When you go hiking, one of the risks you take is sharing the trail with some potentially very dangerous animals. While bears generally try to stay away from humans, there have been instances where hikers were attacked. By taking proper precautions when you go hiking, you can prevent this from ever happening.
When You See A Bear… Say “Hey Hey”
Last November, in rural British Columbia, an elderly couple was hiking when they suddenly came upon a female grizzly bear eating a dead deer with her cubs. The bear was startled and charged at the wife before taking on the husband. Both hikers were hospitalized with bites and claw gashes, but luckily survived. A photographer in Denali National Park last August was not so lucky, he was taking pictures of a male grizzly when it noticed his presence and charged and killed him.
The key to bear safety is to make sure the bear is aware of your presence. Bear bells are great for this, they give the bear enough warning that you are coming, so it can get away quickly. It is very rare for a bear to stalk a human as prey, and most attacks are simply self-defense. Some hikers are very reluctant to hike with a bear bell however, because they will also scare off other wildlife on the trail. If this is the case, you should always be sure to hike in a large group. Solo hiking, or even tandem hiking is not recommended- almost every recorded bear attack has been when only one or two people are involved. Bears will be much more frightened of large groups.
Take The Spray… Or You Will Pay
In areas where bears are prevalent, bear spray is a must. But not only must you carry bear spray, you should keep it in an accessible place! Having the spray can buried deep in your hiking bag will do you no good if a bear is suddenly charging at you. In bear habitats, keep the spray in its holster on your hip or chest. Make sure you review the instructions its use before you go hiking, and definitely make sure the safety device stays on. You don’t want to accidentally spray yourself in the face.
If you do encounter a bear, your first move should be to make yourself appear as large as possible by waving your arms in the air and making a lot of noise. Don’t run away- you cannot outrun a bear. Also, don’t climb a tree since bears can climb fairly well! As you are making yourself appear large and making noise, back away extremely slowly. If you feel the bear is about to charge, quickly get your bear spray out and spray it in the face. The instructions on the spray will tell you its effective range (again, read this BEFORE your hike).
After you spray the bear, if it continues to charge and attack, lay limp play dead. If you are no longer a threat to it, it has no need to defend itself. If however after you continue to play dead, the bear is still interested in you, this may be a predatory attack. If it is, you must fight back. Predatory attacks by bears on humans are extremely rare, but if it does happen, you don’t want to make yourself an easy meal.
Don’t Be Scared Away
All this talk of bear safety can sometimes scare hikers. Bears are not something to be feared though, they are to be respected. When you go hiking, you are entering their territory, their home. If you let them know you are there, they will most likely stay out of your way. Just don’t tempt them by carrying smelly food in your pack- a bear can even smell something like an apple from far away. Carry well sealed packaged food, and when you are finished your snacks, dispose of wrappings in a bear proof garbage (or bring a large, well sealed ziplock to put your garbage in).
Bears really are majestic creatures, and if you ever have a chance to see one in the wild, you will come to further appreciate their beauty. When you go hiking, be prepared, be respectful, be safe, and I’m sure you will great experiences. Happy Trails!