How to Prevent (and Survive) a Bear Attack

My “off the grid” (OTG) cabin in the remote mountains of Colorado is my absolute favorite place on the planet. I sit on my deck and enjoy a million-dollar view for free. Last weekend that view changed a bit…

Early one morning, I was surprised to see a young black bear strolling through the woods about 75 yards away. I’ve known deer, elk and even a few moose to enjoy my little piece of heaven — but this was the first bear I’ve seen in the area.

As cool as it was to observe my new visitor, it has changed my entire approach when walking around the property. Because now I’ve realized I might encounter a potentially life-threatening beast on my turf.

Preventing a Bear Attack

Avoiding bears is the best way to prevent an attack. If you see a bear that doesn’t see you, don’t disturb it. Live and let live.

That said, if you’re in an area frequented by bears, I recommend taking the following precautions:

  • Make your presence known. As you’re going about your business, make a lot of noise. This will scare off any nearby bears. While hiking in remote areas, I will often yell periodically or say “HEY BEAR” repeatedly. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s a much better approach than surprising one with your unannounced presence
  • Saved by the bell. I always attach a bell to the top of my backpack as well as one on my dog’s collar. Since Ford (my Rhodesian Ridgeback) is usually leading the way and running back and forth, this offers a great advance warning system
  • Keep your area clean. Unattended food and trash are surefire bear magnets — even if they’re tied up. Try to produce minimal waste when camping or hiking, and be sure to secure all food and trash carefully.

Surviving a Bear Encounter

The best way to survive a bear attack is to carry bear spray, preferably in a holster on your belt or in your front pocket since you’ll just have a few seconds to fire.

This is a must-have in grizzly country. Bear spray is actually more useful than a gun to fend off bears, since one or two bullets may not stop a full-grown adult quickly enough.

When faced with a bear and armed with bear spray, this is how you should proceed:

  1. Stand your ground. Stand tall, stay calm and slowly reach for your bear spray. Be large and loud and bears will usually leave you alone. Shout, wave your arms and create a commotion. Use clothing, sticks or other objects to make yourself look even bigger. Don’t worry if the bear stands up — that usually just means it’s curious.
  1. Back away slowly. Retreat calmly if you can, still ready to spray. If the bear follows you, stop and stand your ground again. Bears often bluff charges. If the bear tries to test you, the best strategy is to stay in place ready to fire if the bear gets too close.
  1. Never run. Bears can run at speeds exceeding 35 mph and they tend to chase anything that’s running away. Don’t try to climb a tree either. Black bears are excellent climbers and will follow.
  1. Aim and spray. The best distance to spray a charging bear is from about 40–50 feet. The idea is to create a wall of pepper spray between you and the bear.

There are certain considerations when it comes to specific types of bears. If you encounter a brown bear or a grizzly, keep in mind the following:

  • Hit the dirt. If a brown bear keeps charging, fall down and lace your fingers over the back of your neck to protect it. Guard your stomach by lying flat on the ground or by assuming a fetal position, with your knees tucked under your chin. Don’t move.
  • Play dead. Even if the bear starts to attack, it’s likely trying to neutralize you as a threat. And since you’ll never outrun or overpower it, faking death is your best bet at this point. Even if it walks away, don’t get up. Grizzlies are known to linger and make sure you’re dead, so stay down for at least 20 minutes.
  • Box its nose or eyes. This could feasibly thwart a grizzly attack, but only fight back as a last resort. Playing dead is the preferred strategy with grizzlies. If you can get free, though, back away slowly; still don’t run.

Black bears are typically smaller than other bears — although they still weigh up to 400 pounds. Unless you’re physically unable, it’s often better to defend yourself against a black bear than to curl up on the ground.

Keep making noise and looking large throughout the encounter. If you end up at close range, use any nearby object as a weapon to fend off the bear. If nothing useful is around, punch or kick the bear’s nose.

Focus on sensitive areas that are likely to get an immediate reaction, but do whatever is needed to scare it away. Try to create space between you and the bear, but DO NOT RUN AWAY — make the bear do that.

Be a survivor… not a statistic,

Cade Courtley

Cade Courtley

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