Backcountry Survival: Bear Attacks

While I never like to fill anyone’s head with fear or negativity, especially when it comes to venturing into the outdoors, I do like to prepare others for potentially dangerous situations they might encounter one day. One such situation is bear attacks. Though they are rare, attacks involving black bears and grizzly bears can happen, and it’s important to know how to prepare yourself with knowledge to boost your chances of surviving an attack.

If you live near, or plan to frequently hike, regions heavily populated with bears, it’s best to pick up bear spray before hitting the trail. You can pick up a holster or belt clip for the spray to keep it easily accessible during a hike, as well. Should you be attacked by a bear while hiking, you’ll only have seconds to respond, so having the spray ready and within reach is smart.

If attacked by a grizzly bear, the first thing you’ll need to do is use your bear spray when the bear is within range (usually 40 feet or so). When the bear is within range, spray a cloud right at its face. Most of the time, the strength of the spray, especially a hit anywhere near the bear’s face, will be enough to ward off an attack. If you have no bear spray, or if the bear continues to charge after being sprayed, lie face down on the ground, cover the back of your head and neck with your hands, and do not move. Playing dead is the best thing you can do to increase your odds of surviving an attack. Do this during the attack and for 20-30 minutes after the bear leaves. Grizzly bears attack until their target is no longer a threat, so playing dead will do this quickly. After enough time has passed, slowly try to see if the bear is gone and if it is safe to do so, contact help.

Though they may be smaller in size than grizzlies, black bears are still dangerous and should be treated as such when encountered. First and foremost, you’ll need to stand your ground and make yourself as intimidating as possible. Yell, wave your arms, and make yourself bigger by holding a branch or your backpack over your head. Also, resist the urge to climb a tree for safety, as black bears are excellent climbers and will follow you. If the bear is on you, fight back by attacking the bear’s face. Use anything you have to strike the bear’s eyes or nose and fight like there’s no tomorrow, or there won’t be.

In either case, bear attacks on humans are rare and the attacking bear is usually sick or starving. The important thing to remember is to not run, as this is the behavior of prey items and bears will chase you. Play dead for grizzlies, fight back against black bears, and prepare for encounters with either species by arming yourself with bear spray the next time you hike through bear country. Bears are big, fast, and deadly, but arming yourself with knowledge and a few new tools will tip the odds of survival in your favor a bit.