When we venture outdoors we often feel vulnerable. It's probably one of the reasons we do it, because risk and reward are such closely bonded concepts! But at the same time, most of us recognize the importance of planning and risk mitigation. So it's no surprise that a lot of people want to know what to do if you see a bear when out and about. Our friend Bertie Cowen over at Effortless Outdoors has researched what you should do if you spot a bear:
This article endeavors to give a short answer (summarizing what you should do in the 3 most likely bear encounters) and a much longer answer (exploring the why's and how's in much more depth). I'd encourage you to look at the longer answer because there is a lot of nuance and context around this topic. But if you're short on time, here are the highlights:
Scenario 1: You see a bear but the bear doesn't see you
Rule #1 for bear safety is to avoid an encounter altogether. If you are keeping an eye out for signs of bears and regularly scanning the horizon, there's a chance you might spot a bear before they know you are in the area. In this situation, you want to slip away quietly.
|Stay quiet||Do not announce your presence|
|Keep your distance||Do not panic|
|Consider going back the way you came||Do not run away|
If you proceed, give the bear a wide
berth & move downwind
|Do not go upwind|
Scenario 2: You see a bear and the bear sees you (but at a distance)
Again, if you are being aware of your surroundings and encounter a bear there's a chance you'll both notice each other from a distance. Because it's highly unlikely it's a predatory bear (see below), you have little to worry about. Most bear attacks are defensive in nature, so the greater the distance, the less threatened the bear will feel. In this situation, you want to reduce the threat further by leaving the area whilst discouraging the bear to follow you.
|Make your presence known by talking||Do not shout|
|Gather any kids around you||Do not climb a tree|
|Make yourself look big||Do not remove your backpack|
|Slowly back away||Do not run|
Scenario 3: You surprise a bear (or it surprises you) at close quarters
This scenario is unlikely because bears generally don't want to be near you and they have such good senses, most times they'll leave the area before you even know they're there. However, they may be drawn to you because you have food (if they're food habituated), or you might stumble into one of their feeding grounds, or any number of other reasons might result in a surprise encounter. This is obviously a very tense situation for all parties and the one most likely to result in a negative outcome if handled poorly. Your job here is to be assertive without being threatening and to leave the area without fleeing or showing fear.
|Speak assertively in low tones||Do not shout|
|Ready your bear spray||Do not make sudden movements|
|Wave your arms slowly to make yourself look big||Do not look the bear directly in the eye|
|Make sure the bear has an escape route||Do not run|
|Retreat slowly and calmly|
If the bear follows you, or charges you, stop and stand your ground. Keep encouraging it to keep its distance by speaking and making yourself look bigger.
If you want to understand more about these do's and don'ts or want to read about how to deal with a bear charge, check out Bertie Cowen's complete article (with accompanying links) at Effortless Outdoors.