During an encounter with a bear:

  • Never run away. You cannot outrun a bear. Running may trigger a bear to chase.
  • Never approach a bear.

In any bear encounter, your behavior matters. Bears respond to your actions. Both grizzly bears and black bears pose a risk. The bear’s behavior should determine your response.

Grizzly Bear

Different situations call for different responses:

  • If you see a bear at a distance, the bear appears unaware of you and you can move away undetected, do so quietly when the bear is not looking toward you.
  • If you cannot avoid a bear that sees you, stand your ground and watch its behavior. Move away when it “disengages” or becomes uninterested in you.

Give the bear space by backing away slowly from the bear and going in the opposite direction of the bear.

Stand your ground, prepare your bear spray, or discharge your bear spray if the bear is within range, and speak in a calm manner until the bear moves off.

  • Stand your ground.
  • If it charges, use your bear spray.
  • If the defensive bear is going to make contact with you, go face down on the ground, cover your neck and head as much as possible, and deploy your bear spray in the bear’s face. If you are unsure of the species, but you recognize it is defensive, play dead. Never play dead in an encounter with a black bear.
  • Stand your ground.
  • Get aggressive: wave your arms and shout vigorously.
  • Get spray out and ready.
  • Fight back if it makes contact.
  • Use your bear spray.
  • Fight back.

Grizzly Bear Myths

Even before Lewis and Clark provided the first scientific data about grizzly bears 200 years ago, legends about the “great white bear” abounded among early American explorers, pioneers, and settlers. Stories and tall tales about vicious, man-eating bears helped perpetuate the myth of the grizzly as a fierce and aggressive animal. While all wild animals can be dangerous if approached or threatened, human beings can safely coexist with these native species if we make an effort to understand the truth about their behavior and reactions.

TRUTH: Bears usually avoid conflict with people. Most dangerous encounters with bears happen when the bear is surprised, protecting cubs, or guarding a large food source, such as a carcass. Bears very rarely exhibit predatory behavior towards humans. However, a bear that has been exposed to human food or garbage may become dangerous and aggressive towards people.

TRUTH: A bear that is standing on its hind legs is usually trying to get a better view. This is not a threat or a signal that the bear is about to charge. Bears rarely attack, but when they do it is on all fours, with their heads down.

TRUTH: “Threat displays” such as snorting, salivating, snapping jaws, body posturing, etc. are meant to communicate a warning, dominance, and/or scare you away.

TRUTH: Often a bear will “bluff charge” to scare you away, by veering off or stopping short at the last second. While bluff charge can be difficult to distinguish from a real charge, bluff charges usually occur with a hopping or bouncing motion, with the bear’s head up, legs stiff, and ears forward.

TRUTH: Running away will likely trigger a chase response, and you can’t outrun a bear. Bears can run as fast as a racehorse for short distances, and can run faster than the fastest human in any direction, including uphill.

TRUTH: A common misconception is that grizzly bears, unlike black bears, cannot climb trees. While its long claws make climbing more difficult for a grizzly than for a black bear, a grizzly can get to you in a tree – it will more likely, however, be able to reach you before you reach the tree.

TRUTH: Research has shown that a mortally wounded bear usually lives long enough to injure seriously its attacker. People using guns against bears are more often attacked and more severely injured than those using bear spray to defend themselves and deter the bear. While so-called “bear spray” cannot prevent an encounter with a bear, it is by far the best known method of preventing attack and injury, if an encounter occurs. Bear spray is also nontoxic and will not permanently harm either the bear or the person exposed to it.