Grizzly - Brown Bears A grizzly or brown bear is larger and usually has lighter colored fur than a black bear. Color can range from black to blond. Some, especially the young ones, have a white collar. They have wider heads than black bears and a large distinct shoulder hump that is absent in black bears. There is a noticeable depression between the eyes and the end of the nose - a "dished" face. The ears are short and round. Average weight for an adult is 350-500 lbs, but adult male grizzlies can reach 800 pounds. Mature male adults stand approximately six and half feet at the shoulder. They all have very long curved claws, excellent for digging.

A Grizzly Bear Attack You don't stand a chance of being aggressive with a grizzly - play dead. Lie face down on the ground with your hands clasped around the back of your neck. Remain silent and don't move. Leave your pack on to shield your back. Once the bear backs away, remain quiet and very still for as long as possible. Grizzlies sometimes step back and watch their victim from a distance and if they see movement they might return.

Black Bears Smaller than grizzlies, a black bear's average weight is 110-300 lbs, but large adult males can weigh 400 pounds. There is no shoulder hump like that of a grizzly. The face is straight - a straight line runs between the forehead and end of the nose. Ears are larger and more pointed than grizzlies. Claws are shorter but curved. Although commonly called "black bears" their color can range from black to light blonde.

A Black Bear Attack Stand your ground, waive your arms, shout and fight back. Stay aggressive and use any defensive tool you have. A trekking pole is useful. Pepper spray can be useful in deterring an attack. However you should practice using it before leaving home. Aim for the face and spray when 30 to 40 feet away so that the bear runs straight into a fog of spray. In bear country keep the spray canister on your belt. Don't keep it in your pack.

Polar Bears Polar bears are magnificent predators that rule the Arctic as powerful monarchs at the top of the food chain. A polar bear's finely tuned senses and high level of intelligence make them a much more formidable foe than brown bears or black bears; they possess and employ another lever of cunning and shrewdness. If you are planning on being anywhere that might include an encounter with a polar bear, you should not underestimate what will be required to survive. See our page on [polar bears].

Bear Body Language When a bear stands up on its hind feet it is usually trying to get a better look and is trying to catch your scent. This is not an aggressive act. It usually means that the bear is unsure of what it is seeing. However it could drop onto all fours and charge. If you hear a bear making a "popping" sound with its jaws, it is agitated and could charge. Charges are often "bluff charges" where the bear stops short of you and veers off. A bear might bluff charge many times before leaving. When a bear swings its head from side to side, or turns sideways, it's usually expressing a reluctance to charge and is unsure of itself. When a bear looks you directly in the eyes and its ears are laid back it's warning you that you are too close and it feels threatened. Sometimes bears make woofing or moaning sounds to indicate their feelings.

Camping Precautions for All Bears If camping in a camp ground, check the notice board for bear warnings and obey all rules. NEVER cook or store food in or near your tent. Cook at least 100 feet away from the tent. If you don't have an airtight or bear-proof container to store your food, hang the food bag and other strong scented items at least ten feet above the ground out of reach of bears. Always change your clothing before sleeping. Store the clothing you wore when you cooked food along with the food items. If you don't change clothes the latent scent could attract bears into your tent while you sleep. Keep a scrupulously clean camp area. Wash dishes and dispose of garbage by burning. Pack out all trash; Never bury trash.

Hiking in Bear Country To make our presence known and avoid the possibility of surprising a bear, we always hang bear bells from our backpacks in a way that they make a loud clinking sound as we hike. We find that the chrome bells make more noise than the painted ones. Watch for tracks, bear scat, any sign of digging by a long clawed animal, on trees that bears have scratched or rubbed. If you encounter these signs talk loudly, sing, bang on tree trunks with your trekking pole, and make sure your pack bells are ringing. It's important that the bear hears you before you round a bend in the trail and come face to face with the bear. If you suspect that a bear might be close by, keep your dog on a leash behind you.

If You Encounter a Bear Avoid sudden movements. DON'T RUN! Allow the bear to continue its activities undisturbed. DON'T try to chase it away. If you have to go ahead take a wide sweep around the bear giving it plenty of room. If you can't take a wide sweep, back away slowly and calmly and wait for the bear to move away. If the bear approaches, stop but DON'T BACK UP. Backing up might be misconstrued as flight and trigger a charge. After the bear stops, slowly back away. If a bear sees you, get its attention while it is some distance away. Talk while slowly moving your arms overhead so that the bear can see that you are human. If the bear rises onto its back legs it might be trying to get a better view of you - it is not necessarily an aggressive act. If you see cubs with the bear never get between mother and her cubs. Back away slowly and let her leave the area before proceeding.

If a Bear Charges Pepper spray can be useful in deterring an attack. However you should practice using it before leaving home. Aim for the face and spray when 30 to 40 feet away so that the bear runs straight into a fog of spray. In bear country keep the spray on your belt. It is useless if buried in your pack. Bears sometimes bluff charge. They run at you, then suddenly veer off to one side or stop. After the bear stops, slowly back away. Never run, hoping to outdistance a bear. Running will encourage the bear to chase you and they can run faster than a human. If a bear chases you, throw an object in its path in the hopes that it will cause the bear to stop to investigate and allow you to escape. Never throw food. They could snatch it up and chase you looking for more. Don't climb a tree. Black bears and some smaller grizzlies climb trees better than you.

Camping Sites in Bear Country
  • Don't camp where there are signs of bears.
  • Check that previous campers have not left food or garbage exposed. Check for signs that bears might have been rummaging through a fire pit and garbage.
  • Don't pitch your tent right alongside any game trails or near a salmon stream.
  • Sometimes bears will use trees as cover when approaching an area. An open camp site could be safer than a forested location.
  • Don't sleep close to tent walls in grizzly bear country. There are stories of grizzlies biting at objects touching tent walls to check if it might be something edible. Keep some space between you and the tent wall.
  • During wild berry season don't camp in the middle of a berry patch. You might have company. The same caution goes for berry picking. Look around. You might have competition.
  • If a bear approaches your campsite make a loud noise by banging pots and pans and even throwing rocks.

Preparedness is the brother of survival.

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