Spring is in the air and with the unseasonably warm weather across parts of the country, you can expect bears to begin emerging from hibernation soon. So what does this mean for those of us still chasing the last remnants of winter sports?
You need to be bear aware!
While most encounters end without incident, you should follow some basic steps to lessen the threat of danger. The National Park Service offers some advice for avoiding an unwelcome bear encounter and keeping yourself safe when traveling in bear country.
- Two of the most important things you can do are keep your distance and don’t surprise bears. They will most likely avoid you if they can hear, smell, or see you coming. Make lots of noise–hike and travel in groups as groups of people usually make more noise and create a stronger scent than a single person. And if you think you hear or see any sort of wildlife, make noise to help scare them away.
- Be aware of your surroundings and know if you are traveling in bear country. Are you hiking through berry bushes? Bears coming out of hibernation are hungry and they are likely to be found in places of abundant food sources.
- If you know you are traveling in active bear country, carry bear spray. Make sure you select an EPA-approved product that is specifically designed to stop aggressive bears and most of all, know how to use it (see video below).
- If you should encounter a bear, stay calm and do not scream. Speak to the bear in a low, calm voice. Remain still and stand your ground by slowly waving your arms to let the bear know you are human and to make you appear bigger.
- If the bear remains still, move away slowly and sideways–this is non-threatening to bears. Whatever you do, don’t run. If the bear follows, stand and hold your ground again. Don’t bother climbing a tree as both grizzlies and black bears can climb trees, too.
- Do not drop your pack as it can provide protection and you don’t want the bear to access your food.
- Always leave the bear an escape route and never place yourself between a mother bear and her cub.
So what if none of this works and the bear attacks? While attacks are rare, being prepared can help you have the best chance of surviving.
- Brown/Grizzly Bears: If you are attacked by a brown/grizzly bear, leave your pack on and PLAY DEAD. Lay ﬂat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over. Remain still until the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks. However, if the attack persists, fight back vigorously. Use whatever you have at hand to hit the bear in the face.
- Black Bears: If you are attacked by a black bear, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. Try to escape to a secure place such as a car or building. If escape is not possible, try to ﬁght back using any object available. Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear’s face and muzzle.
If any bear attacks you in your tent, or stalks you and then attacks, do NOT play dead—ﬁght back! This kind of attack is very rare, but can be serious because it often means the bear is looking for food and sees you as prey.
Bear Spray Introductory Video