Traveling in bear country can be quite exhilarating. Although most beat attacks can be avoided, there is always a chance of encountering a bear. The following is a compilation of the latest information collected from various wildlife specialists, bear encounters and bear articles. Although nothing is 100% guaranteed effective, the following might prove to be useful.
- Be alert where recent bear activity has been documented. Some common areas where bears like to frequent are: Avalanche chutes, streambeds, dense edge cover, in late summers, berry patches.
- Use extreme caution when traveling on trails at night or at either end of day.
- Be careful with food smells – Never cook close to camp. Store all foods in plastic away from camp at night and when camp is unattended. We suggest at least a hundred yards from camp and at least 14’ up a tree hung 4’ away from the trunk.
- Watch for fresh bear signs (Scat or bear tracks) on the trail or near possible campsite.
- If possible, make plenty of noise on the trail, especially on blind curves, in dense vegetation or areas with limited vision.
- Be conscious of the wind – Bears have an excellent sense of smell. If the wind is at your back, chances are a bear will smell you and leave the area before you reach it. If the wind is blowing in your face, your chances of an encounter are greatly increased. Also in high wind situations or along creeks and streams, a bear might not hear you or you might not hear it.
- Dead animal carcass – If you come upon a dead animal carcass, immediately leave the area. Bears will often feed on a carcass (whenever they can find them) for days and also stay in the area to protect their food.
- Bear cubs – If you see a bear cub, chances are the sow is not for away. Female bears will fiercely defend their young, so it’s best you leave the area and find an alternative route.
- Keep dogs under control – Dogs can lead an angry bear back to you.
- We advise not to travel alone in bear country. Invite a friend. It is always safer to travel in groups if possible.
AVOID PRIME BEAR HABITAT
Avoid areas that bear like and you can reduce your chances of an encounter. If you can’t avoid these areas, be extra cautious and alert when traveling through them. Bears like to travel on saddles, ridges, game trails and along water.
They feed on green grasses and also vegetation that grows in wet areas. They often rest in cool, dark, thick forests. Grizzly bears are typically, but not exclusively active during the dawn, dusk, and nighttime hours. In spring and early summer, bears are often found in
lower elevations along rivers and streams. They love to catch fish when the spawning runs are going. They will also search for winter-killed animals in these areas. In the summer, bears usually spend time at higher elevations often in park like areas. They’ll eat wild berries when they are ripe. If you like to go out wild berry picking, be extra careful, make lots of noise and keep children near you at all times. In the fall, bears are often found in white bark pine stands eating pine nuts. Sometimes a bear will dig around a tree to try to locate a squirrel’s cache of nuts. Bears also dig for roots in mid elevation meadows, especially in years when there are fewer pine nuts.
BE AWARE OF RECENT GRIZZLY BEAR ACTIVITY
Typical signs of grizzly bears use include: Fresh tracks (A grizzly claws marks extend farther away from pads than black bears), scat greater than 2 inches in diameter (most likely a grizzly’s), areas where the ground may be tore up from bear scavenging and partially consumed or buried animal carcasses.
Bears seem to experience moods much like we do; they can be shy, curious, pushy or aggressive, and can possess other attributes that we can identify as human like. Each time you get close to a bear, you encounter a specific individual that may behave differently from any other individual you have ever met before or will ever meet again.
Grizzly attack victims are not often aware of why they were attacked. Many attacks are caused by close encounters, where the bear has been surprised and felt threatened by human presence. A female with cubs will be especially aggressive and will defend her cubs from any possible threat.
Many attacks can be avoided if the bear sees a way out of the situation. Bears are basically solitary animals. Each has its zone of danger, or personal space, which varies from animal to animal. If something or someone penetrates this zone, a response in the form of a bluff charge, bodily contact, or outright attack may result. Oftentimes grizzly bears will essentially ignore people until the person enters into a bear’s “ personal space”. Even groups as large as a hundred people have been ignored by grizzly bears until one of the groups gets too close.
Most bears are timid enough to flee a possible encounter if they sense the presence of something or someone soon enough to leave the area undetected.
On the other hand, when a bear is surprised, the bear may see you as a threat, forcing an immediate response.
A person who runs when frightened by a bear may trigger a chase response. One bear will even chase another if it runs. Bears that stand their ground when confronted by other bears usually aren’t attacked, and bears that behave submissively have a lower incidence of being attacked as well.
