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Do's and Dont's While Interacting With Bears in the Wild

Updated on December 20, 2012
Use caution and proper wilderness etiquette when you encounter bears.
Use caution and proper wilderness etiquette when you encounter bears.

Encounters with Bears in the Wild

There are two main types of bears that people encounter: Brown (Grizzly) Bears and Black Bears. Black Bears tend to be smaller and are less aggresive. They generally live in wooded areas up and down the East Coast. Grizzly bears can be found on the West Coast. When you encounter a bear, it is important to know how to handle yourself, what to do and not do, and what the differences between these types of bears is.

Brown Bear Instincts and Behavior

Brown (Grizzly) bears are aggressive and dangerous. I like to think of them as the angry bears, like people who always have a chip on their shoulder. Brown bears are bigger, stronger, and more inclined to attach than a black bear. A Brown Bear's chase instinct is triggered when a person or animal runs from them. When a brown bear feels threatened or encroached upon it will stand up on its two legs and roar. This is an act of intimidation and its also a sign the bear is about to charge. However, a good part of the time, the bear's first charge is a fake charge; a test you will of the creature it is charging against. Brown bears, although aggressive, generally only attack when threatened or to protect bear cubs.

Black Bear Instincts and Behavior

Black bears are smaller and tend to be less aggressive. But they will also fight when they feel threatened or their bear cubs are threatened. Black bears generally avoid human contact. However, black bears that have become accustomed to humans (near campgrounds) can be dangerous. In these cases, the bears natural instincts of fear towards humans have dissipated and they can come to feel entitled to food in trash cans, trailers, and cars. These bears often present some additional challenges over black bears you would encounter deep in the wild. In a confrontation, black bears will chase if you run. They are also faster than humans so you will not be able to outrun them.

Do's and Don'ts For Dealing With Brown Bears

If you encounter a Grizzly bear, DO NOT run. DO NOT make eye contact with the bear. Slowly back away from the bear. If the bear charges, stand your ground. The first charge is usually a test charge. If the bear doesn't pull up the charge and makes contact with you, drop to the ground, curl up to protect your stomach and organs, cover up your neck and head with your hands as best as you can and play dead. Be as still as you can. If the bear thinks the threat is eliminated, it will likely leave you alone.

There is another school of thought out there that if at this point the bear doesn't leave you alone you should fight to the death because you simply don't know if the bear might be hungry. The reality is, there are more survival stories from people who played dead than people who didn't play dead.

Of course, one thing you should DO when going into the wild is bring a can of bear mace with you. But if you do this, also bring something to keep your eyes and nose covered up in the event you have to use it. Bear Mace shoots 30 feet so you should be able to peg a bear pretty good if they are making a charge

Tips for Dealing with Black Bears

In the case of a black bear attack, DO NOT run. You cannot outrun them and black bears climb trees so that won't work either. Black bears are relatively easy to deal with. I've had half a dozen black bear encounters (including chasing a Mama sow through the woods while her cubs were in the trees) and I have never been attacked. So the black bear has to feel extremely provoked in order to attack. As always, its better to travel in nature in groups. Numbers keep pesky animals away. When encountering a black bear, make lots of noise, throw sticks, and make yourself look as big as possible. If a black bear attacks, fight back. Playing dead will not work on a black bear. But making the fight painful for them will. It is your best chance of survival.

On the whole, do not sweat black bear encounters too much. They are a lot less dangerous than grizzlies or mountain lions.

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