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Grizzly Bear Attack! Tips for Hiking Safely in Bear Country

Updated on June 16, 2015

Hikers Mauled by Grizzly Bear

Two Hikers were attacked by a mother Grizzly Bear while hiking the Deer Creek Trail, May 13th, 2011 at approximately 3:30 pm. A man and woman were enjoying the popular hiking trail in the Gallatin Canyon, when an elk ran across their path. Chasing the elk was a young grizzly bear, followed by Mother Bear.

The woman attempted to climb a tree and the sow grizzly reacted by biting her leg. The man tried to fight the bear off the woman (wow, my hero) and received a bite to his arm. Unfortunately, the hikers did not have any bear spray with them.

Both hikers were treated for non-life threatening injuries at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital. Although they may not think so, these hikers were very lucky (and it was Friday the 13th.) An encounter with a protective mother grizzly bear could easily have been fatal.

The Deer Creek Trail and several hiking trails around it were closed while Gallatin National Forest officials contain the situation.

Hiking in Bear Country 101

Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone
Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone | Source

"Bear Spray" is a high emission pepper spray used as a bear deterrent. By "high emission," I mean that it dispenses more like a fire extinguisher than the self-defense type pepper sprays.

Bear spray is not a repellent; do not spray yourself or your campsite. (Don't laugh, people have actually done this.) Bear spray should be used with caution, it is very powerful stuff.

You can purchase bear spray at most sporting-good stores or on-line from Amazon.

Listen to Jack Hanna on YouTube

Hiking in Bear Country: Dos and Don'ts

  • Do bring bear pepper spray
  • Do make noise as you hike so that you do not surprise a bear. You never want to surprise bears: talk, sing or clap your hands periodically. Some people hike with bells attached to them to make continual noise.
  • Do hike with others. More people equals more noise. Also, greater numbers will discourage aggressive behavior from bears.
  • Don't bring or wear "attractants" which includes scented sunscreens or bug repellents, fragrant unwrapped foods and anything that might be "smelly." (Thanks to DoItForHer for this tip.)
  • Don't hike at dusk or dawn when the bears are more active...and definitely don't hike at night.
  • Stay on trails and watch for signs of bear activity such as scat, marks on trees or footprints.
  • Don't bring your dog (unless it is specifically trained to protect you.) Dogs are notorious for bringing angry bears back to their owners.

A Little Bear Country Humor...

Two buddies were camping together in bear country. One night they heard a bear outside the tent, it was getting closer and closer. One of the guys started to put on his running shoes. His friend said:

"What are you doing? You can't out run a bear."

He answered:

"I don't have to out run the bear, I just have to out run you."


Encountering Bears: Dos and Don'ts

If you encounter a bear while hiking:

  • Do avoid sudden movements, back away slowly.
  • Don't run, running could prompt the predatory instinct in an otherwise uninterested bear.
  • Don't draw the attention of a bear that has not spotted you. The time for making noise was before the bear encounter, now stay quiet and leave at once.
  • Don't try to get closer to the bear (for a photo or a better look.)
  • Don't feed the bear. NEVER, EVER FEED A BEAR!
  • Do remain calm, if the bear does spot you, speak to it calmly. You want to let it know that you are human. Most bears want nothing to do with humans.
  • Don't make eye contact with a bear that has spotted you, it may perceive this behavior as threatening. Keep backing away.

If the bear charges:

  • Do remember that bears make "bluff charges." This means it will charge right up to you but will not make contact. Back away slowly. (Try not to soil yourself at this point.)
  • Do not run. Bears can run up to 30 mph, you cannot outrun a bear and running may trigger it to pursue.
  • Don't climb a tree. All bears can climb and climbing is another behavior that will likely illicit an attack from a bear that otherwise would not have.
  • Do use your bear spray!

If a grizzly bear attacks:

  • Do play dead. Lay face down covering your neck with your hands.
  • Do keep your backpack on to help protect your back.
  • Don't move even after the bear leaves, wait until you are sure it is gone.

How can I tell a Grizzly from a Black Bear?*

Blond, Cinnamon, Brown, Black 
Blond, Cinnamon, Brown, Black 
300-800 lbs. 
100-300 lbs. 
Hump at shoulders,
No hump, 
rear lower than shoulders
rear even with or higher than shoulders
Scooped profile from ears to nose
Straight profile from ears to nose
Long claws, can be seen in tracks
Shorter claws, cannot be seen in tracks

*This is not a stupid question. You may be thinking..."uh, black bears are black and brown bears are brown, duh." Actually, both bears can be blond, brown, cinnamon or black.

Black Bear

Black Bear
Black Bear | Source

Grizzly Bear or Brown Bear

Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear | Source

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