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How To Survive A Bear Attack
Bears In The Wild
Spring is almost upon us. That time of year when the flowers bloom, the weather warms and bears come out of hibernation.For many people camping, hiking and playing in the woods are great ways to spend the summer. Exploration and adventure abound, however, so do the bears! No matter what precautions you take there is always the chance of running across a very unhappy bear. Even the most experienced backcountry hikers can have an instance of horribly bad luck. Which is why it is so important to understand the many things you can do to increase your chances of survival if the worst happens. The reality is most bears want nothing to do with human beings. We cause them all kinds of trouble that they really don’t want. However, hunger, fear, territorial aggression and maternal instinct will all trigger a negative response in our furry friends.So what do you do?
If You See The Bear BEFORE They Attack
The first thing you should do (before wetting your pants) is to identify what kind of bear you are dealing with.Is it a ‘black bear’? (Which come in all shades of blonde, brown and cinnamon.)
Black bears range from 110-400lbs. They have a rounded body shape with NO hump between their shoulder blades. Their faces are round with a long, straight snout.
Or is it a ‘grizzly bear’?
Grizzly bears range from 350-800lbs. They have a large hump of muscle between their shoulder blades that they use to dig with, this is their most definable feature. Their cheeks are ‘scooped out’ directly under the eyes, which gives them a more angular look.
It is very important to be able to identify what kind of bear you are dealing with. To better your chances of survival you need to know what action to take and this is very much determined by the type of bear you encounter.
Generally a black bear will not attack a human. When they do decide to attack it is because of predatory reasons. That means it wants to EAT you. If you were to ‘play dead’ in this situation you would look up to find the bear happily feasting away on some very important body part that you, no doubt, are very fond of. The best defense with a black bear is to go on the offensive. Fight for your life!Use a tree branch and try to hit it in the snout or eyes. If you have a small hiking axe with you then aim for the face. Black bears are actually quite timid and this is usually enough to get them to back off. Go for the eyes as much as possible and do not back down. This is your only chance of survival. Climb a tree at your own peril. Sometimes this works, mostly it doesn’t. Black bears are excellent climbers. Don’t let their size fool you, they are fast and agile and have the advantage in trees.
If a black bear is protecting her cubs she will probably bluff charge you or make a fearsome display such as swatting, lip smacking or vocalizing. In this case, stand your ground, talk in a low, calm voice and back away slowly. Make sure to AVOID ALL EYE CONTACT. And never run in the presence of a predatory animal unless you desire to be eaten.If a bear stands on their hindquarters it is not doing it to scare you away, it is simply trying to identify what kind of animal you are. Bears have terrible eyesight. They rely on their incredible sense of smell to tell them what’s what. If you are downwind or some other scent is in the air they will stand up to get a better look. This behavior should NOT be considered aggressive. Simply talk to the bear in a low, calm voice so they know you’re human and back away slowly to safety.If the bear is happily munching away in a berry patch or does not see you then LEAVE IT ALONE. Just slowly back up and walk away giving it a wide berth. Bears are great swimmers. Don’t think jumping into a lake will save you. You are better off on dry land.
The majority of grizzly attacks happen because of territorial aggression. Grizzly bears do not want other animals inside what they consider ‘their territory’. Unfortunately for humans ‘their territory’ could be hundreds of kilometers in area.They attack because they see you as a threat to their survival. That is why the standard procedure for a grizzly bear attack is to ‘play dead’.Keep your pack on your back (if you have one) and drop to the ground. (The pack will provide added protection against their claws and teeth.) Either lay flat on your stomach with your hands/arms covering your neck and head or on your side with your legs pulled up to your chest and your head tucked in under your arms.Let the bear bat you about and even drag you. Do not move!Once they are satisfied that you are ‘dead’ they will cease the attack. Stay still for at least 20 minutes before determining if it is safe to move away from the area. Bears like to watch from a distance for some time to ensure their territory is truly ‘safe’ before they decide to leave. Again, climb a tree at your own peril. Grizzly’s have been known to knock trees down or climb them just enough to pull you out. ‘Playing dead’ is a good defense against a territorial grizzly but what if the bear has been following you or is quietly approaching, walking in circles around you? Then you have a major problem. This is predatory behavior. This means the bear has determined you would make a good lunch snack. As scary as it sounds your only option in this case is to fight back.Any animal that is exhibiting predatory behavior plans to EAT you. Attacks at night should always be considered predatory in nature. If you have noticed the bear following (stalking) you then this is definitely predatory behavior. If a bear is making a great ‘show’ of aggression such as: beating the ground, vocalizing, snorting etc then this is NOT predatory behavior. Predators are silent and deadly.
If You DON’T See The Bear Before They Attack
This is the most dangerous of all situations. If a bear suddenly appears and blindsides you without warning you have an impossible decision to make. At this point the only thing you can do is listen to your instincts. Is that voice in your head screaming at you to fight back or lie still?Take heart, you have a 50/50 chance of responding in the correct way. Not knowing what kind of bear has grabbed you means it could be either a predator or a territorial grizzly. If you lay still and the bear seems to slow in its attack then continue to ‘play dead’. If you lay still and the bear is relentless then fight back however you can. Protect your vital organs as much as you can and take comfort in the knowledge that people do not feel pain in these situations. (Adrenaline inhibits pain receptors.) Yay for adrenaline!
Common Sense Rules For All Bears
Do not run. Ever!Do not make eye contact. In the animal world this is a show of aggression and a challenge to fight.Do not yell at, scream or flail your arms about in an attempt to scare a bear off. You will only succeed in annoying it. Do not throw your pack at the bear. You will need your pack for extra protection should it attack you.If you see a bear leave the area immediately. If you are on a well-known hiking trail be sure to report any bear sightings to Rangers.Do not attempt to approach a bear. Ever! There is a reason why telescopic camera lenses were invented.
Bear Encounters Are Usually Harmless
For anyone who is now petrified to go into the woods, please don’t be. Most bear sightings are filled with excitement, not pain. If you follow proper bear safety rules then your encounters will more than likely be magical and positive.(On a personal note: I have lost count of the amount of black bear I have seen in the woods. I never bothered them and they have never bothered me. This hub is designed simply to be a guide in case the worst happens.)
Please note: All photography not watermarked on this site is courtesy of:
Photo Credits: 1. Bender, Mike – USFWS 2. NPS Photo 3. Bryan Harry – NPS Photo 4. NPS Photo 5. William S Keller - NPS Photo 6. M Stouffer - NPS Photo 7. arttoday.com 8. Hollingsworth, John and Karen - USFWS 9. John Good - NPS Photo