News sources were abuzz earlier this summer when Abby Wetherell, a 12-year-old northern Michigan girl, survived a black bear attack. Jogging at dusk on a summer night, Abby was tackled by a bear and brought to the ground. After trying to pet the animal to calm it down, Abby played dead, which, although not the usual recommendation from the Department of Natural Resources, is luckily one that worked out. The bear gave up and ran off, and Abby was air-lifted to a nearby hospital where she received 100 stitches and spent a few weeks recovering.
While Abby’s story may have had a mercifully happy ending – when she returned to her hometown, the little girl was welcomed by cheering crowds and balloons – the danger of a bear attack cannot be overstated. Whether you are camping, hunting, or simply jogging like Abby, you never know what you might find yourself up against. No two bear attacks are the same. In some cases, you will only have to contend with a hungry 150-pound black bear cub. In other circumstances, the bear may be 10 times that size, a grizzly or polar bear defending its home turf.
Regardless of the bear species, or of whether the animal is taking a predatory or defensive stance, all bear attacks should be regarded as paramount threats. Here are a few tips to help you survive a bear attack:
1. Don’t panic.
While this may seem extremely counterintuitive, make sure you keep your cool and don’t run away. If you do, the bear will regard your behavior as a prey response, which will only enhance its interest and lower your risk of survival.
2. Do bluff.
Instead of fleeing, turn yourself into the aggressor. We know the last thing you want to start is a bear fight, but bear attack survivors actually extol the virtues of standing strong and fighting back. Try to make yourself look as big and bulky as possible. Raise your arms and spread your body out, or use auxiliary items such as jackets or backpacks to make yourself look more threatening. Some bears will do a bluff charge at you to see if you are an actual threat, but won’t actually try to harm you.
3. Don’t look the bear in the eye.
If a bear does decide to bluff charge at you, do not – and we repeat, do not – look the bear in the eye. Staring head on will come off as an actual threat to the bear, and at that point, it’s fair game (the game being you).
4. If all else fails, then you can play dead.
If bluffing didn’t work, and you accidentally looked the bear in the eye, things might start to look pretty bleak. At this point, don’t do anything. Why? You don’t want to make the bear any angrier or more aggressive than it already is. Stay still, cross your fingers and wait for the bear to move on.