A black bears facial profile is straighter from tip of nose to ears. without the dished-in look of the grizzly. They lack the hump, common in a grizzly, and have shorter claws, generally around one and a half inches long.
Grizzlies often have a dished-in face and a large hump of heavy muscle above the shoulders. Their claws are around four inches long.
A commonly asked question is "What do I do if I run into a bear?" There is no easy answer. Like people, bears react differently to each situation. The best thing you can do is to make sure you have read all the suggestions for hiking and camping in bear country and follow them. Avoid encounters by being alert and making noise.
Bears may appear tolerant of people and then attack without warning. A bear’s body language can help determine its mood. In general, bears show agitation by swaying their heads, huffing, and clacking their teeth. Lowered head and laid-back ears also indicate aggression. Bears may stand on their hind legs or approach to get a better view, but these actions are not necessarily signs of aggression. The bear may not have identified you as a person and is unable to smell or hear you from a distance.
In rare cases bears may attack at night or after stalking people. This kind of attack is rare. It can be very serious because it often means the bear is looking for food and preying on you.
If you are attacked at night or if you feel you have been stalked and attacked as prey, try to escape. If you cannot escape, or if the bear follows, use pepper spray, or shout and try to intimidate the bear with a branch or rock. Do whatever it takes to let the bear know you are not easy prey.
If you surprise a bear, here are a few guidelines to follow that may help:
photo by Bob Chin
Don’t Surprise Bears!
Bears will usually move out of the way if they hear people approaching, so make noise. Most bells are not enough. Calling out and clapping hands loudly at regular intervals are better ways to make your presence known. Hiking quietly endangers you, the bear, and other hikers.
A bear constantly surprised by quiet hikers may become habituated to close human contact and less likely to avoid people. This sets up a dangerous situation for both visitors and bears.
Don’t Make Assumptions!
Don’t assume a bear’s hearing is any better than your own. Some trail conditions make it hard for bears to see, hear, or smell approaching hikers. Be particularly careful by streams, against the wind, or in dense vegetation. A blind corner or a rise in the trail also requires special attention.
Don’t Approach Bears!
Never intentionally get close to a bear. Individual bears have their own personal space requirements which vary depending on their mood. Each will react differently and its behavior can’t be predicted. All bears are dangerous and should be respected equally.
Bear pepper spray is specifically formulated to deter aggressive or attacking bears. When used properly bear spray causes temporary incapacitating discomfort which may provide a non-toxic, non-lethal deterrence of aggression by bears, and has been found to be effective in deterring or ending most aggressive attacks. However, as with any deterrent method, there is no guarantee that it will be effective in all situations.
Hikers should not develop a false sense of security by carrying the spray, and should follow appropriate bear avoidance safety procedures. If you decide to carry spray, use it only in situations where aggressive bear behavior justifies its use. Pepper spray is intended to be sprayed into the face of an oncoming bear. It is not intended to act as a repellent. Do not spray gear or around camp with pepper spray. To be effective the spray must be readily accessible, not in the pocket of a pack. Wear it on a belt or shoulder or chest strap.
Bear spray is labeled for use against bears, and by law must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. Only brands specifically labeled for use against bears can be transported legally across the border into Canada.
Camping & Bears
Did You Know?
Did you know that eight inches of snow fell during one night in Glacier's high country in August, 2005? The weather forced hundreds of backpackers out of the backcountry.