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How To Survive A Bear Attack

Updated on January 11, 2014

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.

Black Bears

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.

Grizzly Bears

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. 8. Hollingsworth, John and Karen - USFWS 9. John Good - NPS Photo


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    • profile image

      Brandy Minck 

      6 years ago

      Wow- two thumbs up!!! Thank you so much! I am a cub scout leader and have to educate a den of 8 year olds not to run... or climb up a tree! we live in the pacific northwest and run into a lot of preditors so thanks for the great info!

    • Silva Hayes profile image

      Silva Hayes 

      6 years ago from Spicewood, Texas

      Nice informative hub. I have seen a grizzly in the wild and it was an awe-inspiring sight. We were driving from Palmer to Anchorage and saw an enormous grizzly near the highway. We stopped to watch. He seemed to be grazing on the grass - not sure what he was doing, perhaps eating grubs. He was a wonderful honey color with a beautiful undercoat of silver. The breeze gently ruffled the hair on his back. Of course he knew we were there but he completely ignored us. Suddenly I was overcome by fear and begged my husband to step on it and get us away from there. I felt that the bear could just swat our car over if he chose to.

    • duffsmom profile image

      P. Thorpe Christiansen 

      7 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      It was nice to see you differentiate between survival tactics for Grizzly and Black Bear. Very informative with great information.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have a friend who just went up north for deer hunting. He and his friends went out into the woods before opening day. He didn't have his gun on him because dnr are bad up there. He heard a noise and turned around. It was kind of dark out so he held up his flashlight and there was a black bear. He said he was starting to shake really bad. He heard that when you come across a bear that you should talk to it. So he told the bear if you going to eat me im giving one fight. When he was talking to it the bear kind of twisted his head like it was like what? But then after a few minutes left him alone. Thank God that we don't have grizzles in michigan. The funny part about this story is that he thought before he looked and saw it was a bear that it was the michigan dogman. for anyone who don't know what that it its suppose to be an animal that looks like a wolf in the face but can walk like a human. You can look it up on youtube. I don't believe in it but a lot of people do haha!!

    • mythbuster profile image


      7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      I'm going to just watch the bears at my local zoo now, thank you very much. I may never go camping again lol

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks for your comments infonolan!

      Yep, unless you live in bear country and go into the bush quite often your chances of seeing bears are quite slim.

      Some people are fortunate (or unfortunate) to have bear encounters the first time in bear country, other people live for years in a bear area yet never have an encounter.

      I've just lived in some very high black bear areas (the Yukon, the Rockies, the Kootenays) and have done a lot of backcountry camping and hiking so have met quite a few bears. lol

      I've never seen a grizzly in the wild up close though. I always wonder if this is a good or bad thing? Part of me would love to see a grizzly up close and personal, part of me definitely does not.


    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by lorlie6!

      It would have been the residual sweet smell of the soda cans and candy wrappers that intrigued the bear. Their sense of smell is off the charts and they particularly love the sweet stuff!!

      That's why car trunks will get broken into even though the food is sealed in a cooler out of sight.

      It's also why as a woman you should never wear perfume or sweet smelling deodorant while in the backcountry or keep toothpaste in your tent. The smell will cause a curious bear to investigate...hahaha

      I've been lucky also that all my bear encounters have been quite peaceful. While I do everything I can when in bear country to limit a negative experience there is always the chance of stumbling across a bear in a bad mood.....fingers crossed I don't ever have that experience.


    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 

      7 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      My only experiences with, I believe, black bears, have been in Yosemite. When I was around 8 years old, my family and I were hiking there and came across a mother and her cubs. Thank God we were not disturbing the mama, for we had a long look and walked away.

      The second was last year when my cousin's car was broken into by a bear late at night. Apparently he had left visual cues for the bear such as soda cans, candy wrappers, etc. Perhaps the smell of the candy wrapper caused the attack, but you say their eyesight is poor, so I don't really know!

      Thanks for a great and informative read, Rachelle!

