Bear Encounters and Attacks

Mother bear with two cubs on the bank of a river
Never get between a mother bear and her cubs.

NPS Photo/Doug Demarest


Taking proper precautions when travelling in bear country will usually prevent potentially dangerous incidents from happening, but if you do encounter a bear, here are some simple strategies that can prevent the situation from escalating.

Identify Yourself

Identify yourself by calmly talking. It helps the bear recognize that you’re human and not a prey animal. Remain still and slowly wave your arms. The bear may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.

Keep Calm

Stay calm and remember that the bear wants to be left alone, just like you. Bears may react defensively by woofing, yawning, salivating, growling, snapping their jaws and laying their ears back. They might also try and bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second. Continue to talk to the bear in low tones. This will help you stay calm. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack. Never imitate bear sounds.

Move Away

If the bear is stationary or minding its own business, move away slowly, but DO NOT RUN. If the bear follows you, stop and hold your ground. Bears can run faster than a human, both uphill and down, and like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals. This is a race you won’t win. Don’t climb a tree. Both grizzlies and black bears are excellent climbers. Leave the area or take a detour. If this is impossible, wait until the bear moves away. Always leave the bear an escape route.

Bear Attacks

Bear attacks are extremely rare. In fact, there has never been a recorded bear attack in Kobuk Valley National Park. However, if a bear does attack you, it’s good to be mentally prepared.

If you’re attacked by a defensive bear, such as a mother with cubs or a bear defending a carcass, leave your pack on and PLAY DEAD. Lay flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck and spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to flip you over. Remain still and quiet for several minutes after the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of the attack. However, if the attack persists, fight back vigorously. Use whatever you have at hand to hit the bear in the face.

If you are attacked by a predatory bear, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. Try to escape to a secure place such as your boat. If that isn’t possible, fight back with any object available. Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear's face and muzzle.

In general, grizzly bears are more likely to be defensive and black bears are more likely to be predatory, but that's not a hard and fast rule. Every bear attack is unique. Use your best judgement of the situation to decide how to respond.

If any bear attacks you in your tent, or stalks you and then attacks, do NOT play dead — fight back! This kind of attack is very rare, but can be serious because it may means the bear is looking for food and sees you as prey.

If you are injured or even just approached by a bear, report it to the park rangers in Kotzebue. Your information can improve safety for future visitors and local hunters.

Last updated: October 16, 2015

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