Earlier this month, a man in Canada drove himself to the hospital after surviving an encounter with a mother grizzly. He is recovering from the various injuries to his scalp, chest, abdomen, bottom, and leg.
Bear attacks like this one are rare. For example, the National Park Service reports that of the 100 million people who visited Yellowstone since 1980, only 38 have been injured by bears.
Even with low chances of an encounter, anyone going into bear country for any activity should be careful. Follow these tips to increase your chances of avoiding a bear encounter or at least prevent it from escalating into an attack.
On-the-job bear attacks are rare, but they do occur. In OSHA’s Fatality and Catastrophe Investigation database, there are 54 investigated bear attacks, 19 of which were fatal.
Like any other workplace hazard, employers must ensure the safety of employees working in areas where bear attacks may occur. This includes teaching employees what they must do to avoid a bear encounter, what to do when a confronted by a bear, or what to do when a bear attacks.
7 Bear Attack Survival Tips
If you work in bear country or have employees who work in bear country, learning the following bear attack survival tips may save your life.
Preventing an Encounter
- Make noise. Bears don’t like encountering humans and try to avoid them. Talk, shout, or sing to let nearby bears know you are there.
- Travel in groups. Groups mean more noises and smells that alert bears to stay away.
- Watch for bear areas. Watch for berry patches and other spots a bear might visit. Also watch for claw marks on trees as bears leave these to mark their territory.
- Don’t leave food behind. Food and wrappers left on a trail or campsite attract bears. Because bears revisit spots where they found food, this increases the chances of others to encounter a bear.
Identify the Type of Bear
Despite your best efforts, you may still come across a bear. If this happens remain calm. Determine the bear’s intentions, it may just be curious or looking for a way around you. If it stands still or stands on its hind legs it is just observing you. Your best course of action here is to move away slowly. Move sideways and keep an eye on the bear. Do not turn around and do not run, this can trigger the bear’s predatory instincts. If the bear follows you, it may be preparing to attack.
When possible, try to determine what type of bear you have encountered. Since a black bear’s behavior will differ greatly from a grizzly, identifying the bear will help you know how to respond. Identify traits such as a shoulder hump, the characteristics of the claws, and the shape of the ears and face.
Determine the Bear’s Intentions
Not every encounter with a bear leads to an attack. When a bear stands on its hind legs, that means it is curious and it’s observing you. If a black bear lunges forward and slaps the ground, then it feels threatened, but it is trying to bluff and scare you away. A grizzly bear, however, is less likely to bluff. Knowing how to read a bear’s body language will help you know what you should do in response.
Move Away Slowly
If the bear isn’t moving, then try to retreat from the bear. Move sideways and keep an eye on the bear. Do not turn around. Do not run. If you do, the bear’s predatory instincts may kick in. Notice if the bear tries to follow you. If it does, it could be stalking you and preparing to attack.
If a defensive bear charges you, drop to the ground and act non-threatening. Lie down on your stomach and protect your softer organs and body parts. Cover the back of your neck and shield the sides of your face with your elbows. Spread out your legs enough to prevent being rolled over, but close enough to protect the groin. Remain calm, even if you are scratched or bitten. Note: Do not play dead if the bear may be predatory. Be ready to defend yourself.
Use Bear Spray
If all else fails, you may need to fight to survive, especially if the bear is predatory. First, use bear spray, following the manufacturer’s instructions on the label. Once you’ve used the spray, retreat immediately.
Use a Gun
If the spray is ineffective, you may need to use a firearm as a second line of defense. Be careful, as a wounded bear may be even more dangerous.
As a last resort, fight back against the bear, using everything you have on hand. Focus on the eyes and snout. If you manage to scare the bear off, do not pursue it. Leave the area immediately.
If a bear lunges toward you and slaps the ground, this is a sign that it feels threatened. If the bear charges you, drop to the ground and play dead. Lie down on your stomach and protect your vital organs. A defensive bear may sniff or even bite you but you must remain calm. This doesn’t work if the bear is predatory and you need to prepare to defend yourself. If the bear attacks use bear spray, a firearm, or anything you might have to defend yourself. Go for the eyes and snout when you attack. Do not pursue it if it fleas, instead take this chance to escape.
Leave the Area
Once the attack has ended, you must leave the area as quickly yet safely as possible. If you had to play dead, wait for a few minutes as some bears, especially grizzlies, have been known to return multiple times. If the bear has left, retreat to a safe location while remaining alert.
Bear attacks are rare but they do occur. In OSHA’s Fatality and Catastrophe Investigation database, there are 54 investigated bear attacks, 19 of which were fatal. The Hard Hat Training series by Safety Provisions, Inc. has many in-depth articles and training programs on this subject. These tips and tricks of survival out in the wild will be detrimental to preventing bear encounters and keeping you safe in the event of a bear encounter.
Be Aware of the Bear
If you are hiking in bear country, try to make as much noise as you can. Most bear attacks don’t occur because the bear is hunting, but rather because it feels threatened. If you give proper warning that you are in the area, any bear that hears you is likely to run away. Also, if you are in bear country, bring an effective bear spray. Make sure that you get bear spray, as regular self-defense pepper spray will not be adequate against a bear. Familiarize yourself with the spray. If you are attacked you will not have time to figure out the spray, then. You tend to panic when a four-hundred-pound mass of death is charging you.
It is especially wary that you take special precaution if you come across a cub. Although they may look cute and cuddly, there will a fully grown overprotective mother waiting to defend them if she sees you. Do not try to interact with them. Look at your local area to see what kind of bears are out there and what to do if you are attacked. This may differ on the species of bear. Hopefully, you will come across one of these creatures outside of the zoo or nature park, but it is always better to be prepared.
Whenever there is a bear attack, remember that the bear may also be a victim as well. Both the mother bear in the incident and the cub she was protecting were euthanized after the attack.
Bears do not usually seek out and attack humans. Encounters are typically accidental, usually resulting when a bear was investigating a possible food source or was unaware of a human presence.
Though we have discussed what to do when a bear attacks, it is also important to know that there are steps that you can take to avoid an encounter altogether.
- Stay calm. Bears want to be left alone and may bluff away from an encounter by growling, fake charging, or other defensive behaviors. Stand your ground and don’t make sudden movements.
- Identify yourself as a human. Wave your arms and talk calmly to alert the bear that you are not a prey animal. Do not make sounds imitating a bear or scream.
- Stay in a group. Groups may intimidate the bear and discourage an attack. Immediately pick up small children.
- Make yourself large. Wave your arms, move to higher ground, etc.
- Don’t give the bear your food. Giving the bear food teaches the bear that humans equal food, causing worse problems in the future.
- Don’t drop your backpack. Backpacks offer protection for your back if the bear attacks. Dropping it may also give the bear access to your food.
- Move away slowly and sideways. Do not turn your back on the bear or run. If the bear follows, stop and stand your ground.
- Leave the area. If escape is impossible, wait for the bear to leave. Never approach or corner the bear.
Identify the type of bear. Knowing what type of bear you encountered will help if the bear attacks. Also, check for nearby cubs.
- Be extra careful around cubs. Never get between a mother and her cubs nor try to approach them. If the mother sees you as a danger to her cubs, she will attack.
Safety Provisions and Hard Hat Training offer a Bear Awareness safety training that teaches basic safety for when you are in bear country. The training includes basic information regarding bear behavior, what to do to avoid a confrontation, what to do during a confrontation, and more.
Good luck and stay safe out there, even in bear country.