A grizzly bear attack would likely kill or leave the victim severely maimed or scarred. However, an encounter with a grizzly doesn’t always have to end in bloodshed. If we use safe hiking and camping practices, learning how to read a bear’s body language, and staying calm – we can increase the odds of walking away in one piece.
The two bears we’re most likely to encounter during a hike or camping are the black bears and grizzly bears. So it’s imperative to differentiate between the two – each type reacts differently to humans. Black bears tend to be more tolerant of people and live near populated areas, also, they are less aggressive than grizzly bears. These visual cues below can be used to tell them apart:
- Black bears are mostly black, in some cases brown, blue-black or even cinnamon-colored.
- Grizzlies range in color, but are primarily brown – more aggressive because they can’t climb trees to escape a threat, so they will stand their ground.
If we’re hiking or camping always pay attention to the surroundings and follow some simple rules:
- check with park officials about bear sightings or activity.
- Bears like to frequent stream beds, berry patches and dense edge cover (the border of grass, weeds and shrubs along the forest line).
- Keep an eye-out for bear tracks or fresh bear scat (more than 2 inches in diameter) on hiking trails.
- Beware of animal carcasses. Grizzlies will hang around fresh kills for days to protect their food source.
- See a bear cub – the mother is not far behind.
- Grizzly bears are active at dawn, dusk and during the night.
Grizzlies rarely hunt human (unless they’re hungry and predatory) and most of the time, they just wants to remove a threat. A few things to keep in mind about the bears body language:
- A bear that are agitated and upset – will put its ears back, lower its head and swing it from side to side, paw at the ground, make growling noises or simply charge without warning.
- A bear that make direct eye contact with its ears back is feeling threatened, and this needs to be taken as a serious warning. If it begins to “pop” its jaw, it’s getting ready to charge. The bear might “bluff” charge to gauge the reaction. One thing is fore sure, never try to outrun a charging bear – it can reach speeds of up to 30 mph.
So why would a bear attack in the first place? The most common reason is a protective mother bear with her cubs. Surprising or startling a bear or getting too close to a bear’s food are other reasons. Or, the bear may simply be hungry and predatory. If we find ourselves on the business end of a bear the most important thing to remember is to keep our composure and don’t make any sudden moves. Avoid making direct eye contact with the bear — it’s a sign of aggression. Instead, be submissive by backing away slowly and speaking to it in a calm, monotone voice – to help diffuse the perception of being a threat. So what to do if we’re not so lucky? If a bear continues to advance toward us, it’s time to use your bear spray! Never travel into bear country without bear spray (pepper spray) and only as a last resort. The last thing we want is to miss and simply agitate the bear more.