    • infonolan profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      Very interesting hub! Luckily (or 'unluckily') for me, where I live, I have never spotted a bear in the wild. Even in my trip to Canada a few years back, I was in bear territory for a few days at a time and was somewhat cautious but not overly worried.

      You taught me some more interesting info. Thanks!

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @outdoorsguy: Yep you can smell them if you're downwind...of course that works in reverse if you're upwind. haha.

      Had a close encounter with a rather large and curious black bear cub on my trip across Canada recently. It wanted to jump through my car window...I believe after smelling my dog's dry food in the back seat.

      People always assume bears move slowly due to their size but they can be lightning fast when they want to be! Luckily the cub's mother was across the highway and not near my car also. That would have been disastrous.

      Never a dull moment in the wilds of Canada. :-D

    • outdoorsguy profile image


      8 years ago from Tenn

      I know this is an old Hub. but its a great one. also be aware, that you can many times smell a bear when its hanging around watching you.

      while hiking last year I rounded a bend and began to smell a bear looking around I saw where it had been tearing apart a log. My dog who normaly ranges ahead of me stuck close till we were about a hundred yards past the site and the smell.

      also be aware black bears can sometimes find four wheelers threatening. The two times I have come across one on my fourwheeler I stopped and then backed away giving it, its space.

      have fun out there. and seeing bears in the wilderness can be a wonderful thing if you are careful.

    • sabu singh profile image

      sabu singh 

      9 years ago

      We have no grizzlies in India unfortunately and the numbers of black bear in the wild are diminishing sadly.

      Thanks for the information - forewarned is forearmed

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      We stayed in a cabin in Yellowstone and the managers of the property told us to remove everything edible or had any odor (even toothpaste!) from our car and take it into the cabin. There were photos of the damage that bears had done to cars with food left in it........broken windows, etc. Makes good sense to take precautions when forewarned.

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      lyall insull: Thanks for the book recommendation. Sounds like a good one for people to read.

    • profile image

      lyall insull 

      9 years ago

      your information is not to bad but you should remove it and simply suggest that people read the bear encounter survival guide byjames shalton

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      kevinlt9: Yep, hand over the food or become the food. Lol. Thanks for your comment!

    • kevinlt9 profile image


      10 years ago from Gwynn Oak,Maryland

      Thanks for the Bear tips I hope I remember this stuff if ever I'm confronted by a bear,I'll definitely hand over the food.

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      stopsmokingtoday: Wow, talk about the worst situation to find yourself in...between a mama and her cubs. Glad to hear you kept a cool head and walked away unscathed. Good to hear your Dad taught you well!

    • stopsmokingtoday profile image


      10 years ago from Spain

      Good, solid information here. I grew up in the sticks in Western Canada (Alberta) and Dad always made shure we had the bear drill embedded into our thick skulls. My sister and I were strolling down a cut-line one sunny afternoon and managed to get between mama bear and her two cubs. Just as it says in your post she created quite the ruckus. We managed to keep our heads and slowly back off and she went and got her young ones and went the other way.

      We had lumps in our throats (and somewhere else too) but we came out OK. And you are darn right they can climb, as well as run like sprinters and swim like Mark Spitz. Had a few other experiences with the bears but all were peaceful, beautiful animals.

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      WeClick2Travel: Thanks. I think I need to market the bear snack pack! Lol.

    • WeClick2Travel profile image


      10 years ago from Northern Michigan

      Very cool hub. I think we sometimes forget that when we encounter a wild animal in the wild we have to play by their rules. I like the idea of the bear snack pack :0)

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Karen Ellis: You're not alone in wanting a gun for protection. In the Yukon and NWT most residents have guns, especially if they work in the bush a lot.The more you are around bears the higher your chances of trouble occuring.

      My philosophy though is that I'm going into the wilderness by choice and I know the dangers involved, so if I am attacked then so be it. It's not the bears fault I chose to wander into their home. Lol.

      I do everything I can to minimize my chances of bad encounters happening. I certainly would never have a campsite that looks like the one in the video because that's just inviting trouble. And, as I said, so far I've never had anything but good experiences. Fingers crossed!

