- "Bear Attacks - Their Causes and Avoidance", by Stephen Herrero;
- "Bear Aware", by Bill Schneider;
- summarized by Bob St.John.
Precautions While Hiking
Hike In A Group
And stay with the group. There have been no attacks on groups of 6 or more hikers. Most attacks have occurred on people hiking alone or in pairs. Large groups may intimidate bears or make enough noise to sufficiently warn bears.
Be observant for bears and for signs of bear. Watch the trail ahead and to the sides. Listen for woofs, snorts, or movement in brush. Check for signs- tracks, scat, diggings, or scratches on trees. Fresh signs should heighten your awareness, but even old signs tell you bears frequent the area. Bears are perpetually seeking food- be aware of bear 'hotspots'. All bears love berries. Grizzlies are attracted to lush meadows and avalanche paths where they seek sweetvetch, cow parsnip, horsetails, roots and tubers. The seeds of the whitebark pine are favorites. Black bears spend more time in the forest. Dandelions are a favorite of theirs. Watch for circling ravens or crows- they may be over carrion protected by a bear.
To reduce the chance of a surprise encounter a bear must sense your presence with sight, sound, or smell. A bear's hearing and sight are about as good as a human's. A bear's sense of smell is extremely good. Sight may be limited if in dense forest or bush, if the terrain is hilly, or if the trail has bends. Your scent will not reach far ahead if there is a headwind or a crosswind. Your sound may not travel far if there is a headwind, or if there is competing natural noise from water or wind. The worst case is hiking into the wind by a rushing stream in dense bush. Make lots of noise frequently- yell, yodel, sing loudly. Bear bells are usually not sufficiently loud, and can be annoying to other hikers.
Hike During The Day
Dawn and dusk are active times for bears. They can also be active at night, especially Black bears. Humans are at a disadvantage when their vision is limited and the chances of a surprise encounter increases. Bears do not expect human activity at these times. If you must travel at night use flashlights and make lots of noise.
Stay On The Trail
Bears usually bed down away from trails and hikers. Bushwhacking increases the chances of surprising a sleeping bruin. If you must bushwhack makes lots of noise.
Observe Trail Closures
Check with wardens on bear activity. Report any sightings.
If You See A Bear At A Distance
Observe Quickly and Quietly
Check for cubs. If you can try to determine if it is a Grizzly or a Black- this may be difficult. If in doubt assume a Grizzly. Try to determine the direction it is traveling, or if it is feeding. Do not approach for a better look.
You should consider changing plans and leave the area. If you must proceed - backtrack some distance, then give the bear 1 km of berth and stay upwind. If you cannot give a wide berth due to terrain and absolutely must proceed then get it's attention - after locating a suitable climbing tree for yourself. If the bear behaves properly and retreats then proceed warily and noisily after giving it plenty of time to escape. If the bear holds its ground then it may have unseen cubs, or it may be protecting a food source, or it may be curious (young adult bears are often curious and less predictable). You should re-evaluate your need to proceed.
Female With Cubs
A Grizzly with cubs is extremely protective, unpredictable, and dangerous. It is best to change plans and leave the area. Black bears are usually more tolerant of humans and you may be somewhat more confident. Be absolutely sure of your identification .
If You Surprise A BearThe Bear's Actions:
Retreat: In the vast majority of encounters the bear will run off.
Standing On Hind Legs: This is not an aggressive action. The bear is trying
to determine what you are by getting a better scent or a better look at you.
Circling You: This is not necessarily aggressive. The bear may be getting
downwind to get a better scent.
Expresses Agitation: Growling, jaw 'popping', head shaking, ground pawing
are signs of agitation- you have come too close or it is protecting cubs or food.
Bluff Charges: In most cases charges stop short or veer to one side - the
bear wants to intimidate you. Repeated charges may be made.
Contact Charges: A rare event. Grizzlies may complete a charge if they perceive
you as a threat. Blacks almost never complete a charge.
- A Quiet Or Sneaky Approach: A young bear may be more curious than fearful of you. In extremely rare cases the bear may be predatory- seeing you as food.
