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:
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.
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 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.
Carry Pepper Spray
We strongly recommend that you carry bear spray. Bear spray containing capsaicin, a red pepper extract, is an effective, non-lethal deterrent against attacks by aggressive wildlife. Sprays have a maximum range of about six to eight yards. If discharged upwind or in a vehicle, they can disable the person using them. Use sprays approved by the EPA that contain at least eight ounces of deterrent.
Firearms are allowed in Wrangell-St. Elias, but should never be used as an alternative to a common-sense approach to bear encounters. You are allowed to carry a concealed weapon in the park. However, you cannot carry a firearm into a federal building. A rifle of at least .30 caliber or a 12-gauge shotgun with slugs is recommended as defense against a bear. Alaska law makes provisions for shooting a bear in self defense if there is no alternative and if the attack was unprovoked. If you are inexperienced, you are more likely to be injured by a gun than a bear, and any misplaced shot may enrage the bear further, prolonging an attack. We generally recommend that hikers carry bear spray rather than a firearm. Although firearms ARE allowed in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, it is illegal to carry firearms in some of Alaska's other national parks, so check before you go.
Firearms for Personal Protection
Download this brochure about carrying firearms in Alaska national parks.
(pdf format 126 KB)