14/06/24

Encountering a Bear in the Woods? Safety Tips & Best Practices

By: Bobbi Brink
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What should you do when hiking or climbing the mountains and you come face-to-face with a bear in the woods? Read on to discover what you must do to ensure your safety and the bear's well-being.

Understanding Bear Behavior

The woods might have dangerous animals, but bears are intelligent animals that naturally want to avoid conflict. However, they can become dangerous if they feel threatened. 

If you encounter a bear and handle the situation calmly and appropriately, it is entirely possible for you to resolve the situation peacefully. It's important to understand bear behavior and avoid doing anything that may be seen as a threat.

Preventive Measures

If you can avoid an encounter with a bear, it will enhance your safety and the bear's. 

Here's how to minimize the likelihood of a bear encounter.

Be Knowledgeable About the Area and its Bears

Before moving to bear country or visiting a national park, research the bear species that inhabit the area. Learn about bear behavior and signs of their presence, such as overturned rocks, claw marks, droppings, and tracks.

Before your visit, check the park’s online resources for information about the local wildlife. Reading information pamphlets beforehand can also be helpful. Most parks, such as Yosemite National Park in California, provide clear information on their websites regarding the bear types present, bear safety protocols, and assigned bear lockers to store food.

Store Food Properly

The smell of food and scented items like toiletries often attract bears. Thus, storing food in a camping tent isn't a good idea. Instead, use canisters and any bear lockers that campsites provide. 

Furthermore, keep the backpack and any other food source at least one hundred meters away from where you sleep.

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Make Loud Noises

Let bears know about your presence. You can clap, sing, call out, or talk loudly, particularly when close to dense vegetation, berry fields, or a stream. Being noisy in low-visibility areas and on windy days can scare bears away.

Move in Large Groups

Bears are less likely to encounter a large group of humans. To stay safe, hike in a group of four people or more. Also, don't let children stray too far away.

Navigating a Bear Encounter

Despite the preventive measures, encounters are still possible. 

If you see a bear and it hasn't noticed you, your best bet is to move away quietly so it doesn't notice. 

If the Bear is Aware of Your Presence:

Bears can sometimes be unpredictable when confronted. In some cases, a bear might charge at you but veer away at the last moment, essentially bluffing to assert dominance or scare you off without intending to attack. However, not all bears will respond this way.

Other bears may react defensively if they feel threatened. This defensive behavior can include growling, making 'woofing' sounds, laying their ears back, and snapping their jaws. These actions indicate that the bear is agitated and may be preparing to defend itself if it perceives no other option.

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Here's what to do to prevent the encounter from escalating:

Speak to the Bear

Talk calmly to the bear to help it know you're a human rather than a prey animal. Remain calm, stand your ground, but gradually wave your arms. When you do this, the bear might get closer or on its hind legs to smell or get a better look. Standing bears are curious, not threatening.

Stay Calm

Generally, bears aren't ready for an attack but often want to be alone. If the bear charges by growling, drooling, yawning, or woofing, stay your ground and talk to it in low tones. This action will not only minimize nervousness on your part, but it's also non-threatening to the bear.

Avoid moving suddenly or screaming, as it may trigger an attack. Besides, don't make a high-pitched squeal or imitate bear sounds. The bear might mistake you for a prey animal.

Do Not Drop the Backpack

If the backpack contains food, and you drop it, the bear won't leave the scene easily. Also, you can use the pack to protect your back.

Back Away Slowly

Start moving away slowly while you face the direction of the bear and keep a safe distance. Never run, as it might provoke aggressive bears to pursue you.

Make Yourself Look Bigger

Mimicking a large appearance can scare the bear away. If you are a group, move close to each other, gather any small children close to you, or move to higher ground.

Do Not Climb Trees

Climbing a tree to escape a bear is not a good strategy. Both black bears and grizzlies are better at climbing trees than you are, so they can easily follow you up a tree. Black bears, in particular, are adept climbers and often scale trees to escape threats or search for food. Grizzlies, while not as agile as black bears, are still capable climbers and can reach you if you attempt to take refuge in a tree.

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Instead of climbing, it’s crucial to remain calm, avoid sudden movements, and follow bear safety protocols to minimize the risk of an encounter escalating.

Handling a Bear Attack: Black Bear vs Brown Bear

Most bear encounters often end without any injury. But sometimes, a bear can attack to protect its space, cubs, or food.

Protecting yourself depends on whether you're facing an attack from a black or brown bear.

Brown/Grizzly Bear

If a brown bear attacks you, play dead with your pack on. In other words, lay flat on your stomach and keep your hands crossed behind the neck.

Also, spread your legs, making it difficult for the bear to turn you over. Stay still until you are sure the bear has left the area. 

Fighting back often intensifies bear attacks, but if the attack doesn't stop, defend yourself by fighting back. You can use a rock or branch to fight back.

Black Bear

If a black bear attacks you, don't play dead. Instead, escape to a building or car. If you can't find an escape route, you can use any available object to fight back. Direct those blows and kicks around the bear's muzzle and face.

Use Bear Spray

You can also use a bear spray to stop a charging or attacking bear. While a bear pepper spray is used the same way as a human spray, the two are not the same. Always be sure only to choose an EPA-approved spray specifically designed for bears.

Also, always check with California Wildlife or other national parks to confirm if they allow or recommend bear spray within their facilities.

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We hope you found this article helpful. While encountering a bear in the woods can be intimidating, remember that bears generally prefer to avoid humans. By staying safe and aware, you can minimize the risk of an encounter turning dangerous. Be cautious, respect the wildlife, and enjoy your time in nature knowing you’re prepared. Stay safe out there!

For a closer look at these incredible animals, visit the bears at Lions Tigers & Bears in beautiful San Diego County, California. Meet Rocky, Cherry Bomb, Teddy, Meatball and all the other rescued bears. Learn about their unique stories, explore species-specific habitats, and discover the safety precautions our sanctuary takes when handling these amazing animals. It's an educational experience that will deepen your understanding and appreciation of bears in a safe and controlled environment.

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