DO NOT PANIC: If you turn and run in panic you may trigger a chase instinct
in the bear which would have normally run off.
Slowly Retreat: If the bear does not retreat and expresses agitation then
you are too close. You want to project yourself as a strong animal that does not
wish an encounter. Do not turn your back, do not try to stare it down (considered
an aggressive action), do not scream. Slowly back away, talk to it in calm tones,
keep observing its actions. Try to determine if it is a Grizzly or a Black. As you
do this get your bear repellent ready if you have it and/or look for a suitable
Bear Charges: Brace yourself for the worst, hope for the best - a bluff charge.
This is when a spray repellent is used. Do not play dead at this stage. In most
cases the charge will be a bluff. Playing dead now may induce the bear to complete
Bear Makes Contact: Play dead. In almost all cases of contact the bear is
a Grizzly who perceives you as a threat. If it is convinced you are dead and not
a threat it should leave you. Unfortunately you may suffer some harm. Lay stomach
down on the ground with your pack protecting your back. Use your hands and arms
to protect your neck and head. Lay still and be quiet. When the attack stops do
not move until you are sure the bear has left, otherwise it may attack again.
Climbing Trees: If the bear has a long way to come (they run at 60 km//h)
and you see a tree close by large enough and easy enough to climb quickly, then
this is a viable option. Remember all bears can climb (Grizzlies too). You must
climb at least 10 meters to be out of reach. Dropping your pack may delay the bear
as well as enable you to climb faster.
Bear Spray: Pepper based spray is proving itself quite successful at repelling
attacks. Most wardens and park workers now carry it. It irritates the eyes and sensitive
nose of bears. If a bear charges then release a fog of spray between you and the
bear. If it gets close spray directly into it's face. Note that a headwind will
blow it back and incapacitate you, and a crosswind will dissipate it. If you do
carry it then keep it handy - you may not have time to look for it in your pack.
- A Predatory Bear: If a Black bear showing no agitation approaches you, especially from behind, then you should consider it being predatory. The advice is to act aggressively to scare it off. If it attacks, fight back- do not play dead. You must be sure it is a Black. If it is a curious Grizzly then continue your slow retreat.
Precautions While CampingCamp Location:
Near Trees: Trees offer an escape by climbing if a bear enters your camp
and a place to hang your food. Small fires, if allowed, give you a chance to burn
garbage. If above treeline a nearby cliff can offer similar storage and escape opportunities.
Off Trails: Bears often travel at dawn, dusk and at night. Like us they prefer
routes of least resistance. Hiking trails, game trails, creek beds, and lakeshores
are utilized for travel. Choose a site well away from these corridors.
No Thick Bush: Bears like to come and go unseen. Thick bush close to your
camp offers them cover to approach.
Clean Sites: If an official campsite or popular spot has garbage around,
especially food scraps, then camp elsewhere. Chances are bears know of this site.
- No Bears: If a bear is seen near the site, or if there is fresh bear sign, or the site is near a current feeding location, move elsewhere.
Cook 100 m Away: Separate your cooking site by locating it 100 meters downwind
from your tent. Any odors will blow away from your sleeping location.
Minimize Odours: Choose food that is simple to cook and not too smelly. Try
not to spill anything on your clothes. Keep the site as clean as possible. Try not
to have any leftovers; clean dishes soon after use; pour greywater on porous ground
if possible - removing any scraps as garbage.
Garbage: Minimize garbage by repackaging meals at home. If fires are permitted
then a small hot blaze will consume combustibles and remove odors from cans and
tinfoil - which is still your garbage. Do not bury garbage - it will be dug up.
Storage: Store your food and potential bear food (garbage, toothpaste, sunscreen,
bug repellent, cosmetics, food soiled clothing, etc.) in double air-tight plastic
bags. Store these plastic bags in a waterproof bag. This should keep odors from
permeating your tent and clothes while in your backpack.
- Hanging Food: Hang your food, stove, dishes, and potential bear food (see above) in a tree 100 meters downwind of your tent. Ideally it should be between two trees and 4 meters off the ground. Remember bears are good climbers. If above treeline a cliff can be used to hang food, or as a last resort store well sealed food on a large boulder 200 meters downwind of your tent. Use storage pole facilities at official campgrounds. If car camping use your car's trunk for storage.
