Close Encounters-What To Do

brown bear
Always give bears every opportunity to avoid you.

When encountering humans, most bears will run away, approach curiously, appear to ignore the situation, or act defensively. By staying alert, calm, and tailoring your reaction to the bear's behavior and species, you increase the odds of a positive outcome for both you and the bear.



The Bear What You Can Do

May or may not be aware of you

You are hiking/kayaking:

  • Change your course
  • Monitor the bear's movement
  • If bear is close, talk calmly to avoid surprising it.

You are camping or eating :

  • Keep all gear under direct control.
  • Group together without blocking the bear's route.
  • Talk calmly to make the bear aware of you.
  • Stand your ground.
Moves toward you
  • Monitor bear's movement.
  • Stand your ground and talk calmly.
  • Allow bear to pass peacefully.
Becomes focused on you
  • Stay together and stand your ground.
  • Be assertive and elevate your defense: clap your hands, wave your arms, use noisemakers, such as air horns or bang pots together.
  • Continue to stand your ground and look big.
  • Use pepper spray if you have it.
  • Few charges end in contact.
If a bear makes contact
  • Fight back vigorously.
  • This is likely a predatory attack.
Enters your tent
  • Fight back.


The Bear What You Can Do
May react defensively and may snort, huff, pop its jaw, or charge
  • Stand your ground and talk calmly to the bear.
  • Attempt to move away slowly.
Begins to follow you
  • Stand your ground.
  • Use pepper spray.
Is a brown bear and makes contact
  • Play dead-lie flat, face down on the ground, and lace your fingers behind your head. Do not move.
Is a black bear and makes contact
  • Fight back vigorously.
  • This is likely a predatory attack.


Black or Brown?
Can you tell the difference between Glacier Bay's two bear species?


If you see a bear, avoid it if you can. Give the bear every opportunity to avoid you. If you do encounter a bear at close distance, remain calm. Attacks are rare. Chances are, you are not in danger. Most bears are interested only in protecting food, cubs or their "personal space." Once the threat is removed, they will move on. Remember the following:

Identify Yourself
Let the bear know you are human. Talk to the bear in a normal voice. Wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you. If a bear cannot tell what you are, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening. You may try to back away slowly diagonally, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground.

Don't Run
You can't outrun a bear. They have been clocked at speeds up to 35 mph, and like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals. Bears often make bluff charges, sometimes to within 10 feet of their adversary, without making contact. Continue waving your arms and talking to the bear. If the bear gets too close, raise your voice and be more aggressive. Bang pots and pans. Use noisemakers. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal.

If Attacked
If a bear actually makes contact, surrender! Fall to the ground and play dead. Lie flat on your stomach, or curl up in a ball with your hands behind your neck. Typically, a bear will break off it's attack once it feels the threat has been eliminated. Remain motionless for as long as possible. If you move, and the bear sees or hears you, it may return and renew its attack.

In rare instances, particularly with black bears, an attacking bear may perceive a person as food. If the bear continues biting you long after you assume a defensive posture, it likely is a predatory attack. Fight back vigorously.

Defensive aerosol sprays which contain capsaicin (red pepper extract) have been used with some success for protection against bears. These sprays may be effective at a range of 6-8 yards. If discharged upwind or in a vehicle, they can disable the user. Take appropriate precautions. If you carry a spray can, keep it handy and know how to use it.


Last updated: February 2, 2019

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