Written by Chris Browning
If you were to make a list of the top 10 ways you thought you might die while hiking or hunting in the woods, it is likely that being mauled by a grizzly bear would not be on your top 10. The truth is every single year millions of people head to national parks and forests. Very few individuals run in to bears. When they do, the encounter is uneventful at best.
Bears are just as reluctant to run into you as you are to run into them. That’s why in the vast majority of human and bear encounters, the bear turns away and runs. Think about this fact, Yellowstone National Park has been around for almost a century and a half. In that time more than 120 million people have visited. Of those, only eight people have been killed by bears. You have a better chance of dying from a bee sting or a tick bite in the United States than you do from being attacked by a bear. That being said, here are a few things that you can do if you come face-to-face with these majestic beasts.
Avoid Bear Attacks by Avoiding Bears
The best way to avoid getting attacked by a bear is to not run into any bears. Bears, like just about any other animal, are not on the prowl hunting humans. If they attack you, it is likely because you surprised them. Their natural instinct is to neutralize what they see as a threat. So don’t go around surprising bears.
Make noise when walking through the woods. Use bear bells. Single loud, whistle, or hit trees. Bear country is not the place for you to silently commune with nature.
Additionally, don’t bring the bears to you. This means to be careful with things like trash and food. Be careful with dogs, especially little ones. A little dog could scurry off into the woods, encounter a bear, and come running back to their owner with a bear in tow.
Get Loud, Get Big, but Don’t Run
As humans, we have a fight or flight instinct. When we come face-to-face with something that is terrifying, like a bear, our first instincts are to run away. Doing this would be a mistake.
Bears are fast and intelligent. This means that you can’t out run them in a straight line, and trying to shake them by going in zigzags is only going to tire you out. Don’t jump into a river. Bears can swim better than you can. Don’t climb a tree. Bears are some of nature’s best climbers. So what should you do?
Make noise. Clap your hands, yell, and throw things. Do any and everything you can to scare the bear before it gets close. Wave your arms in the air and make yourself appear as large as possible. If you’re with others, clump together. If you are face-to-face with a bear, stand your ground. Show the bear that you are not scared of it.
Ditch the Instagram Shot
There are so many people out there looking to get the next best Instagram shot. So they take their smartphones with some hiking. When they come across a bear, instead of making noise or instead of avoiding the bear, they get close with their cameras. They want to interact with the bear. They forget that they are dealing with a wild animal. This is a foolish idea that has led and will lead to unfortunate consequences.
Carry Bear Spray
In a bear encounter, bear spray is often more effective than carrying a gun. Just think about the scenario, you have a 500 pound animal charging at you in excess of 30 miles an hour. You are nervous, you are shaky, and your aim is questionable at best. A bullet can easily miss the bear. Or if you hit the bear, you might only slightly injure it as opposed to stopping it.
The best bear spray has a 25 foot range and a 20 foot spread. It is enough to irritate the bear and make it flee. Of course, bear spray is only going to work if you can get to it. If you have it in your backpack or in your duffel bag, by the time you fish it out, you will already be face-to-face with the bear. It’s preferable to have it on your belt where you have easy access to it.
Just remember, bear spray does not replace common sense. Avoid bears and avoid bear attacks.
Different Approaches for Different Bears
You could do everything right and still run into a bear. If you run into a black bear, it is recommended that you and those with you stand together. Stand as tall as possible and make as much noise as you can. Conversely, if you run into a grizzly bear, stop and stay calm. Use a calm and appeasing voice as you slowly back away while facing the bear.
A bear may growl, snap its jaws, and pound the ground. Keep your nerve. If you’re going to use bear spray, wait until the bear is within 25 feet of you. Try to spray right above the bear’s head. This will give you the best results.
To Play Dead Or Not to Play Dead
There is an old wives tale that says that the best way to survive a bear attack is to play dead. There are a few very specific occasions where this might work, including if you are interacting with a brown bear who is attacking because it feels that you are a threat to its cubs or its food.
Black bears attack offensively. If you play dead, you just make it easier for them. If you’re confronted by the black bear and there is no way of escape, fight. This means punching, kicking, and doing whatever it takes to get the animal off of you.
When you are in bear country, the best bear encounter is one that does not happen. Be proactive. Avoid doing things that will attract bears. Go equipped with bear spray. If you find yourself face-to-face with a bear, try to scare it away. If you can’t, then defend yourself. Remember, don’t run. If you run, you will use up your energy and get hurt.
Have you ever had a close call with a bear? How were you able to protect yourself? We look forward to hearing from you in the comment section below.
About the Author:
Chris Browning is the current editor-in-chief of Gun News Daily. The site was originally built by his father who used it as a resource center for people looking to learn more about gun education and safety. This legacy was carried on by Chris, who in 2015, started to republish articles and build up GND as one of the top news sites for firearm related information.