Top 8 Preventive Measures Against Bear Attacks

Camping and hiking are both wonderful outdoor activities, but they come with several dangers. Bumping into old Yogi Bear while enjoying the scenery isn’t something desirable, so in order to avoid this there a couple of precautionary measures to take.

Before we get to them, first we need to be able to identify what kind of bear we’re dealing with, because each species reacts differently. Luckily there are only 2 species found in the wilderness, here in the US:

  1. Black bears

Black bears can weigh between 125 to 660 pounds. The color of black bears tends to range from black to blond. Their muzzle is usually lighter in color than the bear’s body and many black bears will also sport a white patch on their throat or chest. They stands about 2-3.5 feet tall to the shoulder and 4-7 feet tall when standing on his back legs. To better identify one keep an eye out for a straight face, a straight back line, small head and dark-colored short claws.

In the US you can find them in forested areas throughout most of the northeast, northern Midwest, the Rocky Mountain region, the west coast and Alaska.

An interesting fact is that there are about 50 black bears for every grizzly, but each species is responsible for about a half each of all bear fatalities, making grizzlies far more dangerous than black bears.

  1. Brown bears

This specie has many sub-species that include Grizzly bears and Kodiak bears. The weigh anywhere between 660 and 1500 pounds. An interesting fact is that Grizzly’s that live in interior areas weight about 550-1000 pounds, while those in the coastal region reach 1500 pounds. Like the black bears, their coloring can be anywhere from black to blond, but a dead giveaway is that the bear has silver-tipped fur that looks “grizzled” (or “streaked with gray hair”, hence the name “grizzly”. When standing, a grizzly can reach over 9 to 12 feet (2.74 to 3.657 meters) tall. To better identify these species look for a prominent hump over his shoulders, sloping back line, a dished or concave face, large head and light-colored, long curving claws

Brown bears like semi-open country, often in mountainous areas, and about 95% of brown bears in North America are in Alaska. The rest can be found along and in the Rockies, in the western Great Plains and along the upper western coast (grizzly bears can be found in the interior and coast).

It’s important to be able to distinguish between the different species in order to assess what need to be done next. For example black and grizzly bears are more aggressive than normal brown bears and playing dead works only on brown and Grizzly bears, black bears will tear you to shreds if they think you’re dead.

We’ll dive deeper into everything surrounding bear attacks and how to cope with them in a later article, for now let’s focus on how to avoid getting into that situation:

  1. Don’t hike at night in bear country. While bears prefer dawn and foraging, they do come out at night, so if you know you’re in an area where bears live, stop hiking and setup camp. Walking in the dark is a bad idea for many reasons, one of them being you might not spot the bear, and they definitely don’t like being surprised.

 

  1. Mind the trails. Bear prefer routes that pose the least resistance, so you might run into them on the hiking trail.

 

  1. Curiosity kills. Avoid investigating dark, unknown caves or hollow logs, where bears make their dens. Also avoid areas identified by scavengers, such as raccoons, as there may be a feeding bear nearby.

 

  1. Stop with the photos. If you spot a bear, just move on and keep an eye on him to make sure your paths don’t intersect. Forget about taking photos of the animal, leave that part to professionals. Bears may consider you a threat if you enter their territory to snap a few.

 

  1. Take care when cooking. Never cook in your tent or leave food in it; never leave any highly aromatic item in a tent, such as toothpaste or deodorant. Also pick up all garbage, cooking supplies, and other materials. Clean up thoroughly after meals, and secure food overnight high above the ground (by hanging it from a tree branch) to prevent it from attracting bears.

 

  1. Use pepper spray only as intended. Many think that using pepper spray on tents, clothing, etc. is a good idea. It’s not, because it acts as an attractant to bears! The residue smells like food, so it makes sense that it can attract bears.

 

  1. Numbers and noise. When hiking in bear country do so in large groups and make a lot of noise. Bears hate being surprised and hearing you make a ruckus, will let them know they are not alone. You can do this by shouting, singing loud or attaching bells to your backpack.

 

  1. Mother’s love. Do not, I repeat DO NOT approach or get between a cub and its mother. If you see a mama bear with her cubs, go the other way, it’s the safest course of action you can take.

 

Keeping track of your surroundings and spotting a potential threat before it spots you is always the safest choice. Having your wits about you and preventing stepping on a bears nerves may save your life or the life of someone dear to you.

 

 

 

What other preventive measures when dealing with a bear you know of? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

5 comments

  • I was reading a survival magazine that addressed firearms to carry in the “backcountry”. The photo showed a wolf, a brown bear and a mountain lion. The article advertised 10 handguns for outdoor advocates to consider. To my surprise, 6 of the guns were either .22 LR or .22 WMR. There were 2 guns chambered in .45 LC/.410 GA and 2 in .357 MAG/.38 SPL. However, I think it is bad advice to suggest that .22 caliber is adequate for defending against large predators like those in the photos. Granted, shot placement is more important than projectile size. But, you may not have time to practice marksmanship fundamentals. Bottom Line: Carry a firearm capable of stopping the predators in your hiking or camping area. If you are recoil sensitive, go with someone who can manage a larger caliber weapon. The .45 Long Colt and .357 Magnum weapons (with the right ammo) CAN drop any animal native to North America. They may not be best for Alaska or areas with large brown bears, though. I’d recommend .44 MAG, .454 Casull .460 or .500 S&W.

    • Michael G Prouty

      The best advice I ever heard on choosing a handgun caliber for self defence in the wild was to carry the largest and most lethal caliber that you can shoot well. Don’t over gun yourself.

    • Yes, the .22’s don’t make much sense. While anything is better than nothing, a larger caliber seems more reasonable. Except, perhaps, in Alaska, I prefer the .357 mag. One reason is its versatility. There are a big variety of .38 spec loads available, and several good .357 loads, also the bird/snake-shot load. I carry the same gun concealed wherever I normally am (Ruger SP 101, 2 1/2 in bbl) with good .38 spec rounds and .357 whenever I’m in the ‘great out of doors’.
      (in town situation, the .38 is easier to control and with the .357 I worry about ‘over penetration’). Michael G is right, the largest caliber you can shoot well. I knew guys when I first lived in Alaska who carried a .44 mag when salmon fishing. they had never practiced with their weapon, too much recoil, but somehow thought that in a crunch situation, they would be able to shoot it well enough. I don’t think so.

    • I would also comment, the trouble with many ‘survival’ articles is, you need to know a lot about the subject already to separate the ‘wheat from the chaff’. I have read many an article where, in my experience/opinion, the information was wrong, or incomplete. To the inexperienced, worthless or dangerous.

  • Another thought, re: pepper spray. While it is good, and highly recommended, you can’t get good, long range pepper spray just anywhere. I have long thought that ‘wasp and hornet spray’ would work well, it smells awful and (don’t get the ‘foam’ kind, it doesn’t go very far.) sprays 20+ feet. I have only had one occasion, in Alaska, to use it, against a REALLY big black bear, but it seemed to work well. As with all sprays, pay attention to the wind, you don’t want a dose of whatever it is, back in your face. I also carry a short ‘hiway flare’ in my pack, not useful for sudden encounters, but given time (around the camp at night, etc), besides the really hot fire part, the sulfur smell is pretty overwhelming. Again, pay attention to the wind.

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