Bear Safety Tips for Campers and Hikers

If the bear sees you, stay calm. Do not run. Often it will stand on its hind legs to get a better look at what has entered its territory. Stand your ground, avoid direct eye contact, talk in a loud voice, and do all you can to appear as large as possible, such as getting together in a group and waving your arms.

If a bear charges, again, do not run. You cannot outrun a bear. Often it will be a false charge and the bear will veer off at the last second. It's also of little use to climb a tree, as bears can as well.

Bear spray has shown to be an effective deterrent to ward off a bear. Make sure you carry it in a spot that is easily accessible, and be careful not to spray it upwind. While some choose to carry firearms when in the wild, it takes considerable skill to stop a charging bear with a bullet, and some studies have shown bear spray is more effective.

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Bear Attacks: Black Versus Grizzly

In the unlikely event the above precautions are not enough to prevent an attack, it's important to know whether you have engaged a black bear or a grizzly (brown) bear.

While both black and grizzly bears can range in color from light tan to black, grizzly bears are usually medium to dark brown. They weigh an average of 350 to 500 pounds compared to black bears, which average 110 to 300 pounds.

There are several other distinctive characteristics between the two. Grizzly bears have a hump on their back and an indented snout, both absent in black bears. Grizzly bears also have longer, straighter claws and their toes are close together and in a straight line; the toes of black bears are more spread out and aligned in a large arc.

If a black bear attacks, you should be aggressive and fight back vigorously with any object you have. If you have pepper spray, begin spraying when the bear is 40 to 50 feet away to create a cloud for the bear to run into.

If a grizzly bear attacks, play dead. Leave your backpack on for protection, lie face down or curl up in a fetal position with your hands behind your neck. Try to remain as still as possible and do not make any sounds. When the bear is convinced you're no longer a threat, it will move on. Stay still as long as you can after the bear leaves; grizzly bears often will watch and may renew their attack if they see you move.

Remember, most bears want nothing to do with humans and are motivated simply to protect their food, their cubs and their personal territory. If you take care not to be perceived as a threat to any of those, and follow the proper bear safety precautions, you can feel confident that you can share the wild with no threat to you.

More: How to Avoid Critters While Camping

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About the Author

Chuck Scott is a freelance editor and writer with 30 years of experience in sports journalism. He is also an avid backpacker and camper.

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