Guide To Bear Attack Prevention
We don’t proclaim to be experts in the area of bear attacks or bear behavior, but we have more personal knowledge about bears than most folks. A very close friend of mine lives in Colorado Springs with the Rocky Mountains at his back door. He has had a lot of experiences with black bears and relates those to us.
Bears love the Rocky Mountains and they love all the people with all their food who go hiking and camping in those mountains. Bears exist in all of the lower 48 states and Alaska. Some biologists claim that bears can smell food from as far as 2 miles away. I’ll leave the experts to debate that point, but we do know that bears have extremely sensitive noses and you should know this: when they are hungry, nothing will get between them and the food they are after!
Bears are basically very shy and will not attack unless they are defending their cubs, are provoked or are looking for or defending food.
People have this image of a bear as a clumsy oaf or as a cute cuddly little animal. The fact is a 150 pound cub can be just as vicious and aggressive as mama bear weighing four times that amount. They are extremely fast on their feet and can run as fast as 30 miles an hour. And they can climb trees too. In this blog post we will discuss how to avoid a bear attack and the best way to defend against a bear attack.
You should know that you are much more likely to see a bear in a residential area in the springtime or in early fall. These are the times of year when bears are much more aggressive because they are looking for food. They come out of hibernation in the spring and they go into hibernation in the fall and man, oh man, are they hungry.
In the backcountry, bear attacks are relatively rare but bear encounters are a different matter. When hiking or camping in the backcountry, you need to know how to act in the bear’s playground-his natural habitat.
One of the most respected resources on bears in the United States is the American Bear Association. Their website offers a wealth of information including bear encounter safety tips.
Bear Encounter Safety Tips
- Rule number one is never go into the backcountry, hiking, camping, fishing or hunting without an effective EPA approved bear deterrent spray.
- They recommend that you travel in groups; and if you have children, don’t allow them to stray or run ahead.
- Always remain alert and make plenty of noise while you’re on the trail. They recommend wearing bells, singing or talking loudly. However, don’t let that activity distract you from paying attention to your surroundings.
- Don’t leave the trail and never hike at night.
- If a bear approaches, stay calm and under no circumstances attempt to run away. As noted, bears can out run you and can climb trees too. So it is best to stand your ground and make your body look bigger by lifting your arms over your head or spreading out a jacket or backpack.
- Slowly back away, keeping the bear in sight but avoid eye contact. Eye contact with a bear may be seen as a sign of aggression.
- If you have small children in the group, you don’t want them screaming or running away.
- You shouldn’t have a dog in the first place, but if you do, make sure that you have it on a leash and keep it under control.
- Learn some basic body language from bears. If he starts snapping his jaws or slaps at the ground, he is feeling threatened and may attack.
- Give the bear enough room to escape. He may be just as afraid of you as you are of him.
- The bear may charge you. In most cases that’s a bluffing tactic meant to intimidate you to get you to leave. Keep backing away and talking loudly to the bear.
- Whatever you do don’t try to run away. As we mentioned, bears can run a lot faster than you can.
- Most bears tend to be wary of humans and often will do anything to avoid them.
- Keep your eyes open at trailheads looking for signs warning of recent bear activity.
- When going into the backcountry leave your dog at home. If your dog accidentally runs into a bear it will hightail it back to you, leading the charging bear right to you.
- When camping in the backcountry make sure you cook your food at least 100 feet away from your tent, downwind, and store your food cache out of bears’ reach hanging it from a line off the ground between two trees or off of a rock face.
- If you have surprised a bear and making noise or struggling has not discouraged an attack, curl up in a ball with your hands behind your neck. Lie still and be silent; surprised bears usually stop attacking once they no longer see you as a threat.
About.com has a section about bear safety in U.S. parks. One thing they stress is that you should know the difference between black and brown bears because their behavior is different.
You should know that brown bears or grizzlies are more likely in the Western United States. In the Eastern United States you are more likely to see a black bear. What might be confusing is that a black bear out West can be brown or cinnamon in color.
Black bears are more likely to be offensive and will not give up if you’re rolled up in a ball. The playing dead, rolling up in a ball technique works very well with a brown bear that is more likely to attack you only while defending food or its cubs.
You can get more information about bear safety from a publication by the Department of Natural Resources in Alaska. Who knows more about bears than they do?
If there is any one individual in the United States who is considered an expert in bear conservation and conflict management, it is Dr. Tom Smith who is an associate professor and wildlife research biologist at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. His undergraduate degree is in Zoology and his Master’s degree from the University of Alaska is in Wildlife Management. His doctorate is in Wildlife Ecology. For the last 15 years he has focused on bear conservation and conflict management.
Dr. Smith did a highly regarded study of bear deterrents and found that “in 92% of the cases in the study covering incidents from 1985 to 2006 the bear aggression was stopped using bear pepper spray. Firearms on the other hand are only 76% effective.” It’s hard to shoot straight when a 400 pound bear is chasing you down and trying to have lunch out of you.
How To Use Bear Spray
- Anyone who goes into the backcountry without an effective bear spray is foolish. But it is one thing to carry bear spray and another to know how to use it effectively.
- Only get a bear spray that is EPA approved. The EPA prescribes the minimum amounts of spray in a can-a little over 9 ounces.
- All bear sprays are much stronger in the percentage of major capsaicinoids than regular pepper spray.
- Most pepper sprays have a range of six to as much as 12 feet. That will do you no good in defending against a bear attack.
- Look for a spray that empties the canister in five or six seconds.
- Get a bear spray with the longest range possible. This Frontiersman Brand Spray has a range of 35 feet.
- When an attack seems imminent, spray in such a way that you create a wall of mist between you and the bear. When the bear starts to attack and charge at you he will run into the bear spray. His sense of smell is so sensitive that the oleoresin capsicum in the spray will repel him.
Follow these safety tips in the backcountry when you encounter a bear and you may avoid an attack or survive one.
Have you ever been attacked by a bear or had bear encounter? Please share your experience. We want to hear your thoughts.