How to Scare Off a Bear: Essential Tips to Stay Safe in the Wild
As a young female in her 20s or 30s, you are likely to have heard about the numerous hiking trips, camping weekends, and other outdoor adventures that have become more and more popular among your friends and social media followers. You might even be tempted to join in on the fun and add some pictures of yourself surrounded by nature to your Instagram or Facebook. Yet, no matter how alluring those Instagrammable moments might be, the thought of encountering a bear in the wild might be holding you back.
That’s entirely understandable – this fear can keep even the most adventurous among us from venturing into nature. However, instead of giving up on these experiences altogether, here is a 3000-word guide on How to Scare Off a Bear: Essential Tips to Stay Safe in the Wild.
Table of Contents
- Know Your Bears – Different Types and Their Behavior
- Recognizing the Warning Signs
- How to Prevent a Bear Encounter
- Face-to-Face: What to Do If You Encounter a Bear
- Essential Gear for Bear Safety
- When Things Go Wrong – What to Do If a Bear Attacks
- Helpful Resources to Stay Safe in Bear Country
1. Know Your Bears – Different Types and Their Behavior
First and foremost, it is important to know that not all bears are the same. In North America, you might encounter three main types of bears with varying behaviors: black bears, grizzly bears (also known as brown bears), and polar bears. While polar bears are found almost exclusively in the Arctic region, black bears and grizzly bears can be found in various parts of the United States and Canada. Since you’re probably not planning to go hiking or camping in the Arctic, let’s focus on black bears and grizzly bears.
Black bears are the most common bear species in North America, and they can be found in a variety of habitats, including mountains, forests, and swamps. Despite their name, black bears can also have brown, cinnamon, or even white fur. They can weigh anywhere between 125 to 600 pounds and can reach up to 6 feet in length.
Behavior: Black bears tend to be less aggressive than grizzly bears, and are more likely to avoid human contact. However, bear confrontations can arise from unknowingly getting between a mother bear and her cubs, or from surprising a bear by approaching silently. These bears are also known to scavenge for human food, so proper food storage while camping is crucial.
Grizzly bears, also known as brown bears, are larger than black bears, usually weighing between 300 and 1,500 pounds. They can be found in the western United States, Canada, and Alaska, mainly in remote wilderness regions. Grizzly bears are characterized by their distinctive shoulder hump and dish-shaped face, as well as their long, curved claws.
Behavior: Grizzly bears tend to be more aggressive and territorial than black bears, and they can be particularly protective of their cubs. While they usually keep their distance from humans, they may approach a campsite in search of food or out of curiosity.
Through learning about bear behavior, you can make better decisions on how to act and adapt to different situations in the wild.
2. Recognizing the Warning Signs
Understanding the key indicators that a bear is in the vicinity will assist in not only avoiding a surprise encounter but also help determine how to act around the animal. Here are some warning signs that a bear may be nearby:
- Bear tracks: Learn to recognize bear tracks, which are around 5-8 inches long (for black bears) and 7-12 inches long (for grizzly bears), and have claw marks.
- Scat: Bear droppings (scat) are tubular and usually contain plant material, such as berries, grass, or leaves. They can also include animal fur or remnants of insects.
- Tree markings: Bears often mark trees by scratching, biting, or rubbing against them. These markings can be as high as 8-10 feet off the ground.
- Disturbed ant hills or overturned logs: Bears rip apart ant hills or logs in search of insects to eat.
- Bird alarm calls: Birds often emit warning calls when a large predator, like a bear, is nearby.
3. How to Prevent a Bear Encounter
Bears usually try to stay away from humans, so making noise as you hike is a proven method to avoid surprising a bear. Sing a song, clap your hands or talk loudly to announce your presence. This is especially important when hiking through thick brush, near a loud river, or at the edge of the forest.
Hike in Groups
Hiking in larger groups means more noise, making it less likely for a bear to approach. Furthermore, research has shown that bear attacks are less likely to occur when hiking in groups of 3 or more people.
Proper Food Storage
When camping in bear country, always store food, garbage, and scented items (like toiletries) in a bear-resistant container, or hang them using the “counterbalance method” at least 100 yards from your sleeping area. Keep your cooking area and sleeping area separate.
Check Local Information
Before embarking on your adventure, consult park rangers, local wildlife authorities, or websites for any recent bear sightings or specific bear warnings.
4. Face-to-Face: What to Do If You Encounter a Bear
First, identify whether it’s a black bear or a grizzly bear, as your response might differ depending on the species:
Black Bear Encounters
- Make yourself appear larger by standing on your tiptoes, raising your arms, or opening your jacket.
- Make loud noises such as shouting or banging on pots and pans.
- If the bear still doesn’t leave, throw small objects like rocks or sticks in its direction (not directly at it) to scare it away.
Grizzly Bear Encounters
- Speak calmly in a low voice, and avoid direct eye contact.
- Slowly wave your arms to make yourself appear larger, but do not make any sudden movements.
- Move away sideways (not backward) slowly, without turning your back on the bear.
- If the bear approaches or follows you, act aggressively. Shout, stomp your feet, and clench your fists.
5. Essential Gear for Bear Safety
Bear spray, a highly concentrated pepper spray, is a must-have for fending off an aggressive bear. Always carry it in an easily-accessible holster, and practice using it before heading into the wild.
Carry a loud whistle, air horn, or bear bells while hiking to alert bears of your presence and prevent a surprise encounter.
Invest in bear-resistant containers for food storage while camping in bear country to avoid attracting bears to your campsite.
6. When Things Go Wrong – What to Do If a Bear Attacks
In the unlikely event of a bear attack, your response should differ based on the type of bear:
Black Bear Attacks
- Fight back aggressively. Use any available objects such as rocks, sticks, or camping gear to defend yourself.
- Aim for the bear’s face, especially its eyes and snout.
Grizzly Bear Attacks
- If the attack is defensive (the bear feels threatened), play dead. Lay on your stomach with your hands covering the back of your neck, and spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to flip you over.
- If the attack is predatory (the bear is treating you as prey), fight back using the same methods as for a black bear attack.
7. Helpful Resources to Stay Safe in Bear Country
There’s always more to learn about staying safe in the wild! Here are some valuable resources to refer to for additional information:
- National Park Service: Bear Safety Tips
- Center for Wildlife Information: Bear Encounters & Safety
- World Wildlife Fund: Living with Bears
Armed with this knowledge and a healthy respect for these majestic animals, your next outdoor adventure should feel less daunting. Remember to always respect bears and their habitat, and share these tips with friends and family when planning a trip into bear country. Happy trails and stay safe!