HOW TO STAY SAFE IN BEAR COUNTRY
When preparing for our hikes in the Canadian Rockies, we soon realized that we should not take encounters with bears lightly and bear safety became our concern.
This part of Canada is home to a large population of grizzly and black bears, and if you plan to go out to explore the nature, it's better to keep it in mind and adapt your behavior. In spite of the fact bears usually prefer to avoid people, encounters are not uncommon, especially in the peak season and reading about safety in bear country should go without saying.
Bears are excellent climbers (as we witnessed with our own eyes) and their top speed exceeds 50km/h so calculate your chances.
Even though bear attacks are rare, they still can happen, and that's why it is good to follow few simple rules and be prepared.
How to Best Avoid BEAR Encounter
Avoiding encounter with a bear is the best advice you can get. It might be tempting to see bears in their natural habitat, but it's not worth the risk. These useful tips should give you a general idea how to stay safe.
- Visit an information center in the area and ask employees what is the current situation in the area. They are helpful and have the latest update where the bears were last seen.
- Follow up the instructions at the treks beginnings if you didn't get chance to visit an info center.
- Group Size matters. It is recommended to hike in tight groups of three to four or more. Remember, when it comes to group size, bigger is always safer.
- Make noise to let bears know about your presence in the area. Bear bells, which you can purchase almost everywhere, are not recommended, as they are not loud enough. Boomboxes are louder than bear bells, and many use them as a bear deterrent, but they take away the feeling of being outdoors.
It is better to clap your hands, call out or talk loudly, especially near streams, berry patches or generally in areas with low visibility.
- Watch for the signs. Bears leave marks of their presence everywhere. If they are fresh, watch your surroundings more carefully or return to your car.
- Keep your dog on a leash or better leave him at home. Some dogs can provoke bears.
- Do not litter and keep your food in bags. Do not attract bears by the food scents.
- Keep yourself odor-free.
- Try to stay on designated trails and travel in daylight if possible.
- Ask the others you'll meet on the trail about signs of bear presence as they can provide valuable information.
When You See a Bear
- Make sure you have your bear spray ready and do not run. It's best to keep bear spray handy, not in the backpack but for example behind your belt.
- If the bear is unaware of your presence move away quietly without attracting its attention.
- If the bear is aware of your presence: stay calm, do not make sudden movements, talk calmly to show you are not a prey, but human. Back away slowly and make yourself look big, do not drop your backpack.
Bear Can Act Defensively or Non-Defensively
It might be hard for you to figure out exactly what is going on as both of you will be stressed out. It is not easy to evaluate all hints correctly. A bear can see you as a threat, can be frightened or agitated and may vocalize. In this scenario, act in a non-threatening way, talk calmly and move back slowly.
If you detect a change in bear's behavior or it's approaching you, try to stay calm, talk firmly and move out of the bear's path.
If you sense that bear's behavior changed to predatory, which is very rare, shout aggressively, try to intimidate the bear and if it gets too close, use your bear spray.
When it comes to the actual attack, try to proceed as follows. The most common attack is the defensive one.
Get ready your bear spray and use it, if the bear is still approaching. If the bear makes contact, play dead. Lie on your stomach with legs apart and cover your head and neck with your crossed arms. Remain still and wait until the bear leaves the area. The defensive attack shouldn't take more than two minutes.
It may happen that defensive attack shifts to predatory although the situation is unlikely.
But if the animal hunts you along the trail, you approach it at night, or the attack takes more than 2 minutes, do not play dead but fight back! Run, try to escape or hit the animal with whatever you have. Do anything necessary to let the bear know you are not prey.