Preventing a Grizzly Bear Attack

Prevent a grizzly attack 

Grizzly (brown) bears must be respected first and foremost. They have great strength and agility, and will defend themselves, their young, and their territories if they feel threatened. Grizzly bears, like any wildl animal, are unpredictable and can inflict serious injury. Remember, never feed or approach a bear. To avoid a bear encounter, stay alert and think ahead. Always hike in a group. Carry noisemakers such as bells or cans containing stones. Most bears will leave a vicinity if they are aware of a human presence. Remember that noisemakers may not be effective in dense brush and near rushing water. Be especially alert when traveling into the wind since bears may not pick up your scent and may be unaware of your approach. Stay in the open and avoid food sources such as berry patches and carcass remains. Bears may feel threatened if surprised.

Watch for bear sign—fresh tracks, digging, and scats. Detour around the area if bears or their fresh sign are observed. Never approach a bear cub. Adult female brown bears are very defensive and may be aggressive, making threatening gestures (laying ears back, huffing, chopping jaws, stomping feet) and possibly making bluff charges. Bears have a tolerance range which, when encroached upon, may trigger an attack. Keep a distance of at least 100 yards between you and bears.

Bears are omnivorous, eating both vegetable and animal matter, so don’t encourage bears by leaving food or garbage around camp. When bears associate food with humans, they may lose their fear of humans. Food-conditioned bears are very dangerous.

In established campgrounds, keep your campsite clean and lock food in the trunk of your vehicle. Don’t leave dirty utensils around the campsite, and don’t cook or eat in tents. After eating, place garbage in containers provided at the campground.

In the backcountry, establish camps away from animal or walking trails, and near large, sparsely branched trees that can be climbed should it become necessary. Choose another area if fresh bear sign is present. Cache food away from your tent, preferably suspended from a tree that is 100 yards  downwind of camp. Use bear-proof or airtight containers for storing food and other attractants. Freeze-dried foods are lightweight and relatively odor-free. Pack out all noncombustible garbage. Always have radio communication and emergency transportation available at remote base or work camps in case of accidents or medical emergencies.

Don’t take dogs into the backcountry. The sight or smell of a dog may attract a bear and stimulate an attack. Most dogs are no match for a bear. When in trouble, the dog may come running back to the owner with the bear in pursuit. Trained guarding dogs are an exception and may be very useful in  detecting and chasing away bears in the immediate area.

Bear Confrontations.   If a brown bear is seen at a distance, make a wide detour. Keep upwind if possible so the bear can pick up human scent and recognize human presence. If a detour or retreat is not possible, wait until the bear moves away from the path. Always leave an escape route and never harass a bear.

If a brown bear is encountered at close range, keep calm and assess the situation. A bear rearing on its hind legs is not always aggressive. If it moves its head from side to side it may only be trying to pick up scent and focus its eyes. Remain still and speak in low tones. This may indicate to the animal that there is no threat. Assess the surroundings before taking action. There is no guaranteed life-saving method of handling an aggressive bear, but some behavior patterns have proven more successful than others.

Do not run. Most bears can run as fast as a racehorse, covering 30 to 40 feet per second. Quick, jerky movements can trigger an attack. If an aggressive bear is met in a wooded area, speak softly and back slowly toward a tree. Climb a good distance up the tree. Adult grizzlies don’t climb as a rule, but large ones can reach up to 10 feet. Defend yourself in a tree with branches or a boot heel if necessary.

Occasionally, bears will bluff by charging within a few yards of an unfortunate hiker. Sometime they charge and veer away at the last second. If you are charged, attempt to stand your ground. The bear may perceive you as a greater threat than it is willing to tackle and may leave the area.

As a last resort when attacked by a grizzly bear, passively resist by playing dead. Drop to the ground face down, lift your legs up to your chest, and clasp both hands over the back of your neck. Wearing a pack will shield your body. Brown bears have been known to inflict only minor injuries under these circumstances. It takes courage to lie still and quiet, but resistance is usually useless.

Many people who work in or frequent bear habitat carry firearms for personal protection. Although not a popular solution, it is justifiable to kill a bear that is attacking a human.

One thought on “Preventing a Grizzly Bear Attack

  1. Dave Smith

    Grizzly bears are not territorial; they have overlapping home ranges. They defend their personal space, not a territory. It doesn’t matter if you enter their personal space suddenly–a surprise encounter–or slowly; a photographer slowly approaching a bear, once you encroach on a bear’s personal space you’ve forced it to fight or flee. Any bear, not just adult females. The reason we label grizzlies as “unpredictable” is that most people don’t know enough about bear behavior in general, let alone an individual bear’s personality, to predict what a bear will do given specific circumstances. Bears don’t make bluff charges. They don’t make a conscious decision–before charging–to stop short of making contact. You could try climbing a tree for safety if a grizzly is a long way off and not aware of you, but if you don’t notice a grizzly until it’s charging, it’s too late for tree climbing. The bear will reach you before you even get to the tree, let alone start climbing. For sound information on how to deal with bears, get the Staying Safe in Bear Country video/dvd by the International Association for Bear Research and Management.

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