Such a sad event happened when we were in Yellowstone about a month ago, and I am very sorry for the family of this man who was killed when he encountered a bear.
But attack? Mauling? I read these two articles on this tragic event when I returned from Yellowstone. They did not mesh with the official accounts we heard from friends that worked in the park and were on the scene of the tragic event. I will not get into details, but I just want to give some advice for people who hike in areas where bears are bound to be nearby.
And, please, if you are hiking in a national park, such as Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Waterton, Jasper or Kananaskis, PREPARE for a bear encounter. It was shocking how many people we came across in our hikes that were totally oblivious to hiking in bear country.
Aside from all the information the park rangers give you upon entering the park, the countless signs as you walk and drive by, the warnings at the beginning of ALL trail heads….use some common sense when walking in bear country. Bears and humans can interact quite peacefully, and according to the Reuters article, the “odds of such an attack were “1 in 3 million”.
Here’s how to be one with the bears while hiking in their backyard:
1. Bear Spray – you can get it at any outdoor/camping store ($35-50). Carry it on you, take it in your tent when camping. People that carry spray have never been fatally attacked by a bear.
2. Talk to a park ranger about where bears have recently been seen and ask them how to deal with them when they are encountered. Every bear is different and some might be more inclined to get closer to you, while others will pack up and leave as soon as they smell humans.
3. Read the signs at the beginning of trail heads. They give you advice as well on what to do when you run into a bear.
4. Do NOT run from a bear. Their predator/prey mode will kick in and they will catch up to you. Worst thing to do!
5. Make a lot of noise when you are in their territory. Announce your arrival to ensure that they are not startled. Clap your hands, talk loudly, sing a song…I think they were scared off by my singing voice anyway! There is a myth that “bear bells” will deter them from approaching. It in fact does not, it has even been suggested that it might attract them since it sounds similar to a bird or small animal.
6. Hike with at least three people, or make sure the trail has many hikers traveling on it. There has never been a documented attack on 3+ hikers.
7. Don’t climb a tree or try to swim away from them. They can do that too, I’ve seen it! Black bears love tree climbing and grizzlies love splashing around in the water!
8. If a bear does charge you, keep making a lot of noise and wave your hands around. Bears usually false charge you first and then stop when they get closer. Their eye sight is terrible, so if you wave your arms around, you will look much bigger than you actually are.
9. Track bear feces, footprints, hair and know if you might encounter one ahead, or that they have been in the area recently and keep your eyes open!
10. Ok – say a bear will not stop and it is about to attack. Drop to the ground, play dead if it’s a grizzly bear. Black bear, fight back! They are for the most part scavengers and do not want to fight too hard for their meal.
I went on countless hikes in my 7 weeks in grizzly and black bear areas this summer and encountered four different bears while hiking. No problemo! Please note though, I am not an expert, but I have researched this quite a bit.
Be smart and safe please people!