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How to Survive a Bear Attack… or Try, That is

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Backcountry Gallery

As the cool weather sets in, more outdoorsmen are taking to the field, making a bear attack more likely as they prepare for hibernation. 

It is that special time of the year once again. Hunters, fisherman, hikers, and others set out to enjoy the bounties of the fall season. Unfortunately, this is also the most frequent time of the year people have encounters with bears and the highest amount of a possible attack.

For a lot of people a bear encounter is their worst fear. This is mainly due to Hollywood’s tendency to make bears out to be super aggressive predators that love to eat hikers.

This is truly not the case. Since 2000, there have been only about 29 deaths by bears.

While the most feared bears are brown and grizzly, they are responsible for only 10 of those deaths. Black bears, on the other hand, are responsible for the other 19 deaths. This is because of their wide range and larger population.

The people most likely to get attacked by a bear are hunters. In all honesty, can you blame the bear? We sneak through the woods like ninjas in full camouflage, trying not to spook potential game. They don’t see us coming, and we don’t see them until it is too late.

Before we get into what to do during an attack, let’s start with ways to avoid one completely.

Avoiding Bears:

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Wide Open Spaces

The best way to survive an attack is to not get into a position where you have the potential to be attacked to begin with.

The first and easiest is to try to travel in groups. The more the merrier really applies in bear country. Groups cause more noise to alert bears of your presence, as well as making them think harder about attacking if they perceive you as potential prey.

While walking through an area or choosing a base camp, always be on the lookout for bear sign. Look for scratch marks on trees, droppings, prints, and other sign that bears are or have been in the area recently. Avoiding potential food areas, such as berry patches or streams, will greatly reduce your chances of running into a bear.

Make some noise while you are going through an area. Talk to yourself, sing songs, or periodically yell out to alert them of your presence.

When camping, food is the number-one way to attract a bear to you. This can be avoided with a few easy steps:

  • Hang food in a sealed container at least 14 feet up and 4 feet away from the tree trunks.
  • Try to cook food in an area removed from your main camp if possible.
  • Do not leave trash, leftovers, or dirty dishes around camp. Clean and wash up immediately after eating. Try to store all trash at least 100 yards from your campsite.

Initial Contact:

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NPS.Gov

So, you have followed all the above rules and still manage to run into a bear. How you approach the situation and read the bear’s body language will help gauge what to do next.

If you spot the bear first from a distance, stop immediately. Slowly back away and head in the opposite direction to put more distance between yourself and the bear. Try to find a new route, and if one isn’t available, wait at least 30 minutes before continuing on that portion of the trail.

Stumbling upon a bear is how most people are attacked. This is the moment when you must really keep your cool and watch the bear’s actions closely.

First, stop. Stand your ground, and gauge the bear’s reaction. If it stays put, it is best to calmly talk to the bear as you begin to slowly back away. Never, under any circumstance, turn your back or make any quick movements, as this can trigger a predatory attack.

All should be fine if the bear doesn’t begin to follow you. Just keep moving back until you are at a safe distance to hightail it out of the area.

Now, if the bear begins to follow you as you step back, you need to prepare yourself for a possible charge. Start by making yourself look as big and intimidating as possible by sternly telling the bear to “GET AWAY!” If it continues to approach after a short distance and you have bear mace, use it to try to ward it off.

The Attack:

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NYDecipher

Keep in mind there are two types of attacks from a bear: predatory and defensive. Knowing the difference will help determine how you should react.

A defensive attack usually occurs when you startle the bear. This is the most common type of attack you will face.

Generally, they will try to “fake charge” you to scare you away. Even at this moment, it is imperative you do not turn away or try to run. Stand your ground and wait it out for a moment before carefully backing away.

If the bear makes contact, you need to try to roll onto your stomach upon impact. Immediately cover your head and neck. Keep your elbows and legs wide to help prevent it from flipping you over while remaining as still as possible.

During a defensive attack, the bear isn’t trying to kill you, but take you out as a potential threat. The attack will not usually last long and the bear will stop if you continue to lay still or play dead.

After the attack, do not move for at least 20 minutes. This will give the bear time to leave the immediate area. Before getting up, slowly glance around to make sure the bear still isn’t still lurking around anywhere near. 

When a bear persistently continues to attack while attempting to bite at your head and neck, it is time to fight back. This is considered a predatory attack, and the bear sees you as food at this point.

Fight with everything you have in you. Use anything you can as a weapon, including rocks and sticks. You will want to aim for any sensitive spots, such as their eyes, snout, and throat.

Just remember: once you start fighting a bear, it will end in one of three ways. You kill the bear somehow, you do enough damage that it gives up, or you lose.

This is why it is very important to be as prepared as possible in bear country. Carry bear mace, keep a good knife somewhere easy to get to on your body, or look into purchasing a large-caliber handgun to carry.

In the end, you have very low odds of ever being attacked or killed by a bear. Just be smart and keep this lesson in the back of your mind just in case.

NEXT: 9 Smart Ways To Help Make Your Campsite Bear Proof

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How to Survive a Bear Attack… or Try, That is