One of the main reasons that people go into the wilderness is to hopefully see some wildlife. Moose, deer and especially bears are just some of the amazing animals that we would all love to see. While we do want to see them, we must think about our safety, especially when dealing with bears.
In most cases bears will not harm people. They may however attack if they are startled, if you are caught between a mother and her cub or if they are starving or wounded.
HOW TO AVOID SURPRISING A BEAR
Bears prefer not to socialize with humans. We don’t speak the same language or share interests – except for the taste of berries and fish. Therefore, bears wouldn’t go around looking for people. So, to avoid surprising a bear, there are a few things that you can do.
Bear Bell: You can put a Bear Bell on your packs. This bell will make sounds whenever you take a step or move the pack. They are extremely cheap and worth it.
Noise: Whistle or talk to yourself/trip mates. Bears won’t judge you too harshly, if they hear you talking to yourself. They’ll just walk away.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE A BEAR
If the bear hasn’t seen you: quietly retreat and get as far away from the bear as possible. Once you are a safe distance away then begin to make some noise. Then continue on your journey but try to put some distance between you and the bear by going around the area that the bear was in.
If the bear sees you: Calmly retreat, while watching the bear and speaking softly. You can say anything, you just don’t want to come across as being aggressive. Also, do not make eye contact with the bear. Eye contact can come across as a challenge. Odds are, you will not win if the bear accepts the challenge.
IF THE BEAR COMES TOWARDS YOU
Stand your ground: While watching the bear (but not making eye contact), slowly back away and speak softly to the bear. If the bear continues to come towards you (or charges you), stand your ground and make yourself look as big as possible. To make yourself look larger, raise your arms above your head – straight up, not waving. If the bear is charging, continue to hold your ground, odds are, it will turn away and leave.
Bear spray: This spray irritates the bears eyes and respiratory system. It will not leave the animal with any permanent damage. They can spray between 15 – 20 feet. Even though they are thought to be the same things, pepper spray and bear spray are different. Pepper spray is illegal in Canada, so I’m not going to get into the differences.
IF A BEAR ATTACKS
Here you have to decide if the bear is acting in defense or if the bear sees you as food. While it is rare that bears will be hungry enough to try to eat people, it can happen.
Attacking in defense: You made yourself as large as possible but if the bear is still attacked you. Some say that you should lie down on your stomach with your legs together, linking your hands behind your head and playing dead. Do not roll over onto to your back and do not curl up into the fetal position. Others say to play dead by assuming the “cannonball position” with hands clasped behind neck and face buried in knees. Once the bear leaves, stay still for a while before getting up because if the bear notices you moving, it may come back. Only get up once you know for sure, that they are gone.
Attacking for food: If the bear is starving enough that it decides that it needs to eat a person then you need to do everything that you can to stay alive. Throw sticks and rocks or hit it with paddles or pots, etc. Anything that you can get your hands on, can be used as a weapon. Hopefully you can scare the bear away.
Additional: Do not play dead with a black bear. Fight back.
Climbing a tree: This can only be a good idea if you are a good climber and you are dealing with an adult grizzly bear. Black bears and young grizzlies are great climbers. The other issue with this is that older grizzlies can reach up to four metres, so you’d better be able to climb high and quickly.
Running away: Even though they may not look it, bears are extremely fast. So, if you are planning on running away, you had better be going somewhere really close.
Going in for a closer look: Just don’t do it. You are just asking for trouble. We all would love pictures of a bear, but it isn’t worth risking your safety.
ONE MORE THING
When you get a chance, let the park staff know where and when you saw the bear. They will let others know that there is a bear in that area. Provincial and national parks are there for us to enjoy, so let’s help keep each other safe.