What to Do if You Encounter a Bear
Bears are naturally afraid of people — but that doesn’t mean they’ll run away from you
Bears can be cute — kids love teddy bears, and no one can resist the bear cub exhibit at the zoo. But what about when you encounter one of these animals in real life?
Most often, bear run-ins occur when people decide to trek out into bear territory. Even then, Yellowstone National Park officials say your chance of being attacked by a bear is extremely low. But as bear habitats shrink, they may wander into suburban areas.
Here is how you should react to a bear encounter.
In a campground
If you come across Yogi and Boo Boo at your campground, the National Park Service recommends making a lot of noise right away. Bears are naturally scared of people, and your ruckus will likely frighten them. Another tip: If you’re with other people, stand together in a group to intimidate the bear, but do not surround it.
Never approach a bear. If bears lose their fear of people, they can become aggressive, according to the National Park Service. In fact, in some national parks where bears live, it is illegal to knowingly go within 50 feet of them.
On a trail
If you’re hiking in a park or other sanctioned spot with established trails and you see a bear, keep your distance. Fifty feet away is a good rule of thumb, if possible. But never turn and run from a bear. The bear can outrun you. Carry bear spray in an accessible position and aim for the bear’s face if it gets close. Tell a ranger or other park officials what you saw and where.
In non-park wilderness
You’re really off the grid now. If you see a bear, watch it and look for changes in its behavior. If you notice it becoming more aggressive (making loud noises, pawing at the ground), back away slowly. Most likely, the bear also will move away. If instead the bear approaches or follows you, change direction. Talk loudly or shout and throw things at the bear, such as food, rocks or sticks. The intent is not to cause harm but to protect yourself and scare it away. If a bear makes contact with you, drop to the ground and play dead by curling up in a cannonball position.
Remember: bears are strong swimmers, and most bears are avid tree climbers. Jumping into water or climbing a tree may not be a good idea.
In a heavily settled area
Due to loss of habitat, bears are ending up in settled areas more and more. You might have heard reports of a bear in your own town at some point. While bear sightings don’t happen every day in the suburbs, they do occur. It’s still almost never a good idea to run unless you’re extremely close to a secure area. Make as much noise as possible, back away slowly and throw things at the bear if it comes closer.
On your property
It probably won’t happen, but just in case you do find yourself face-to-face with a bear in your backyard, there are a couple of things you want to do. Account for everyone. If you have kids, make sure you know where they are. Call Animal Control. Do a thorough scan of your property, including the trees, before declaring it bear-free.
You can make your yard unattractive to bears by making sure your trash cans are inaccessible, your recycling is stored in closed containers, your barbecue grills are clean and bird feeders are stored away from your house.
When you call Animal Control, they will likely ask what kind of bear it is. Here’s how to differentiate between a black bear, brown bear and grizzly bear: