A commonly asked question is “What do I do if I run into a bear and the bear attacks?” There is no easy answer. Like people, bears react differently to each situation.
The best thing you can do is to make sure you have read all the suggestions for hiking and camping in bear country and follow them. Avoid encounters by being alert and making noise.
Bears may appear tolerant of people and then attack without warning. A bear’s body language can help determine its mood. In general, bears show agitation by swaying their heads, huffing, and clacking their teeth. Lowered head and laid-back ears also indicate aggression.
Bears may stand on their hind legs or approach to get a better view, but these actions are not necessarily signs of aggression. The bear may not have identified you as a person and is unable to smell or hear you from a distance.
If you surprise a bear, here are a few guidelines to follow that may help prevent bear attacks:
• Talk quietly or not at all; the time to make loud noise is before you encounter a bear. Try to detour around the bear if possible.
• Do not run! Back away slowly, but stop if it seems to agitate the bear.
• Assume a nonthreatening posture. Turn sideways, or bend at the knees to appear smaller.
• Use peripheral vision. Bears appear to interpret direct eye contact as threatening.
• Drop something (not food) to distract the bear. Keep your pack on for protection in case of a bear attack.
• If a bear attacks and you have bear spray, use it!
• If the bear makes contact, protect your chest and abdomen by falling to the ground on your stomach, or assuming a fetal position to reduce the severity of an attack. Cover the back of your neck with your hands. Do not move until you are certain the bear has left.
• Report all bear attacks to the nearest ranger or warden immediately if you are camping at a park.
In rare cases bears may attack at night or after stalking people.
This kind of attack is very rare but can be very serious because it often means the bear is looking for food and preying on you.
If you are attacked at night or if you feel you have been stalked and attacked as prey, try to escape. If you can not escape, or if the bear follows, use pepper spray, or shout and try to intimidate the bear with a branch or rock. Do whatever it takes to let the bear know you are not easy prey.
Camping and Bears
Odors attract bears. Here are some more tips to prevent bear attacks:
• Keep a clean camp!
• Inspect campsites for bear sign and for careless campers nearby. Notify a ranger or warden of potential problems if you are camping in a National Park or State Park.
• Place all trash in bearproof containers.
• Pets, especially dogs, must be kept under physical restraint.
• Report all bear sightings to the nearest ranger or warden immediately.
To prevent bear attacks, it is also good to know about different types of bears. Check out “What Kind of Bear is That?” on the Glacier National Park web site.