You’re probably aware of how to avoid attracting bears in the backcountry:
- Store your food in a bear container and don’t cook in your tent.
- Maintain a wide distance from any bear you encounter.
- Stay away from cubs!!!
- Talk, yell and make noises. (Black bears)
- NEVER feed them.
- Don’t sleep in the clothes you cook in.
But what happens when shit gets real? Here are a few tactics you can employ that will save your life and reduce severe injuries when a bear wants to maul you.
Back Away Slowly from Bear “Bluffs”
Bears pretend to charge forward in an effort to frighten you. Back away slowly while gripping your weapon(s) in case the situation turns deadly. Meanwhile shout at the bear with a firm voice; if they’re black bears, make yourself look large by spreading your arms out above your head and waving them. Don’t turn around, don’t run and don’t walk fast. Keep your focus on the bear. Watch its actions. If it turns around and walks away, do the same but don’t assume the bear is completely gone. The same actions might apply to a group of bears, or grizzlies too, but an attack is more likely in those circumstances.
Fight the Bear
Utilize any of the following tactics to repel and survive a bear attack:
- Knife: stab the facial or neck regions for effective results. Bear skin and skull are tough regions and sometimes invulnerable to penetration. One hunter ended a bear attack by cutting its throat with a 5-inch blade. Another hiker successfully fended off a bear attack by stabbing its jaw.
- Bear Spray: accuracy is super important. If you miss the bear, or spray around it, your defensive position weakens and opens yourself to attack. Plus the pepper scent will attract more bears and other predatory animals. Always aim for the eyes.
- Trekking Poles: good for quick, disorienting attacks. Poke the bear in the eyes to confuse it and give yourself an opportunity to escape.
- Hands and Feet: targeting the weak points of a bear, plus using stones and other heavy objects, increases your chance of survival if you don’t have weapons. The head, snout, mouth and eyes are weak areas.
- Gun: opinions vary on this subject, from employing a projectile weapon to begin with to what kind of gun is effective. Most outdoor enthusiasts prefer this as a last resort tactic. The NPS recommends bear spray over the use of guns; some parks don’t allow either (Yosemite National Park). A handgun is perhaps your best choice if you’re hiking or backpacking; outdoor hunters might prefer to use their shot guns or semi-automatic rifles. Best of all, make sure you don’t miss.
Play Dead During a Mother Bear Attack
Bears are most aggressive when around their cubs. During a grizzly mother bear attack, you can fight back but there’s the risk that the cubs might maul you as well. An alternative tactic that works is playing dead. While keeping your backpack on, curl your legs towards your chest and stay turned away from the animal. It will try turning you over but it will give up after a while. When the area is clear, flee the scene quickly. This is the ONLY time you should pretend death. If it’s a predatory bear attack (the animal has followed you for a while and then decides to attack), or you encounter a black bear with cubs, avoid this tactic and repel the attack.
Read More About Bear Behavior and Defense
There’s a ton of information in books about bear behavior and defending yourself from an attack. Reading them will help you develop a deeper knowledge for co-existing with bears in the backcountry. Bear attacks are rare in nature but knowledge is still power.