it slowly and go back from whence you came. Don't cross the path of the bear (or any cubs, if present). Just rewind, slowly, and don't come back.


9. Don't Run!

The worst thing you could do at this point would be to get out your camera or try to feed the bear a snack. The second worst thing you could do would be to run. Bears run faster than humans, and they think chasing prey is fun.


10. Hello, Tree

"But bears can climb trees," you say. You're right: some bears, like black bears, can climb trees. But others, like grizzly bears, cannot. Either way, if you can get more than 12 feet up into a tree, you should be okay. That's pretty far up, so this is not your best option.

11. Grizzly Bear? Play Dead!

If a bear is charging you, you've got a couple of less-than-desirable options. The first thing you might try is going into the fetal position and playing dead. This might make you seem vulnerable to the grizzly bear and he or she will sniff you, growl at you, and hopefully leave you alone. Being in the fetal position will also protect your vital organs. IMPORTANT: If you're dealing with a black bear, do NOT play dead. They'll be thrilled that the work's been done for them and will commence lunch. If you can't tell what kind of bear you're dealing with, don't try it!

12. Go Undercover

While you're in the fetal position, try to put your backpack up on top of you to give you an extra layer of protection.

13. Bang, Bang

If a bear is charging you and you've got a gun, now might be the time to use it. Make sure you've got a clean shot because it usually takes more than one bullet to kill a bear and bad aim will only make it angrier. This should only be used as a last resort -- wrongful killing of a bear in the United States incurs a hefty fine up to $20,000.

14. Spray, Spray

Many camping and national park areas don't allow firearms, so some recommend bear spray or pepper spray. But beware: If you spray halfheartedly, it will only make the bear angrier.

15. The Fight of Your Life

Your last option is to fight back with everything you've got. There's really no need to tell you that, at this point, you're in big trouble. Kick, scream, flail your arms, go for the eyes -- do whatever you can because you're in for the fight of your life.


Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen