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Exploring the great outdoors is a joy. But if you plan to hike, camp or bike in the wilderness where bears live, you’ve got to prepare for encountering these formidable beasts. At SABRE, we want to equip you with everything you need to #BeSafeGoWild.
The experts at SABRE have put together these answers to some common questions to help you stay safe. Here are 8 Things You Absolutely Need to Know for Safety in Bear Country.
Bears are omnivores, meaning they’ll eat just about anything they can forage, catch or kill. In that sense, a human could be food for a bear, but instances of bears feeding on humans are exceedingly rare, usually only when their usual food sources are not available. Generally, bears prefer dining on roots, berries, insects, fish or smaller mammals. Bears whose habitats butt up against human communities will also forage in garbage cans and eat whatever human food they can access.
Seeing a bear in the wild can be exhilarating and terrifying. The first thing to do upon sighting one is to remain calm. If the bear doesn’t see you, and you’re a good distance from it, it may simply move on. Try to determine if it’s a black bear or a grizzly — more on that in a minute — and whether there are cubs around or if the bear is protecting a food source. Avoidance should always be your first choice; give the bear a wide berth by detouring away from it, and do not approach it, even to take a photo.
If you encounter a bear on a trail or in your campground, stop what you are doing and evaluate whether you have an escape route. If it’s a black bear, make sure you and speak in a clear, calm voice, “Get out of here!” A bear defending cubs or a carcass will swat the ground, pop its jaws or snort at you to scare you off. Stay calm and move away slowly, going sideways in a nonthreatening manner.
Bears are terrific runners, and they instinctively chase after fleeing animals, so never attempt to outrun a bear. They are also excellent climbers, so scurrying up a tree is not a good choice. If you’re certain it’s a grizzly bear, drop to the ground on your stomach and play dead. Keep your backpack on, as it may shield you from the bear’s claws. Protect your head and neck with your hands, and spread your legs to prevent the bear flipping you over.
If it’s a black bear, and you cannot get to the safety of a car or building, bear pepper spray should be your first choice, as it can end the attack. However, a black bear that feels threatened or is desperate for food may persist. Use whatever weapons are handy to fight it off — branches or logs, tools from setting up camp, rocks — and concentrate your blows on the bear’s face and muzzle.
If you encounter a bear by chance, keep your distance, make yourself as large as possible by standing tall and slowly raising your arms, and talk firmly in a low, calm voice, Do not scream or make sudden movements, as this may provoke fear and aggression in the bear.
The main indicators between the species are shoulder size, profile shape and claw length — not color. Grizzlies have a distinctive shoulder hump, with the rest of their backside sloping downward. Their faces have a dished or scooped profile with short and rounded ears, and their claws are very long — up to 4 inches!
Black bears have no shoulder hump, so their rump tends to be the highest point of their body when they’re on all fours. Their profile has a straighter slope, their ears are taller and pointed, and their claws are much shorter.
The easiest way to avoid bears is to avoid their habitats. If you must hike or camp in bear country, keep an eye out for fresh scat that indicates they’re nearby, stay with large groups of people, and make sure any food is secured in or kept indoors.
Grizzly bears will generally only attack when you surprise them as they’re protecting their cubs or a feeding on a carcass. Try to exit the situation by slowly detouring to the side, and use your bear pepper spray to deter contact. If the grizzly pursues — and you’re certain it’s a grizzly, not a black bear — that’s when you should fall on your stomach and play dead. It’s exceedingly rare that black bears attack humans, but when they do, it’s often because they are desperate and see you as potential food. In this case, you must find an exit strategy or fight back, as playing dead may get you eaten.
Bear Pepper Spray is similar to the pepper spray you’d use to fend off a human attacker, but in a stronger formula with a longer range. contains the maximum capsaicin content allowed by the EPA and can reach up to 35 feet, keeping you well out of a bear’s reach. Pepper spray designed for use on bears will cause an unpleasant burning sensation in the bear’s snout, eyes and mouth — causing it to abandon the pursuit, and giving you the chance to retreat to safety. Bear Pepper Spray does not kill the bear or cause any permanent injury to the animal or the environment.