Bear Safety

With the first bears having been spotted in mountains, ‘tis the season to refresh our bear safety skills. We’ve all heard the old adage, ‘you don’t have to be faster than the bear, just faster than the person you’re with’, but assuming you like the people you’re adventuring with (unless maybe it’s your ex), you’ll probably want a more concrete plan in the event of an encounter.

Tips For Avoiding Encounters

-Check trail reports, bear reports, and area restrictions before venturing out.

-Remain alert and avoid wearing earbuds/headphones.

-Shouting regularly or singing loudly is better than using bear bells...those bells are just annoying!

-Watch for fresh signs of bear activity, such as tracks, scat, or digs.

-If you encounter carrion, leave the area immediately the same way you came.

-Travel in groups.

-Keep dogs leashed.

-Carry bear spray in an easily accessible location AND know how to use it.

If You Encounter A Bear

-Stop! Stay Calm (easier said than done, we know). Sudden, unpredictable movements or screaming may cause an attack.

-NEVER RUN! Running may trigger the prey response and cause the bear to chase you. Bears are incredibly will NOT outrun it!

-Pick-up small children and stay in a tight-knit group.

-Bears may approach you and/or stand-up on their hind legs. This is considered curious behaviour or they’re trying to pick-up your scent. Although it could be intimidating, it is not considered aggressive.

-Be human. Talk to the bear calmly and firmly, which indicates you’re not prey.

-Ensure the bear has an escape route.

-Get out your bear spray and be ready to use it. Ensure you know the wind direction before deploying.

-Keep your backpack on and hiking poles/other equipment handy as they could provide protection in the event of an attack.

-A clean pair of underwear might be needed after a close encounter!

If The Bear Attacks

There are two types of bear attacks, Defensive and Non-Defensive. Determining why a bear is attacking will direct your response. Defensive attacks are more common than Non-Defensive.

Defensive Attacks

*The bear is defending something, such as its cubs or food source, or maybe you just surprised it, which is why you should be shouting/making noise. Defensive bears will appear agitated or stressed and may make noise.

-Attempt to appear non-threatening.

-Speak to the animal in a calm voice.

-Whenever the bear is not moving towards you, slowly move away from the animal, but never turn your back on it.

-If the bear continues approaching you, stand your ground and keep talking. If the bear gets within 4 metres (about the length of a car) use your bear spray.

-If the bear makes contact with you, play dead! Lie face down with hands interlocked behind your neck and your legs spread apart (insert your own jokes here!). Remain still until you’re sure the bear has left the area.

-Defensive attacks typically last less than two-minutes (much longer than your ex) and injuries are relatively minor in most cases. If the attack lasts longer it is possible it has become predatory.

Non-Defensive Attacks

*Non-defensive attacks could be sparked out of curiosity (most common with younger bears), aserting/testing dominance, or in the rarest cases, they could be predatory.

-Speak in a firm voice.

-Move out of the bear’s path.

-If the bear follows you, stop and stand your ground.

-Shout at the animal and act aggressively.

-Try to intimidate the bear. Pick up a stick/raise hiking poles above your head to appear larger.

-If the bear continues approaching you, stand your ground and keep talking. If the bear gets within 4 metres (about the length of a car) use your bear spray.

-Try to escape to a car, building, or other place of refuge. Climbing a tree might be an option, but doesn’t guarantee safety. Black Bears are incredible climbers and Grizzlies have been known to climb trees or even push them over if they’re small enough. If you choose to climb a tree, get as high as possible (in the tree, not with your stash) and prepare to use your bear spray.

-If you cannot escape, DO NOT play dead!

-Continue using your bear spray and fight back! Make noise, yell, throw rocks, hit/punch the animal with your fists/objects. Basically, do everything in your power to make the bear stop its attack.

Reporting Bears

*Alberta Parks and Parks Canada want to know whenever you encounter a bear in provincial/national parks. All sightings can be reported at the following numbers:

-Kananaskis Emergency Services 403-591-7755

-Banff Dispatch 403-762-1470

Thankfully, encounters are infrequent and attacks are rarer still, but they do happen. Having the knowledge and skills to effectively handle an encounter could mean the difference between life and death, for both you and the animal. Please keep in mind, the above tips are effective for activities such as hiking, mountain biking, and trail running, but additional safety steps should be taken if you’re camping (both front/backcountry) or fishing/hunting. We will touch on additional bear safety measures for camping in a future post. In the meantime remember, people in sleeping bags are the soft tacos of the bear world! 

Play safe out there!