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Two Bears Fighting
Wildlife 101: What to Do When a Bear Attacks

Wildlife 101: What to Do When a Bear Attacks

Depending on where you hike or camp, it is entirely possible that you could encounter a bear. In this installment of the Wildlife 101 series, we’re going to talk about avoiding and surviving a bear attack.

Related Read: Was that a BEAR?!

Bears like food and they like their personal space. They are also very strong and can do serious damage to a car when trying to get to food, so think what they could do to an RV or, worse, a tent. Avoidance is the best defense, but if that doesn’t work, you need to know how to get away.

Signs of an Agitated Bear
Knowing what an agitated bear looks like could be the difference between life and death. There are several situations that heighten the danger though. A mother bear defending her cubs and a bear defending its territory or food are the most dangerous and can become aggressive.

Related Read: Surviving Encounters with Dangerous Wild Animals (Part 1)

A bear stands on its hind legs when it is curious. You can usually make a lot of noise and make yourself look large (holding your jacket open or anything to look bigger) and it will go away. If it is clacking or chomping it teeth or huffing, that indicates it feels threatened. It may or may not signal aggression. Make noise, but slowly leave the area – do not run.

If its ears are flattened, that is a sure sign of aggression. Remove the cap from your bear spray just in case. Talk to the bear in a calm voice, but slowly back away.
If the bear starts slapping at the ground or is bluff charging, it usually isn’t a good sign. Black bears do it when they are uncertain about the next move or not sure about the situation. In other words, the animal is quite agitated. Grizzlies exhibit this behavior just before they attack. Get your bear spray ready and calmly but quickly leave the area. You want the bear to believe that you are not a threat.

Related Read: Wildlife 101: Encountering Animals in the Wild

If the bear charges, an attack is imminent. You have to act fast. Take the cap off of your bear spray and when the bear is about 60 feet away, start spraying. Begin low and sweep upwards as you spray, creating a thick cloud. Keep backing away but don’t run and don’t climb a tree. Bears can climb trees – better than you.

If You are Attacked by a Bear
If you have sprayed your bear spray or you don’t have any, and the bear is steadily coming after you, the best thing you can do is drop down into the fetal position, cover your neck and head as best you can, and play dead. This is pretty effective with grizzlies. The bear might toss you around a bit, but will eventually stop and wander off it if thinks you are dead. After the bear leaves, stay “dead” for a while though. Grizzlies will often stick around for a while, waiting to see if you are actually dead or if you’ll get back up.

Black bears can be handled a little differently. They will bluff to make you think they are going to attack you so you need to make a lot of noise and stand your ground. Running away just makes the bear think you are prey and if you try to climb a tree the bear will just laugh at you – while climbing up right after you.

If the bear attacks, fight back. Use whatever you can get your hands on, sticks, rocks, your fist, and aim for the face. The snout and eyes are the most vulnerable so go for those areas.

Of course, if you can avoid bears altogether, that is ideal. Don’t go looking for bears because that’s just looking for trouble. Respect nature and you’ll be less likely to have to defend yourself against it.

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Stephanie A. Mayberry


Stephanie A. Mayberry

Stephanie A. Mayberry escaped the hustle and bustle of city life in Washington, D.C. where she worked as an analyst, FOIA officer, and technical writer for the U.S. federal government to pursue her first love, freelance writing, full time. She has been a writer, author, public speaker, and photographer for more than 25 years; now she, her husband, and little dog Gizmo enjoy the laid back lifestyle as RV full-timers going wherever the wind takes them. Learn more about Stephanie at stephaniemayberry.com