When hiking or camping in areas where bears are common it is important to know what to do to limit potential conflict with bears.
Bears typically only act aggressively to protect bear cubs, protect a food source or when startled and feel threatened.
The two most common bears to encounter in the wood are black bears and grizzly bears.
What to do when a bear is sighted in the area depends on the situation. The most important thing to remember is to stay calm and not run from the bear even though that is probably exactly what you are going to want to do. Fatal attacks for bears are rare averaging about three per year in North America. Close encounters with bears are common and knowing what do and carrying proper protection certainly saves lives and injuries of both bears and humans.
The effectiveness of firearms and bear spray deterrents will be discussed. In my opinion the safest option is to have both options available. Having a bear deterrent spray or firearm is a good idea but avoiding bears is the best way to prevent a bear attack. This can be done by not approaching a bear, making noise while walking and hiking in open areas where both you and the bear can see each other in advanced.
How Effective is Bear Spray, Really?
A bear spray study showed that bear spray stopped undesired bear activity about 90 percent of the time for both black bears and grizzly bears. A firearm study showed that long guns and hand guns stop aggressive bear behavior about 80 percent of the time. These stats are not exactly comparing the same exact metric but does show that bear spray can be an effective option for changing a bears behavior and is a good option for preventing a bear attack.
Here is a Video I shot in Alaska on How to Use Bear Spray.
Here Are the Best Bear Sprays and Bear Safety Items
UDAP bears spray, 7.9 ounce canister, with glow and the dark safety clip. Bear spray has 2 percent crc and a 30 foot estimated range. Bear spray also comes with a belt holster. This is a common bear spray sold in sporting good stores.
Frontiersman bear attack deterrent, 7.9 oz can. This bear spray comes with a belt holster or a chest holster. Estimated range is 30 feet and contains 2 percent major capsaicinoids. The safety clip is glow in the dark. The shelf life of the bear spray is 3 years from the date of manufacture.
How to use bear spray
First keep the bear spay in a location where in can be accessed in the shortest time possible, defiantly in less than two seconds as bear attacks can happen quickly. If you are in an area where a bear encounter seems likely, carry the bear spray in your hand while hiking.
Second place you finger through the loop of the spray canister and remove the safety cap from the top exposing the trigger release mechanism. When the bear is about 40 feet away or about 2-3 seconds from reaching you spray a one second burst of spray at the bear. If the bear continues at you continue to spray the bear and aim for the face as the bear gets closer. Wind will greatly affect the direction and density of the plume. Take wind into account so that the spray reaches the bear. Rain can also affect the dispersant and this must also be taken into account.
If the wind is coming at you when spraying shield your eyes and face. Bear spray had been reported to have a negative effect on the user ranging from mild irritation to near incapacitation.
Realize that the spray duration for large canisters is about 6 seconds. It is recommended to have more than on can of bear spray because it does get dispersed quickly and bears have been reported to come back even after being spray.
3. Bear Bells
Most bear attacks occur when a person gets within 55 yards of the bear without the bear being aware of the humans presence. A great way to prevent encounters with bears is to make noise by talking loudly, singing songs and wearing bear bells while traveling through the woods. Most wild bears are scared of humans and will run away once they know that people are around. Traveling in groups while talking is another good way to make your presence known. Hunters get good a walking quietly in the woods to sneak up on animals. However for bears this is the exact opposite of what you want to do. Bear bells are not super loud and people are not always always talking so using both methods is the best idea when walking in bear country. Typically I repeat a phrase over and over loud enough to carry in the current environment. My saying is “coming through bears, coming through.”
Recommended Bear Bell
Bear bell with magnetic silencer, comes in red, blue, yellow and silver. These are good to put on dog collars or to wear on a person by attaching the bear bell to a shoes, hat, backpack, belt or wrist.
Firearms vs Bear Spray
Firearms can be an effective way to stop aggressive behavior toward humans. Using a firearm may or may not be more effective than using bear spray depending on the situation. Having to use a firearm to stop a bear can almost always be avoided if intelligent approaches are used when bears are in the area.
In a firearm study long guns were about 76 percent and handguns were about 84 percent effective at stopping aggressive bear behavior. Interestingly firearms were found to have no significant difference in injury rates whether or not the firearm was fired. This could be due to the bear still injuring the person even if the firearm eventually bear is stopped. Also the firearm could cause the bear to become more aggressive.
When a firearm did fail to protect people in was due to lack of time to respond, the individual did not use the firearm, mechanical issues, proximity of the bear was two close for deployment, missing the bear, gun was emptied and could not be reloaded, could not get the safety off in time, people tripped and fell and the firearm discharge resulted in the bear to charge. Firearm use resulted in the bears death 60 percent of the time.
Types of weapons typically carried in bear country are .44 magnum pistols, 12 gauge shotguns with rifled slugs or powerful 30 caliber rifles. Bear attacks happen fast, unexpectedly and in close quarters. The ability to successfully use these firearms to stop a bear depends on the situation and level of experience of the firearm user.