Use A Tent: Sleeping under the stars is not advised in bear country. A tent,
though flimsy, presents a psychological barrier to an inquisitive bear. Try not
to crowd the walls of the tent - a bear could bite your salami looking butt.
- No Odours: Keep only clothes and sleeping materials in the tent. Even your pack should be hung outside - packs are hard to keep odour free. Do keep a flashlight and bear repellent, if any, handy.
A Bear Entering Your Camp
Habituated Bears: Bears that have been successful in getting human food or
garbage lose their natural fear of people. If it is a Black bear you may try scaring
it off with loud noises and mild aggression. If it is a Grizzly, or if you are not
sure, have your repellent ready and/or make for your escape tree. If you have a
clean camp the bear hopefully will soon wander off. If you have been careless, and
the bear finds a food reward in your camp then it may pose a serious problem for
- Bear Enters Your Tent: You have no choice but to fight back. This is not a time to play dead.
|are slow||Bears can sprint 60 km/h over short distances.|
|can't climb||All bears can climb. Black bears are better climbers. Large males seldom inclined to climb.|
|can't see well||Bears' eyesight is about as good as humans. Hearing is better. Smell is extremely good.|
|afraid of dogs||Bears chase and can easily kill dogs. Dogs may run to you for protection.|
|can't swim||Bears love water and are good swimmers.|
|Black Bears are safe||All bears can be dangerous, and should be treated as such.|
Should You Be Worried About Bears?NO
Being on edge worrying about bears takes away a lot of the enjoyment of being outdoors. By taking the simple precautions mentioned above you will in all likelihood never see a bear let alone make contact with one. You are more likely to be hit by lightning than to be hurt by a bear (there are 190 lightning fatalities for every bear related fatality in North America). In almost all cases bears want to avoid you- let them know of your presence, try not to surprise them. A very few bears have been habituated to people and associate them with food. This habituation is caused by careless people leaving behind food and garbage. Be meticulous about food and garbage, do not give a bear a reason to approach you. If everyone does their part people and bears can co-exist. If you want to worry about bears then worry about their future and their survival. We are the problem, not them.
OTHER LARGE ANIMALSSource:
- "Handbook of the Canadian Rockies", by Ben Gadd;
- summarized by Bob St.John.
ELK and MOOSEElk and moose can be nonchalant but usually prefer to avoid human contact. There are two times however when these animals can be aggressive and dangerous:
Spring: female elk and moose will defend their young.
- Fall: male elk and moose in rut can be aggressive and unpredictable.
MOUNTAIN LIONSMountain lions (cougar, puma) are present in areas we hike, but are seldom seen. Attacks on humans are rare, although children are susceptible, especially when alone. A cougar incident did occur in 1970 on a Rambler hike to Kindersley Pass in Kootenay Park. It is written up in the Ramblers' History book. Daphne Smith become separated from the main group, and while in a wooded section a cougar inflicted a flesh wound to her arm. For about 1 hour she had a standoff with the cougar - basically talking to it and calming it down. When the rest of the group arrived, the cat ran off. Accepted advice is to aggressively fight back if attacked and not to act passively, although in Daphne's case being passive did work. Generally mountain lions do not pose a threat, especially when in a group.
WOLVESWolves pose no threat to humans. Consider yourself lucky to see a wolf.
PRIMATESDuring the fall hunting season primates can be directly and indirectly dangerous to hikers:
Directly: Hunters have been known to accidentally shoot each other. The occasional
cow has been taken. Although the chances of been hit by a stray bullet are low,
some precautions can be taken. Make lots of noise, wear bright clothing, and avoid
thick underbrush. Sundays are supposed to be safe days, but don't count on it.
- Indirectly: Gut piles and carcasses are magnets to bears, which may claim the kill for themselves. Hikers who inadvertently come near these kill sites risk being attacked by a bear defending its food source. Be alert for circling scavenger birds and odors of decaying flesh.