The purpose of this article is to:
- To raise awareness of good reactions to avoid the encounter (they are cute but come on!).
- Know what to do in case of confrontation (do I take my best picture or do I pet him on the nose?)
Know what to do in case of an attack (do I run at breakneck speed or do I break his head?)
These are the questions that we will now respond.
Table of Contents
Avoid the encounter
Bears are wild animals, and although extremely powerful, they are rather shy with humans. They are not looking for direct contact. Unless it is a polar bear who is starving and who is tracking you down for days to make you his next dinner (the polar bear being the only bear, in theory, which can put himself in a situation of predation for humans), as soon as they hear you, they go away and take a different path not to be disturbed.
Therefore most accidents occur due to chance encounters. The animal which is then surprised gets scared and attacks. These factors will be emphasized if the bear is with his cubs, if he is a large territorial male, if he is eating or if he is simply in a bad mood (it happens to bears also).
“All right! But how do you avoid them? We don’t know where they are?”
Let’s examine this.
- Observe: recognize the signs that the animal leaves in watching the footprints, the feces, the
scratches on the trunks of trees, carcasses, the behavior of other animals… example: if there is a grouping of birds above a river, it is likely that there is a salmon run with bears who love them. To put it in a nutshell observe the signs, nature has many things to say.
- Report your presence to the animal by making noise. You can clap in your hands, talk loud, and sing. As this not to do for hours, we can attach a little bell to our backpack that tinkles when walking. Once you stop repeat the noises to show your presence.
- Do not enter small dark places, like caves or any questionable cavity which could house the fierce monster.
- Avoid taking your dog (or at least keep him on a leash). They have a gift of finding them and excited them.
- Be particularly vigilant when you move forward against the wind because the bear will not be able to smell you or when you are along a stream because he will not be able to hear you.
- If you fish, clean your fishes above the river and throw away the carcass in the stream. No question of leaving anything on the ground. It is either in your belly or far away from you. Wash your hands several times. We all know that fish has a strong smell. Then imagine the effect that it must have on the terrestrial species having the best smell in the world and who loves fish as a crazy. No doubt he will come have a look to see if you have left him some. Once you have finish eating, leave your cooking gear sunken in the river.
- Do not store your food at the campsite. Hoist it in a tree, about 200 meters from your
bivouac, so it won’t get stolen during the night. Or put it in metal containers sealed or waterproof bag and then in the river or lake.
- Change your clothes if you smell like dinner. Among some bears, the association wood fire and human smell triggers a Pavlovian reaction of the type: “I’m starving, isn’t it the perfect time for racketeering”. So change your clothes.
- The more enclosed space without visibility you are in, the more it is advised to be vigilant and make noise.
This prevention, and already we see that we can avoid a great deal of inappropriate encounters by following a few safety measures. But nobody is perfect. And even if we are, bumping into a bear can still happen. There are always the unexpected or even the hypothesis where the bear has something personal against you. Bad luck!
In this case how to react in case of confrontations?
React in case of confrontations
You are walking peacefully. You are having a cushy rest. And wham! A bear. A powerful mass of muscle that can weigh up to a ton, who can run at a top speed of 35 mph (56 km/h) (faster than a horse), capable of tearing any car door while you have difficulty opening a jam jar, stands in front of you. What to do?
- If you are several, close ranks. A group is more impressive that a single person.
- Stay calm, face him and stand up straight. Normally here he stops. Don’t allow yourself any sudden escape, turning your back on him. Otherwise it will activate his instinct for predator, and he will run with certainty behind you to get the leg that you are. And then? Head blown off! It is like in front of an aggressive dog, or even a man, never turn your back! Above all remain calm.
- Back away slowly while speaking to him gently and without fixing him in the eyes. “Easy! Look, I am leaving” the fact to hear you with a soft voice will normally reassurance him. You will pass him the message: “I do not want to harm you, I am not here to steal your territory, your fish or your girlfriend, I just came here by mistake.” If he follows you, stop and wait.
Normally by applying this, we are left with a big fright and a story of adventurer to tell at dinners.
However, it still remains a scenario. THE scenario, rare, fortunately, but possible. You have upset the bear. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know, but he is really not pleased and he is charging at you.
React in the event of an attack
A bear charges you. He attacks. There is little chance that it is for a predation reason; more probably to enforce compliance. What to do? There is a behavior to adopt to overcome this situation. But the reactions can be different depending on the species.
I know that you are not a “bearologist” (me neither, by the way) so here are the main differences to recognize bear species in order to adapt your behavior.
The polar bear is a huge fellow (two to three meters high and weighs often a ton), he is white, a good swimmer and lives only in the Arctic regions. So if you cross one, I think his identity will not be mistaken.
The brown bear and the black bear are more similar and may evolve in the same environments.
The brown bear differs from the black bear – not necessarily by his size because there are comparable sub-species (not all have the size of a dinosaur of the Kodiak bear), not by his color because there are black bears who are lighter and brown bears who are darker – but by morphological differences.
The black bear has a rump higher than the shoulders and has a straight nose. The brown bear (or Grizzly) has the shoulders higher and a curved nose. Overall the brown bear is larger.
Now that you know who is charging you at to full speed. What to do?
How to use a bear spray
Accidents with black bears, moreover fatal, are exceptional. Quebec has identified two in 50 years. They are usually charging as a bluff. But if it happens, it is advisable to defend yourself because the black bear although smaller (70-150 kg) and more apprehensive than the grizzly or the polar bear, has a Herculean strength compare to you, but he doesn’t necessarily know it.
- Advice: Scream with the most virile way that you can and shake the arms in the air for you to look bigger. If he is not running away, defend yourself. Show him that you are the stupidest and the strongest of the two. A good load of bear pepper spray or a hit with a stick on his snout, and everything should be back in order (apart from a big fright).
Brown bear (or Grizzly)
If it is a brown bear (or Grizzly) do not defend yourself unless you have a weapon and know how to use it. It is said that in Alaska there are more accidents with firearms trying to use them than with bears. That says a lot.
- Advice: before he arrives, lie flat on your stomach and do not move. Protect your neck, head and throat with your arms and play dead. If the bear does not feel danger anymore, he will leave you alone. Although wait he has left completely the premises because otherwise he may return.
If it is a polar bear, as we said it before, if he charges you, it is probably to eat you. The only reaction to have is to defend yourself, to show him that you will not be an easy prey to gulp down.
- Advice: therefore take everything that you have at hand. Your weapon, signal flare, alarm gun, bear spray, stone, stick. Deliver your best Kung Fu, aim the eyes, the nose, the sensitive parts. Hit hard and fight. In short, let your instinct of survival out, your craziest and your more ferocious because you do not want to finish in the stomach of a bear!
Now you know everything. How to avoid bears, react if you cross them and survive if you are being attacked.
However a small nuance is required. Although we can draw, here, some general information on bears to predict their behavior, they remain and will always remain wild animals. If they feel like eating you despite all your precautions, it is still possible. So if you never want to find yourself in this situation, do not wander in these regions, period.