A bear spray study showed that bear spray stopped undesired bear activity about 90 percent of the time for both black bears and grizzly bears. It defiantly seems like having both bear spray and a strong firearm would be the best case scenario if a aggressive bear is approaching the location.
4. Bear Air Horn
I did not find any good data to support one way or another whether an air horn is an effective way to scare away an aggressive bear. Like most things it probably depends on the situation. If nothing else it could signal for help from other people nearby. My personal experience with air horns is that they do not always work. Sometimes only making a short and not very loud noise. Personally I would say that you are better carrying two cans of bear spray then bear spray and an air horn. You can always yell at the bear if you really think that is going to help. I have also seen videos online where fisherman blast an air horn at a grizzly bear that is going for their fish near the shore and the bear did not seem phased by the noise.
Frontiersman bear horn, 1.5 ounce and up to 115 dB. This horn can sound about 15 1/2 second blasts.
5. Combat Style Knife (Last Resort Only)
Having a knife should probably not be the primary method to deter an aggressive bear. However, I have read many cases were people did use a knife during a bear attack. A knife against bear is not a great idea but is certainly better than your bear hands. If attacked, I would think stabbing the bear in the eyes and nose would be the most effective. If under the bear I always had this crazy idea that you might be able to cut the bears belly open basically gutting the bear. After having a few close encounters with bears I think the bear will win the attack if if really wants to win regardless if weapon or bear spray used. Luckily it is very rarely the goal of bear attack a human. So while the thought is scary, the probably of it happening is very low.
If I was going to pick a knife to fight a bear with I would pick a fixed blade knife. I have slept with a knife under my pillow while camping many time, if for nothing else to my make myself feel more safe.
Here are Some Dependable Knives
SOG Seal Pup fixed blade knife with black powder coating and nylon belt holster. This knife has a 4.75 inch partially serrated blade and weighs 5.4 ounces. This is a great knife to carry as a tool and for general protection.
This buck fixed bade knife is a classic knife used by hunters. This is the large 6 inch blade version that is useful for cleaning large game like elk and moose. There is also a smaller version that has a 4 1/2 inch blade that is a good size for cleaning deer. This knife comes in a black and silver style or a wood pattern. This is also a useful tool and sturdy knife for general protection.
Different Bear Situations
What to do if you are attacked by a bear depends on the situation and type of bear.
For black bears it is not typically recommended to play dead. Try to slowly leave the area and get to a secure location. Stay calm and talk to the bear in a calm voice. If a black bear does attack fight back with any and all means available, bear spray, guns, knives if you have no means of protection fight back by kicking and punching the bear in the face and nose. An exception to fighting a black bear could be if you started a bear in close proximity and the bear attacks in self defense. In this case it may be best to play dead to eliminate the perceived threat.
For brown bears and grizzly bears it is typically recommended to play dead and lay on your stomach and place your hands, arms and backpack around your neck to protect this vital area. There is not a this is the best option in all cases because there are so many factors.
If any type of bear is stalking you or attacks you while in a tent it is always recommended to fight back!
The saying goes never run from a bear! There are always exceptions but I think this a very good rule of thumb for bear encounters. Stay calm, use the prevention tips discussed in this article and it is very unlikely a bear encounter will result in injury to a human or bear.
Myths About Bear Safety!
Bringing dogs will reduce the likelihood of a bear attack?
It is possible that the extra noise a dog makes will help keep bears away. However there have been cases where the dog chases a bear and the bear chases the dog back to the owner and the bear then attacks the owner. If a dog is leased the odds of dogs encouraging a bear attack is less likely. While bears are scared of dogs in some cases, when a dog runs after a bear the bear might chase the dog. If a bear feels threatened by a dog especially if the bear has cubs the bear could attack the dog and the nearby owner. In some national parks dogs are not allowed on hiking trails or even in campsite due to the idea that it could increase danger for people in the area.
Anytime you are hunting hiking or fishing in remote areas it is a good idea to carry a Personal Locating Beacon with you. This way if you are injured and need assistance help can send a distress signal to search and rescue with your exact location with the push of a button. Check out the best PLB page to learn more.
Bear spray effectiveness research paper
Firearm effectiveness for bear deterrence research paper
Thanks for visiting Global Fishing Reports. I hope these suggestions help you be more safe around bears!
If you have any suggestions for good bear safety, leave a comment below!
Captain Cody has worked on charter fishing boats in the Florida Keys, Virgin Islands and Alaska. Cody grew up in Pennsylvania and has also done extensive freshwater fishing including bass fishing tournaments. Cody strives to provide detailed information about the best fishing gear and tactics to help both novice and experienced anglers have a more productive and enjoyable time on the water. Cody also has a background in aerospace engineering and neuroscience but really only takes pride in being good at one thing and that is fishing!