A grizzly rarely wants to kill a human. Considering the damage a grizzly is capable of inflicting on a human, wounds resulting from bear attacks are often nothing more than superficial bites, scrapes and lacerations. The evidence is very clear that grizzly do not try to kill a human as a result of a close encounter; they simply try to remove a perceived threat. The injuries that occur are more a function of what the human does to resist, rather than what the bear is capable of doing.
Of course, a grizzly entering a tent presents a predatory event that is behaviourally very different than a close encounter situation. Young grizzlies can pose another danger. Often these bears have just left their mother and rank low on the hierarchical scale. Larger, more dominant bears often push these juveniles into marginal habitats. To survive young bears do a lot of exploring. If these bears start to use campgrounds as foraging areas, they may quickly become dangerous to people camping in them. In extremely rare instances, young grizzlies will even key onto people as potential pray.
Black bears seem more to rely on sheer bluffing than on charging and mauling. Those rare instances in which a black bear presses an attack can probably be grouped into 2 categories: First, a female protecting her cubs, particularly if she is also habituated and food conditioned; or second, a bear that has no experience with humans and may regard them as prey.
BODY LANGUAGE OF BEARS
A bear that stands on its hind feet is usually trying to get a better look and smell by sniffing the air. This is not an aggressive posture in itself. It simply means the bear is unsure of what is in front of him, but still could drop on all fours and charge.
A bear that swings its head from side to side or turns sideways from you is expressing a reluctance to charge and is looking for a way out of the situation.
If a bear looks at you in the eye directly and has its ears back, it is warning you that you are too close and feels threatened. A bear may also make barking, wolfing or moaning sounds to indicate this.
If a bear “pops” its jaws, it is very agitated and most often will charge. Charges are often a test to resolve a situation and are often “bluff
charges” where the bear stops short of you, veers off and runs right past you. A bear might bluff charge many times before leaving. A bear may also bluff charge a few times and then come at you from a different angle.
A bear that does charge, and knocks you down, is attempting to remove a threat. The bear will use as much force as he believes is necessary to remove that threat.
A bear can instantly reach speeds of 30 to 35 miles/hour in a matter of a split second. NEVER TRY TO OUTRUN A BEAR, it will only make matters worse.
BEAR ENCOUNTERS ON THE TRAIL.
Stop, stay calm and quiet, and make no sudden moves.
Break eye contact – Do not stare into the bear’s eyes, as this is a sign of aggression.
Stand your ground – Do not turn your back on the bear – Sometimes a bear will bluff charge several times.
Have your UDAP bear spray ready but do not spray unless you are sure the bear is close enough to spray in the face.
Look for signs of agitation and aggression. When a bear is standing on its hind legs, he is usually just trying to get a better look and smell of you.
When a bear is upset, it may have its ears back-It may lower its head and swing it from side to side- it may paw at the ground- it may make huffing or woofing noises- it may snap its jaw, or it may not show any signs at all and just drop and charge with no warning.
Back away slowly, in a calming, monotone voice-you want to show the bear that you are submissive and want to get out of “its” territory. Do not turn your back and always have pepper power ready.
If the bear comes at you-spray the UDAP aiming for the bear’s face or spray a fog that the bear has to run through to get to you.
Keep a cool head. Try to stay calm, do not yell or scream.
Some bears, even grizzlies will climb trees after you. Also a grizzly can reach 10 feet up a tree while standing on the ground.
Right before a grizzly bear makes contact in a surprise attack at close range (and you don’t have pepper spray), roll into a ball or lie face down, try to protect your neck and face, and pray.
Don’t stick your arm out, kick, scream, or fight. Try to protect the vulnerable parts of your body while remaining as still as possible. This will actively be helping the bear remove a perceived threat. Surprising a territorial male bear or a sow with cubs will also be a threatening situation.
Some bears, mostly young bears, unfamiliar with the danger of human contact, have been known to actually stalk humans. If you believe this is the situation you are in, and have not just surprised the bear, it is recommended that you defend yourself aggressively. If the bear mauls you continuously, despite your being passive, you may have to fight back. Try using any available weapon – a knife, rock, fist and concentrate on hitting the bear’s head, eyes and nostrils.
BEAR ENCOUNTERS IN CAMP
The situation of a bear that enters your camp is to be handled differently than a bear surprised on the trail. They might have not had any fear of humans and have probably become used to eat human food and garbage. These bears are dangerous, and are no longer fearful of being in close proximity to humans, make sure that you store your food properly. A bear that finds no food in camp is more likely to become disinterested and move on to better pickings. Try to remain calm, avoid making eye contact and speak softly to the bear. If the bear is within 10 to 15 feet spray the bear with your UDAP.
