How To Protect Yourself in a Bear Confrontation

Depending on where you travel in the United States backcountry, you might come face-to-face with a black bear, brown bear or grizzly bear. Your response in this situation could be a matter of life-and-death. By reviewing this comprehensive guide, you can increase your odds of surviving a bear attack.

General Bear Encounters

When you notice a bear in the wild, keep your distance and avoid approaching the bear. While bears rarely attack humans, surprising the animal can result in aggressive behavior. If you are hiking or camping in an area with bear activity, make noise so the animal will detect your approach and remain hidden.

If the bear begins to approach you, speak calmly and raise your arms above your head. These steps will help the animal recognize you as a human rather than as prey. Move to higher ground if possible and hold children in your arms. Do not make sudden movements, offer the bear food, scream or imitate animal sounds.

Do not block a bear's escape route. If you can safely do so, slowly move sideways away from the animal and find a clear path out of the area.

Brown Bear or Grizzly Bear Attack

You're most likely to encounter a brown bear in the northwestern U.S. or Alaska. These bears are 6 to 7 feet tall and may have light brown to dark brown fur. To identify a grizzly, look for the distinctive muscle hump at the upper back.

The National Park Service says you should play dead in a brown bear or grizzly bear attack. Fighting back against these bears can make the animal more aggressive. Keep your backpack on to protect your back and lay face-down with both hands at the nape of your neck. Keep your legs spread wide, which may prevent the bear from turning you over. Stay in this position until you are sure the bear is gone.

When the bear is more than 20 feet away, try using a signal flare. Look for a brand with waterproof protection and a range of at least 300 feet.

If the bear doesn't back down even when you are playing dead or attacks you in your tent, fight back. Hit the bear in the face as hard as you can with whatever you have available. If you can't grab a tree branch, flashlight, canteen or other heavy object, try kicking the bear in the face.

Carry a bear spray with approval from the Environmental Protection Agency. Carry it in your holster and administer the spray to create a cloud barrier if the bear approaches you. You do not have to hit the animal directly in the face for the bear spray to deter aggressive behavior. You may have to use the entire can. Practice using bear spray in advance so you'll be ready in a bear encounter.

Black Bear Attack

Black bears, which are smaller and less aggressive than brown bears and grizzly bears, can be found throughout the U.S. and Canada. Black bears aren't always black, and may also have fur ranging from light blonde to black. You can distinguish a black bear by the smaller, more slender body and the lack of the muscle hump at the neck.

Never play dead when facing a black bear. According to the NPS, getting away to a secure location, such as a building or vehicle, poses the best chance of survival. As with a grizzly bear, if you have to fight a black bear, focus hard blows to the animal's face. Bear spray or a signal flare can also effectively deter a black bear from attacking.

The NPS does not recommend shooting the bear with a firearm. It can be difficult to kill a bear with this type of weapon and a wounded animal is more likely to attack and maul a human.

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