What To Do If You Run Into a Bear

For the (maybe) last in our series on what to do if you run into wild animals, we’re tackling bears. Though don’t actually tackle bears, because my understanding is that would go badly.

You can also read what to do if you run into a rattlesnake or a mountain lion.

The thing about bears is it’s important to know your bears. There are three main types of bears in the U.S., except that you’re not going to run into that many polar bears around here, so really there are two main types of bears: black bears and brown bears (also known as grizzlies — technically brown bears and grizzlies are two different types of bear, but even bear experts have trouble telling brown bears and grizzlies apart, so for our purposes we’ll classify them together).

Brown bears are not just lighter than black bears. They tend to also be bigger and meaner. Here is a graphic to demonstrate the difference:

Bear v. bear.
Bear v. bear.

Here is an actual picture of a grizzly/brown bear:


Though, I’m pretty sure this one is way cuter:


And, here is a picture of a black bear:


And, this is a black bear who is tired of this shit:


The thing is if you accidentally run into a black bear, you’re probably ok. If you accidentally run into a brown bear, well that probably sucks for you.

1. First, avoid running into bears. Bears are pretty used to people at this point and don’t like us unless we have food. I get that. That’s why you’re supposed to lock up food and not leave garbage out. Bears are smart. One pushed open a window on Steve’s dad’s truck, sliced the screen, and grabbed a cooler.

2. If you do run into a bear, don’t surprise the bear. If you see it, but it hasn’t seen you (because it’s far away), just back away slowly — which is pretty much always the case with wild animals. If it sees you, but is still pretty far away, let it know you’re a human. This apparently involves things like saying, “I’m a human.” Actually, you can say whatever you want, but talking in a low voice and waving your arms let’s it know that you’re a human — and potentially have a gun. Chances are if it’s a black bear, it’ll want to avoid you as much as you avoid it. Back away.

3. Running downhill is a stupid idea. Running in general is sort of not brilliant.

4. If the whole letting it know you’re a human thing doesn’t work and it actually does start to charge you, then it’s time to use all that bear knowledge we just discussed. An exploratory charge may just be feeling you out, to see what you are and scare you off. Get scared off. If it’s hunting you, prowling, then that’s bad.

5. Do different things for different types of attacks. If the attack is a predatory attack — fancy science-y words for it wants to eat you — then you need to fight it off. Playing dead doesn’t work if the bear’s goal is to make you dead. Predatory attacks are most common from black bears, who are hungry or sick or desperate. But, you should fight off any bear that is hunting you and attacks you to eat you, so make sure to ask the bear about its motivations. If the attack is defensive, meaning it feels like you’re on its territory or threatening it or its cubs, then you should play dead. Convince it you don’t need to be defended against. This is more common from grizzly/brown bears, presumably because black bears are sort of cowards and don’t want to defend shit. Laying flat on your stomach to play dead is out. What’s in is playing dead by curling up on your side in the fetal position, using a hand to protect your neck, and not moving.

Caveat: I’ve never had to do it, but I would imagine pretending to be dead while a bear paws you up is quite challenging.

6. Only climb a tree if you’re a super good tree climber. Actually, you should probably start practicing right now. Black bears are very good at climbing trees. Brown bears slightly less so, but still. Really you’re climbing into the tree to convince it you are 1. no longer a threat and 2. not worth eating.

7. Don’t feed the bears. Seriously. While bear attacks are incredibly low (like less than snakes), they have been getting more common in recent years, mostly because now when people say, “I’m a human,” the bear thinks, “Awesome.”

Have you ever been attacked by a bear? Seen a bear in the woods?

11 thoughts on “What To Do If You Run Into a Bear

  1. I am SO screwed moving to Colorado…but at least I’m used to putting bear bells on me and the dogs while hiking in the Sierras.

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