If it is safe to do so, try slowly backing out of the area while looking for suitable trees to climb. Make sure you have enough time to climb a tree before attempting it. Make sure you can be up the tree at least 14 feet before the bear reached you. Climb as high as you can and stay there until the bear is gone. Be aware that some grizzlies can climb trees and all black bears can.
If you are attacked by a bear in camp, it may be a predatory attack or could also just be a bear seeing your camp as its food source. The bear may have made a conscious choice to attack you, or may see you as a threat to its food supply. Playing dead may not work depending on the situation. Spray the bear with your UDAP spray; fight the attack by punching, slapping or using any object available as weapon. Try to evade the bear by climbing up a tree or a boulder.
Sleep in tents large enough to stack gear between you and the tent wall. If a bear gets within 10 to 15’ of your tent or attempts to enter it, spray the bear with your UDAP spray and fight back. Report the incident as soon as possible even if the bear simply walks through the camp. We do not recommend that you remain in that particular campsite for another night.
IF A BEAR COMES INTO YOUR CAMP AT NIGHT
Get your UDAP spray ready, and then, look out of the tent and check out the bear with your flashlight. First, make sure it’s a bear, not one of your hiking partners or other harmless animal wandering in the night. If you can identify it as a black bear, the situation is usually not as serious as a grizzly coming into camp. Spray the bear if it is within 10 to 15’ with your UDAP spray. This will not permanently harm the bear but will let it know that it is an unwelcome guest and it will probably not return. If you have time to get to your escape tree, do it, but don’t leave the tent if you aren’t sure you have time.
If the bear (black or grizzly) is hanging around the cooking area because of the food smell, make lots of noise and try to scare the bear away.
IF A BEAR COMES INTO YOUR TENT
This is the worse possible situation. It very rarely happens, but there are a few documented cases. At night, attacks usually come from a predatory bear. If you act like pray, you become pray. Once more, don’t panic, run, or scream but do remain calm. Instead, fight back with everything you have. Don’t lie still in your sleeping bag. Don’t play dead. Use the UDAP bear deterrent pepper spray. Make loud metallic noise. Use an air horn. Shine lights in the bear’s eyes. Temporarily blind the bear with the flash of your camera. Use any deterrent you brought with you. Unload on the bear with everything you have. Anything goes, use whatever physical resistance you can.
WHAT CAUSES A BEAR TO ATTACK?
Bears attack other bears, other animals, and people because they have genetically programmed types of aggressive behaviours that pertain to population regulation, survival, defence, and predatory aggression. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t other factors involved in some attacks. Or that people don’t contribute to some attacks. Though we have established the fact that bears are unpredictable, there are four situations that are most likely to cause a bear to attack. By knowing what they are we can work to avoid getting into these types of situations.
1. When a person encounters a protective sow with cubs, an average of 78% of all attacks is related to these encounters.
2. When a bear is surprised, or startled.
3. When a human gets too close to a bear’s food supply.
4. Predatory bears (when the bear intends to eat you).
Regardless of the situation, surprise is one of the leading causes in bear attacks. A solitary bear, which is startled by a hiker on a trail, may run away or aggressively confront the hiker. Most injury encounters with bears occur when the person gets within 55 yards before the bear is aware of his presence.
WHAT ABOUT HUNTING IN GRIZZLY COUNTRY?
Sportsmen, who harvest big animals in grizzly country, should be aware that the sound of a gunshot might sound like a dinner bell to a wandering grizzly. Some hunters tracking down their trophy elk can be quite surprised when they find a grizzly has beaten them to it. Hunters who make a kill in grizzly country should make lots of noise as they carefully approach the carcass. They should also try to view the carcass from a distance to see if a grizzly is regarding it. The blood and gore at a kill sight may attract a keen nosed opportunistic grizzly.
Many hunters, who have killed animals and returned the next morning to pack out the meat, have been suddenly confronted by an aggressive bear that has claimed the kill overnight. If a kill sight appears disturbed, but no bear is seen, it’s best to back off because the bear may be lying in cover nearby. A bear on a kill may refuse to back off, even when shots are fired into the ground nearby, and many sportsmen have been forced to relinquish their harvested game animal to a protective bear guarding its food supply. Smart sportsmen who harvest big game animals in grizzly country try to pack out the meat the same day of the kill, or they carry the quartered carcass to a safe spot a few hundred yards from the bloody kill sight and then hang the quarters high in a tree.