    • Karen Ellis profile image

      Karen Ellis 

      10 years ago from Central Oregon

      Oh my gosh, I'm thinking a gun would be good. I'm an animal lover as much as the next and would never take make the first move. But, it a bear is attacking me, I would love having a gun to shoot him first.

      Besides my ranting, I always like to know new info. You never know when this might come in handy now that it's in my head.

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Mommagus: That's a great idea. Maybe you should invent a 'bear snack safety pack'. Lol. :D

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Would you recommend carrying a hunny pot to throw to the bear??? or some other snacking item? Perhaps if they had a snack, it would give a person a chance to escape.

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      marisuewrites: Oh no please don't be scared! Bears are usually harmless if you respect them. Trust me on this I've been around a lot of them. Lol.

      However, because on hikes in Canada we see a lot of bears it is helpful to know what to do if the worst happens. You should always be prepared. Most of the time the bear is more afraid of you than you are of it!

    • msms profile image


      10 years ago

      Fantastic absorbing advice to face the Bears.

      Dreat R Fox!

    • marisuewrites profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      This scared me to death. I do not want to meet a bear or become a bear's meat. LOL

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Angela Harris: Thanks for the thumbs up! And if you're in bear country being on the lookout all the time is a good thing to do.

      Funride: Lol. Yes it's strange hiking in a country with bears. I didn't grow up in Canada so it took some getting used to. Then I moved to the Yukon and the Rockies and black bear were everywhere. They were so common you become accustomed to seeing them, especially in the back country.

      Moonlake: Wow. Glad the girl was alright! So many people are told to climb a tree when a bear is around and it's such bad advice. As you've seen they can climb like no tomorrow. I'm going to check out your hub. Thanks for stopping by.

      Sally's Trove: Yes, the utube video is crazy. I have never seen such big grizzly's, especially together like that. I'm actually going to write a hub on how to camp properly in the backcountry to avoid bears coming into your site like that. While the person knew what to do when they saw the bears they were breaking all the bear country camping rules with their site. None of their food was hung properly. And being the curious person that I am I wonder what happened after the video. I wonder how long the bears hung around. And how the people left. They certainly didn't have any gear left.

      Thanks for the thumbs up!

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      The utube video is chilling. Whoever the camera person was knew exactly what to do around bears.

      Great hub. Thumb's up all the way.

    • moonlake profile image


      10 years ago from America

      We have black bears in our yard all the time you can see them in my hub. DO NOT CLIMB A TREE they will come after you and pull you down. They will most of the time run from you but not all the time. A friend of ours took his 14 year old daughter hunting with him (deer) when she ran into a black bear she went up the tree the bear went after her and pulled her down. Her Dad heard her scream, the bear was pulling her into the woods when her Dad arrived and ran the bear off. She ended up with 36 stitches.

      We have very tall maple trees in our yard and they are often up in the very top of the trees.

      Enjoyed your hub and all your information.

    • funride profile image

      Ricardo Nunes 

      10 years ago from Portugal

      I´m glad there are no bears around here. Well, I have some neighbors who have a big dog who looks like a bear :D

      Great hub with priceless information for those you eventually have to face one of those beautiful but dangerous creatures.

    • Angela Harris profile image

      Angela Harris 

      10 years ago from Around the USA

      Wow, excellent hub. I gave you a thumbs up. I like to hike and I'm always on the lookout for bears. I don't know why. Now I know what to do if I actually spot one.

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Steiff Bears: Lol. I use to be a long distance runner so you're outta luck. :D

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Steiff Bears: Lol. I use to be a long distance runner so you're outta luck. :D

    • profile image

      Steiff Bears 

      10 years ago

      All I have to do is outrun you!!!

    • RFox profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Isabella: Thank you very much! I wanted to give people some accurate info. There is a lot of bad advice on the net on this topic and where I live it's important to have good info. We have bears around all the time at the popular hiking spots in the summer. Cheers for stopping by.

    • Isabella Snow profile image

      Isabella Snow 

      10 years ago

      Wow! Lots of info! Great hub!


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