Before visiting Bear Country, it is important to educate yourself on how to handle any encounter you may have with bears. Often, guests will ask us about whether or not it is safe for them to go for a walk. Though it is safe, knowing exactly what to do during a bear encounter is the best way to eliminate any concerns or fears you may have.
The two types of bears we have here at the Bear Track Inn are black bears and brown bears. Black bears are the most common encounter we have at the lodge. Black bears grow up to 5 feet in length, weighing 150-400lbs for males and 125-250lbs for females. Brown bears grow up to 7-9 feet, and males weigh in at 400-1500lbs while females are 200-850lbs. Learn more about them here.
Black bears are usually timid, especially juveniles. The encounter to be most concerned about here is crossing paths with a mother and cubs. But don’t worry- these tips, along with common sense, will help you to stay safe.
Before the Encounter:
- Bears don’t like surprises. Make your presence known by making noise, singing, talking loudly, etc. Avoid walking through thick brush that could hide their view of you.
- Though their hearing and eyesight is as good as humans, bears use their noses more than either. If possibly, walk with the wind at your back. Make sure your food is stored properly if you are backpacking with a picnic lunch.
- Use your nose, too. Bears have an almost foul, “wet dog” smell. If you notice this smell on your hike, be alert.
- Remember that bears use trails and roads, too.
- Avoid areas with carcass or fish. During the summer, bears eat spawning salmon along the river and creeks, so look for signs of their presence: if there is a noticeable path to the bank or there are fish carcasses around, bears were (or are) definitely near!
During the Encounter:
Remain calm if you do see a bear. Most are only interested in protection of food, cubs, or “personal space”.
- Identify yourself. If you’re noticed, talk in a normal voice. Wave your arms. Try to back away slowly. If followed, stand your ground.
- A bear may stand on his hind legs for a better look- this is out of curiosity, and is not threatening.
- NEVER RUN FROM A BEAR. You cannot outrun a bear, and besides, they like to chase fleeing animals. A charging bear may stop short a few feet away from you. If this happens, become more defensive as he nears you: raise your voice, beat on something loudly, or throw rocks or sticks. If you’re with a group, stand together.
- If you are fishing and a bear approaches, stop fishing. If there is a fish on your line, give it slack so it does not splash or get the bear’s attention. Cut the line if needed. We don’t want the bears to associate humans and food!
IF the encounter escalates and you are attacked, you have two choices: Play dead or fight back. Make your decisions based off of your surroundings and whether you think the bear is threatened and defensive, or seeking food.
- If it is a brown bear that you have surprised, and it is eating a carcass or is a mother protecting her cubs, play dead. Lie flat on your stomach with your legs spread apart, or, curl into a ball with your hands behind your neck.
- A bear will break it’s attack once it feels the threat has been eliminated. If you move, it may return, so remain motionless as long afterwards as possible.
- Fight any bear that follows you, or that breaks into a campsite or tent.
- For black bears, your best defense is always to fight back.
Is bear spray effective? Should I be traveling with it?
Bear spray, for those unfamiliar, is a medium sized can that contains red pepper extract. They are designed to propel a mist at about 15-30 feet, meaning the effectiveness is only at a close range to the bear. We do have bear spray for those who feel more comfortable with it, however, you should know how to use it before you carry it, and it should never be an alternative to common sense when it comes to bear encounters.
We also encourage our guests to bring Bandit with them on walks to the waterfall. Bandit is an excellent hiking companion and has been known to tree black bears.
Fun little note: While writing this, a mother brown bear and two cubs walked through the open meadow outside our lobby! The cubs put on quite a show for our guests.