Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About: Bears 

Any movie you've ever seen that takes place in the woods will sooner or later have a bear in it. This bear is almost always a bloodthirsty predator looking to dine on human flesh.

None of that is true. But bears do occasionally attack, and even more rarely, eat people. The following is the best way to improve your chances of this NOT happening to you.

By John Jackson
First, we have two types of bears in the lower 48 states, the black and the grizzly. Black bears are widely distributed over many states, but grizz are confined to probably 3 western states, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. 

For most people, your issue is the black bear. Blackies are normally shy and very tolerant of humans, which is why they can live almost anywhere. They can range from 100lb juveniles up to 700lb monsters. The surprising part is the small juvenile bear is almost always the problem. Like human teens, they are young, dumb, and looking for a meal without Mama’s help for the first time. They can normally be hazed off by shouting and aggressive behavior by human adults. With one exception, that being a human habituated bear. The one who has made a living from raiding garbage cans and campsites. These are very dangerous, and can be spotted immediately by their fearless and aggressive behavior toward humans. Don’t approach and get a weapon in your hand quickly. Leave the area immediately. 

Overall, black bears are benign creatures roaming the woods just looking for food. They’re fun to see and often act like playful dogs when they’re loafing around. One caveat, though. Never run away from or act intimidated by ANY bear, including blackies. It triggers their predator/chase response and will be a problem. 

The legendary grizzly is the second bear found in the lower 48. Grizz range from 200lbs up to 1000lbs. Like the black bear, they are also normally shy and respectful of humans. With a few caveats. If you surprise them, encounter them with cubs, or come up on a carcass they’ve claimed, they will not retreat like blackies do.

They are more inclined to attack in these circumstances, just to give you a manners lesson that they would give to another bear. Unfortunately, our thin hides and weak bones can’t take these lessons well, and we get dead behind them.

So how do we put this knowledge to use and have a good time in the woods without fear?

First: Know where you are. Do bears live in this area, what kind and what frequency? Always watch for sign, these being tracks, scat, turned over logs and boulders. These will let you know if bears frequent your area.

Second: Pay attention. If you see their sign, smell a rotting carcass, hear crows or other birds of prey close by, be on high alert. Talk loudly and have your bear spray out and ready to fire. Speaking of spray, this is the weapon to use against bears. Firearms have a sketchy record for stopping angry bears, but spray has proven to work almost every time. Have this spray in its holster on your hip, not in a backpack. You should be able to draw and fire in just a few seconds.
Third: If you encounter a bear, make sure they know you’re a human. Talk loudly, sing, and also appear non-threatening. They will almost always give you the road and flee.
Now….if they don’t.   What to do?
If they refuse to give ground, either depart the area or wait for them to do so. Don’t attempt to run them off, particularly with a grizzly. If they charge, have the spray out, aim at a down-angle, and fire when they reach about 20yrds. Don’t stop spraying until they retreat.

If you are caught by surprise and are now actively being attacked, you’re in a world of shit. Although black bears almost never attack humans, when they do it’s to prey on you. Fight for your life. Grizzlies are almost always giving you a manners lesson, which will be worse if you fight. Roll into a ball, covering your neck and head and hope that your hiking partner is spraying him off you.

Overnight tent camping: The best place to be is off the beaten path, away from well-traveled trails and campsites. Bears travel by human trails at night and also love all the scraps of food humans leave behind at heavily-used campsites. Being attacked in a tent is rare, but if it happens, fight for your life. They know you’re a human and have decided to prey on you. Hang your food over a high extended limb at night, and don’t be cooking up red meat and fish over a fire in bear country. The smell travels a long way, and they love it. Eat the dehydrated meals and wait for a succulent steak when you get back.
Summary: Know where you are and a little bit about bear behavior and you’ll be fine. I’ve been hiking in bear country for 30yrs, seen countless black and grizzly bears in the wild, some under very dicey conditions. Never had a problem. Well, maybe a few. But no one got hurt……JJ
“Those who have packed far up into grizzly country know that the presence of even one grizzly on the land elevates the mountains, deepens the canyons, chills the winds, brightens the stars, darkens the forest, and quickens the pulse of all who enter it.”

-John Murray, The Great Bear: Contemporary Writings on the Grizzly

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