How To Successfully Fend Off A Charging Grizzly Bear

Encountering a bear can be a frightening experience, but it’s important to know how to react to increase your safety and reduce the risk of provoking the bear. Here’s what you should never do if you encounter a bear:

Staying Safe Around Bears

  1. Don’t Run: Running can trigger a bear’s predatory instinct, causing it to chase you. Bears can run faster than you, and attempting to flee might provoke an attack.
  2. Don’t Approach: Bears are wild animals and can be unpredictable. Approaching them, especially if they have cubs, can be seen as a threat, leading to defensive behavior.
  3. Don’t Make Direct Eye Contact: In the animal kingdom, direct eye contact can be interpreted as a challenge or threat. Avoid staring directly into the bear’s eyes.
  4. Don’t Scream or Make Loud Noises: Loud noises can startle bears and potentially escalate the situation. Instead, speak calmly and firmly in a low tone of voice.
  5. Don’t Drop Food or Litter: Bears are attracted to the smell of food. If you’re carrying food, slowly and quietly put it away. Dropping food or leaving litter can encourage the bear to approach.
  6. Don’t Climb a Tree: While climbing a tree might seem like a good idea, black bears are excellent climbers and can follow you up. Grizzly bears are also capable of climbing to some extent.
  7. Don’t Play Dead Unless It’s a Brown/Grizzly Bear: If you encounter a brown/grizzly bear and it attacks, playing dead by lying flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck can sometimes discourage further attack. However, this tactic doesn’t work well for encounters with black bears.
  8. Don’t Feed the Bear: Feeding bears can habituate them to human presence and food sources, making them more likely to approach people and potentially become aggressive.
  9. Don’t Approach a Bear with Cubs: Mother bears are extremely protective of their cubs. Getting between a mother bear and her cubs is dangerous and can lead to an attack.
  10. Don’t Turn Your Back and Flee Suddenly: If a bear approaches you but hasn’t shown aggression, slowly back away while keeping an eye on the bear. Turning your back suddenly might trigger an attack.
  11. Don’t Use Bear Spray Improperly: Bear spray can be an effective deterrent when used correctly. Make sure you know how to use it and keep it easily accessible.

In general, the best approach is to stay calm, speak softly, and slowly back away from the bear without making any sudden movements. If the bear starts to approach you, try to make yourself look bigger by raising your arms and standing on your toes. If the bear charges, often it’s a bluff charge, so stand your ground and continue speaking softly. If the bear makes physical contact, fight back with everything you’ve got.

Remember that different types of bears (black bears, grizzly bears, etc.) may require slightly different strategies, so it’s important to know which species are common in the area you’re visiting and understand the recommended guidelines for encountering them.

Cover Image: NPS Photo / Jake Bortscheller