Source: “Mother and Cub” by Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Bear encounters are not frequent, but they do happen. Bears hardly ever attack people, but when they do, it’s usually because they’re afraid or surprised. That makes it very important to behave appropriately in order to deescalate the situation. Here are 7 simple guidelines to follow if you ever encounter a bear.

1. Stay calm.
The bear doesn’t want to hurt you. They generally avoid people. In fact, you’re much more likely to be struck by lightning than to be attacked by a bear. If you do happen to encounter one, you can probably expect that the bear is just as afraid as you are!

2. Announce your presence.
Bears don’t like to be surprised by people, especially brown bears. Most attacks happen in surprise meetings between hikers and brown bears. If you spot a bear, stand your ground and talk calmly to alert it of your presence. Start to back away while slowly waving your arms. Don’t make any sudden movements and ensure that the bear has a way to escape. If you behave properly, the bear will probably ignore you and go about its business.

3. Don’t run
Running might cause the bear to chase you. Instead, you should back away calmly.

Source: “Thank You for Getting Out of the Way” by Tim Lumley

4. Hike in a group.
It’s much safer to hike in a group of three or more rather than by yourself. Bears don’t like to approach groups of people. Also, a larger group will make more noise, decreasing the likelihood that you might surprise a bear on your path.

5. Always carry bear spray.
Bear spray is a type of mace which is over 90% effective at preventing a bear attack when the bear gets agitated.

6. If a black bear attacks, fight back.
You should consider yourself lucky if you encounter a black bear since they’re naturally timid animals and tend to run away rather than attack when they sense danger. If a black bear stands on its hind legs, don’t worry. It’s usually a sign of curiosity, not aggression. If it pounces forward on its front feet and bellows, that’s a sign of fear rather than an intent to attack. You should continue to back away and talk calmly. In the unlikely instance that the bear does attack, you should fight back, hoping to scare it away.

7. If a brown bear attacks, play dead.
In the event that a brown bear starts acting aggressive, you should take it seriously. If the bear actually attacks you, that’s when you should lie on your stomach with your hands behind your head and play dead. If you are no longer a threat, the bear will likely leave.

With any luck, you will never run into a bear, but now you will know how to handle the situation in case you ever do. However, not all wild animals are the same. To find out how to behave if you encounter a mountain lion, click here.

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