How to survive a bear encounter
CBC News Online | June 6, 2005
The first thing to know about bears is they are unpredictable. There is no sure way to survive a bear attack, whether it's a grizzly or a black bear, though the lighter-coloured, humped grizzly is bigger and more aggressive.
If you spot a bear at a distance and can get away without it noticing you, do it. Quietly. Shouting at or attempting to scare away a bear that is unaware of you could provoke an attack.
If you spot a bear and can't leave the area without the bear spotting you, alert the bear to your presence and do what you can to show it that you're human. Most bears have encountered humans at some point and know what we look and sound like. Speak to the bear and wave your arms slowly. And back away slowly.
If you're within 15 metres (50 feet) of the bear when you encounter it, forget about identifying yourself as a person. It knows. Just back away slowly. If it's a grizzly bear, climbing a tree is sometimes an option, but it doesn't guarantee safety, as was seen in Canmore, Alta., in June 2005. Isabelle Dube climbed a tree to get away from a bear she encountered on a trail. The bear pulled Dube out of the tree and she was killed.
Do not try to outswim a bear.
If a bear begins to approach you or charge you, stand your ground. Bears often will bluff a charge, stopping abruptly or veering off.
If the bear is going to attack you, the best protection is a gun. If the threat is real, it's best to shoot to kill. Don't go for the head, go for the heart. If the bear is broadside, aim for the shoulder. If the bear's coming straight at you with its head low to the ground, aim for the back of the neck between the shoulders. Keep firing until the bear's dead because a wounded bear is very dangerous.
If you don't have a gun, there are two things to do, depending on the bear.
If it's a grizzly, play dead.
Recommended positions for playing dead:
Lie on your side, curled into a ball, legs drawn tightly to your chest, hands clasped behind your neck.
- Lie flat on the ground, face down, hands clasped behind your neck.
- Remain in these positions even if the bear drags you.
Do not play dead if it's a black bear, or a grizzly that regards you as prey. It that case, the best thing to do is fight back.
Recommended ways to fight back with a black bear or a grizzly that regards you as prey:
- Act aggressively.
- Defend yourself with whatever is available – a baseball bat, rake, tent pole, axe, anything.
- Try to appear dominant.
- Shout, jump up and down, wave your arms, hold up your jacket or backpack to make yourself look bigger.
Most bears avoid people. Old or wounded bears can be desperate, either in pain or starving. Bears used to the proximity of people, those that show no fear of humans, can be especially dangerous. Female bears with cubs aggressively defend their young.
Bears try to scare intruders by huffing, panting, hissing, growling and jaw-popping. They will stare at you with their heads lowered and ears laid back. They will slap their feet on the ground.
Bears standing on their hind legs swinging their heads from side to side are trying to pick up scents to determine who you are. Bears do not charge on their hind legs.
A hunting bear shows no fear and does not bother with displays. It approaches its prey at a fast walk, or follows or circles the prey.