I’ve seen black, brown and grizzly bears in the wild numerous times now, I’ve never had a bad encounter with one so what follows is a summary of all the information I’ve gained from a variety of sources – from reading, from park rangers and from locals I met in Alaska.
For me, bears are awesome, I love photographing and filming them doing their natural thing from a distance. Every time has been a great experience, hopefully with some common sense and the information below you’ll have great experiences and be able to love the bears too.
Watch my video on bear safety!
Keep your distance
Keep 300 yards from a grizzly or black bear, further if it’s a sow with cubs.
50 yards was an adequate distance to stay from a brown bear in Katmai during salmon season (they are more use to human presence and have an abundant source of protein rich salmon to eat). If you’re unsure about what distance to keep, consult a ranger or keep a 300 yard minimum.
Always keep your distance, and change your plans if necessary to give the bears ‘their’ distance
If you find yourself too close
You want to back up and put the required distance between yourself and the bear.
If the bear has spotted you, talk to it in a calming voice – reassure the bear that you are not a threat.
You don’t want to act like prey – don’t run, don’t act hysterical, don’t make salmon noises!
Do not throw/dump any of your belongings or food (this will only make the bear think of you as an easy source of food/stuff).
If a bear decides to approach you
You want to make yourself seem bigger and more of a potential threat to the bear, lift your hands above your head, wave them around, clap your hands, scrape your feet, shake a jacket – and keep talking, always use your human voice.
If a bear charges
Do not run. You must stand your ground however difficult. If you run a bears predator instinct will kick in and it will chase you. And they are fast!
Hopefully it will be a mock charge – when the bear stops before it reaches you (if you don’t run).
If a bear attacks
Use bear spray if you have it
Brown/grizzly bear – lie down and play dead.
Black bear – fight back with whatever you have, sticks, stones, fists.
Why the difference? Because brown bears are known for killing their prey and then dragging them off, storing them to eat later. At which point if you’ve successfully pretended to be dead you could try and make a sneaky escape or help may come. Black bears however are known to start eating their prey before they’re dead – you don’t want this!
So make sure you know the difference between a black bear and a grizzly/brown bear!
How to avoid a nasty bear encounter
The key is to avoid surprising a bear. Most bear attacks are thought to be a natural survival instinct when the bear is surprised. Mothers (sow) with cubs are the most aggressively defensive.
So when you are hiking in bear country make noise so that you never surprise a bear. Clap your hands, shout – you can say whatever you want so long as a bear will hear it, try yelling ‘Hey bear’ every 60 seconds. Be mindful of your line of sight, wind noise, thick brush or any other factors.
Don’t cook near your tent. Don’t store any food or scented items close to or inside your tent. Use a bear canister hidden at least 50 yards away from your tent or provided bear lockers.
With a bit of luck and by taking the right precautions you should have great bear encounters, just like we did.
Have you had a bear encounter?