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Hiking in Bear Country and Good Practices to Follow: Part 2 of 2

So in the first part of our discussion about hiking in Bear Country, we talked about some of the basic things that one should always remember should you decide to embark on this amazing wildlife trip such as the things to bring, tips to remember as well as the different kinds of food storage method one can use during camping. In this article we will add more to those tips to make sure your Bear Country hiking trip will be memorable in a good way.

Actual Bear Encounter - What to do?

While it may be inevitable to actually encounter a bear or two during your hiking trip, whether or not it will end in a safe or unsafe encounter is mostly up to you. While it's a common knowledge that most bears are wary of humans and will most likely flee the moment they hear, see or smell a person, bears are also known to be unpredictable and extremely dangerous. This is the reason why your safety and security will always depend on how you react on the presence of a bear and what kind of bear it is - as different kinds of bear react differently when humans are around. Here we'll discuss the two types of bears that you would commonly encounter during your hiking trip in Bear Country: Black Bears and Grizzly Bears. There will also be times when it can be hard to distinguish one from the other. So we have listed a few of their common physical characteristics. How they look are as follows:

  • Black Bears
    • Commonly black in color (although there will be black bears with a blond fur)
    • Most commonly found in Bear Country trails (especially in the US)
    • Often live near human settlements, more accustomed to seeing people
    • No visible shoulder hump
    • Tall ears (taller than grizzly bears)
    • Straight face profile
    • Smaller claws (small than grizzly bears)
    • Are excellent climbers - they sometimes go up a tree when they feel threatened
  • Grizzly Bears
    • Commonly found in Alaska and Canada (although some can be found in some states like Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and the North Cascades in Washington
    • Tend to live in coastal or mountain forests and prefer to stay away from human settlements and heavily used or populated areas
    • Have prominent shoulder humps
    • Small, rounded ears
    • Concave face profile
    • Large claws (larger than black bears)
    • Not good tree climbers - although not good, they still can climb trees when necessary

General Rules to Follow During a Bear Encounter

Now that we know the difference between the two bears commonly found in Bear Country, it's time to discuss the things you need to do when you encounter either of these majestic creatures.

  • Never Approach - though one kind may be less dangerous than the other, it is still not advisable to approach a bear when you're near one. Remember that they are unpredictable and can attack anytime when they feel threatened or cornered
  • Be Wary of the Presence of Cubs - like most animals, bears are very protective of their young. Regardless of your intention, they will always think you're going to hurt their young as part of their maternal instinct. Keep your distance when you see bear cubs as they will almost always be with their mother bear. Black bears and grizzly bears will have their own ways of protecting their offspring so staying away from cubs is a must
  • Bears are mostly nocturnal - that is why keep your hiking activities during daytime if possible as bears are usually seen to be very active from dawn to dusk
  • First Look - if you happen to notice the presence of the bear before it notices you, back away or look for another way around them while keeping your eyes on them
  • Stick Together - you will look more imposing to the bear when you stay in a close group during an encounter. This will make the bear have second thoughts of attacking you
  • Reroute - as mentioned above, try to find a way around the bear if possible if you're following a trail to a certain destination like a camping site or rest point. Postpone your hike if there is no possibility of going around it.
  • Bear Spray - have your bear spray ready during an encounter. As mentioned in Part 1, always have the bear spray in a very accessible place such as a front pack or belt holster
  • If running away is next to impossible, fight back . Especially during an attack in your tent at night or after you are stalked

Black Bear Encounter Tips

As mentioned above, different kinds of bears will have a unique way of reacting to your presence. In case of a black bear encounter, here are a few tips to remember:

  • You can scare away a black bear by banging 2 objects together to make a noise, yelling loudly, raising your arms to look larger or even throwing objects at it
  • NEVER let a bear get access to your food. As soon as you're aware of a presence of a black bear, quickly hide away your food in a bear canister or locker, if possible one that's made of metal. If you're in the middle of preparing or cooking food during an attack, you still need to bring your pot with you as you move away
  • However if you notice that the black bear is more interested in your food more than you, you can leave or drop the food and move away but only as a last resort
  • If you end up with no choice, fight back aggressively and use any weapons available at your disposal. Punch its eyes or nose or use rocks and sticks while hitting those spots. You must never play dead otherwise it will try to consume you as a prey

Grizzly Bear Encounter Tips

Grizzly bears are known to be twenty times more aggressive than black bears, as the latter tend to be less aggressive and are more tolerant of people. So a few tips to remember when you encounter one or being attacked by one are as follows:

  • Unlike a black bear where you can aggressively scream at it to scare it off, you should talk calmly to a grizzly bear while backing away
  • Never make eye contact
  • Know the difference between a bluff and a full blown attack - during a bluff, the grizzly bear's ears will be up and it may huff and bound towards you. During this time you must have your bear spray ready in case of an actual attack. If the grizzly bear gives up on his bluff charge, continue to back away but do not turn your back from it
  • A full bown grizzly bear attack is when the bear's ears would lie back and its head is tilted low. If this happens, get ready to use your bear spray when the grizzly bear is around thirty feet from you. Also make sure to aim low as to not let the spray go over its head
  • You can play dead during a grizzly bear encounter especially if you don't have a bear spray available or if it doesn't work
  • When playing dead, make sure to lie on your stomach protecting your pack from the bear. If it tries to flip you over, roll until you're on your stomach again. Also make sure to cover the back of your neck with your hands while doing so
  • There will be times when the bear may try to bite you. Stay in a cannonball position until the bear decides to leave

Final Thoughts

Aside from researching about the actual hike site, it is also very important to include in your research how these animals behave in the wild in order to survive a possible encounter. Understanding how a bear behaves when they see people will spell the difference between getting harmed and walking out alive. And while these creatures have a high possibilty of attacking someone, it will almost always be because of how a person reacts when seeing one. Bears are not always aware of their surroundings. In fact a bear can literally stumble upon a human unintentionally while following a trail or a scent and will not b able to hear sounds of rushing water or blowing wind. So learning about how to act around these critters will allow yourself to have fun during your hiking trip even though they are all over the place.

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