10 Tips for Surviving a Bear Encounter

A bear encounter can normally be avoided by simply staying aware of the presence of bears in your immediate area. Knowing the boundaries which most bears hold and the critical steps that you need to take to stay safe will help you survive a bear encounter.

Whether you’re up against a Grizzly or Black bear also makes a difference to the way to best handle the situation, while the gender, pack size and presence of cubs all make an impact. Here are 10 tips for surviving a bear encounter, giving you advice, preparatory steps, and some essential hiking tips.

Keep Your Distance

If you encounter a bear out in the wild then keep your distance. Most bears maintain a personal boundary of roughly twenty feet. Step within this distance and they will feel threatened. The noise and flash of a camera are foreign to a bear that it will most likely startle it.

At the moment that you notice a bear, slowly begin to move away until you can’t see the bear and the bear can’t see you. You don’t have to sneak away but refrain from making any loud noises or irregular movements. Once you’re a safe distance away the bear or pack will normally distance themselves even further from you.

I’m Too Close, What Now?

If you happen to stumble across a bear and are now too close for comfort then slowly raise your arms above your head, making you appear larger. Speak confidently to the bear in a low, calm, and appeasing voice. While keeping your eyes on the bear at all times, begin to slowly retreat. Make your way to a climbable tree if this is an option.

If the bear charges you, you had better hope you’re carrying repellent or are in reach of a tree. It is impossible to outrun a bear. The average human is capable of 25 mph over a short burst while a grizzly bear can run at a sustained 30 mph. You have no chance of outrunning a bear.

Distance and Your Encounter

The distance at which you encounter a bear or family of bears makes a big difference to how you should react. Here’s a look at how to handle each situation relative to how far away you are from the threat:

Bear within 350-Feet and NOT Yet Aware of You

Do what you can to keep your presence hidden. Retreat slowly, making a wide-birth away from the bear to ensure that it has more than enough space away from you. Head back to any known trail but if you know of none then it is best to make a detour away from the bear or bears. After backing off a short distance, wait to allow the bear some time to vacate the area. It’s best to head downwind at all times from the minute that you’re aware of the presence of a bear.

Bear within 350-Feet and Aware of You

This is where you need to stay calm and identify yourself as a non-threatening presence. Bears have very poor eyesight making it essential that you announce yourself as a human audibly. Most bears will begin to back off as soon as they recognize you as a human. At the same time, begin to retreat while keeping a close eye on the position of the bear. A detour is highly recommended but make sure that you travel upwind. Speak audibly but calming while lifting your arms above your head.

Bear is Actively Aggressive Towards You

Assess your situation, attempting to identify what type of bear you are dealing with and whether there are cubs. Look for any climbable trees. If you’re dealing with a grizzly then it’s time to make it to a tree quickly. Instead of running, retreat slowly trying to put as much space between yourself and the bear as possible.

Speak to identify yourself and don’t make direct eye contact. You want to watch where the bear is at all times though. To survive the encounter, you’ll need to climb to about 33-feet high to remove yourself from the bear as far as possible.

Even a black bear will give up once it feels less threatened making climbing as high as possible extremely important. When you’re dealing with anything other than a protected kill-zone most bears will mock-charge at you. This is a bluff designed to give you the chance to back down before the bear has to actually attack. Watch for this and use the gap to get away and up a tree or to your pepper spray.

Black Bears Can Climb & What to Do if Attacked

Black bears are less likely to attack you than a grizzly but if you have been stalked and any type of bear makes physical contact with you then you need to fight back with everything that you’ve got. A black bear attack can be deterred by fighting back which often scares the bear off. Grizzlies are vicious but attacks can be survived due to their defensive nature.

When & How to Play Dead

Playing dead in an encounter may be a scary prospect but it does typically reduce the risk of injury. Leave your backpack on as extra protection and turn on your side in a fetal position. Pull your legs to your chest and hold on tight or alternatively lie flat on your stomach with your hands extended behind your neck to shield your spinal cord. The only time that you should resort to playing dead is when you have no other option. Leave this as a last resort measure for when your attacks are known to be futile.

Being Prepared for a Bear Encounter

Once you are prepared with the right equipment, insight, and knowledge of the surrounding area, your risk of encountering a bear is much lower. Keep the following preparations up before heading into bear territory and you’ll be much safer.

Attach a Bell to Your Backpack

Bears will keep their distance if they are aware of you. When you know you’re going to be hiking through an area which is known for its population of bears be sure to attach a bell to your backpack. Don’t worry; this won’t attract bears. It will simply alert them of your presence preventing them from being startled and attacking.

Carry Bear Repellent Spray

Carry bear repellent spray with you when out in the woods where bears are known to live. It is pointless to take the risk and leave yourself undefended. Bears have a highly sensitive sense of smell and are immediately deterred by repellents. Most contain a blend very similar to pepper spray and will cause nothing more than severe irritation which will force the bear to run instead of being in the presence of such a severe spray.

Only use bear repellent spray as a last resort. It’s only effective at a very close range. Be careful of using the spray against the wind as it could disable you instead of the bear. If you do resort to spraying, use the time wisely as some bears will be further agitated after a brief period of disorientation. Any canister used partially must be thrown away afterward as the smell of pepper can attract nearby bears once the seal is broken.

You might want to add it on your survival tools in camping or hiking.

How Your Bear Encounter May Play Out

Studies show that bears with first-year cubs will only attack when you are within their comfort zone. You’ve got a good chance of climbing a tree in time if attacked. However, bears with second-year cubs may bluff charge you from multiple directions with the entire family joining in to protect themselves more effectively. If you happen across a kill site then this is the most dangerous situation you can be in when facing a bear. Always stay aware of scavengers such as large groups of ravens when out trekking in bear territory.