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What to Do if You Are Attacked by a Bear

Here’s the scenario:  You are hiking up to a mountain lake somewhere in one of the beautiful mountain ranges of America when you see or hear something that makes your inner soul tremble.  It is a bear, either on the trail in front of your or walking through the brush somewhere around you.

The realization of your proximity to such a large and powerful carnivore sends every gut feeling you have into overdrive and your body immediately engages its self-defense mechanism of panic.  What would you do?  Would you be able to react in the best way possible to make sure you survived unscathed following your brush with a wild bear?

If you venture into the outdoors often, then knowing what to do when you encounter a bear can be literally a lifesaving wealth of knowledge.  But, ironically, one of the first things that people need to understand about encountering a bear in the wild is that bears, like other animals, are more likely to be frightened away from humans than drawn to attack one.

Attacks from bears occur mostly due to the presence of food on the person or near them, which attracts the bear and initiates encounters, and if a person startles a bear or surprises a bear.  A mother bear’s instincts to protect their young can also lead to attacks and when there are cubs around people need to be extra careful to avoid being attacked.  Prevention is the best way to stave off a bear attack, so one should never leave food out overnight, keep a clean camp, be loud to alert the bears to your presence while traveling through bear country, and calmly back away if a bear cub is spotted.  

If you do come across a bear that attacks, here are the two main tips that experts have advised people do when attacked by a bear:

  • If the bear is attacking in defense or for non-predatory reasons, then playing dead by lying face down with hands covering the back of the neck will typically signal the end of the fight and the bear should leave.  (grizzly bears seldom attack humans for a food source)
  • If the bear is attacking like a predator intending to kill and eat you, your options are to climb a high tree if one is close by (although black bears, the bears most likely to hunt humans as a source of food, are adept climbers and so climbing will offer limited protection) or fight back.  Out running a bear is next to impossible, so standing one’s ground and making a hard fight with rocks, sticks, camping frying pan, or anything including fists will often show the bear that you are not prey that is worth the effort.