What to Do if You See a Bear

A visitor gets way too close to a bear to take a photograph.
A visitor takes a photograph too close to a bear. Stay at least 100 yards (300 feet) away from bears no matter how tempting it may be to approach wildlife.

Rebecca Wiles

Bear behavior is complex. Like people, bears react differently to each situation. 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 you 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 are not necessarily signs of aggression, the bear may not have identified you as a human yet.

If you encounter a bear:

  • DO NOT RUN. Bears can easily out run any human. Running may elicit attacks from non-aggressive bears.
  • If the bear is unaware of you, detour quickly and quietly.
  • If the bear is aware but has not acted aggressively, back slowly away while talking in an even tone or not at all.
  • Use your peripheral vision. Bears may interpret direct eye contact as threatening.
  • Do not drop your pack - this teaches bears how to obtain human food. Your pack can also protect your body in the case of an attack.
  • Do not climb trees - all black bears and some grizzly bears can also climb trees.

The vast majority of bear attacks have occurred when people surprised a bear. In this situation the bear may attack as a defensive maneuver. The bear may be protecting young or defending a carcass.

If a bear charges you:

  • DO NOT RUN. Some bears will bluff their way out of a threatening situation by charging, then veering off or stopping suddenly.
  • Bear experts generally recommend standing still until the bear stops and then slowly back away.
  • If you have bear spray this is the time to use it!
  • If the bear makes contact with you, drop to the ground and lie flat on your stomach with your legs spread apart slightly and play dead. Cover the back of your neck with your hands. Keep your pack on to protect your back. Do not move until you are certain the bear has left.

In rare cases, bears have attacked at night or after stalking people. These attacks are very serious because it may mean the bear sees you as prey. If you are attacked at night or if you feel you have been stalked and attacked as prey, fight back. Use your bear spray, or shout and try to intimidate the bear with a stick or rock. In this type of situation, do whatever it takes to let the bear know you are not easy prey.

To purchase books on bears and other subjects please visit the Grand Teton Association website.

Learn more about using bear spray. >>

Return to Bear Safety Home>>

Never approach a bear.
Never feed a bear.
Stay 100 yards (1 football field) from bears at all times.

Last updated: December 8, 2016

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