Sunday, April 1, 2012

How to defend against a bear attack on hike

Good bear advice at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
NPS historic photo.
Black bears appear all over North America and the rarer grizzly in remote areas of the West. You can avoid them by staying out of bear areas in spring when they’re awaking from hibernation or tending cubs. Typically bears will avoid us, but a mother who thinks her cubs are threatened more than likely will chase if not attack you. If you stumble across a bear with cubs, keep your distance and move away from them. Sometimes the mother will send her cubs up a tree as she watches to see if you are a threat; don’t pass between her and that tree, or she’ll attack.

Also, avoid berry patches in fall. If you notice signs of bears, like paw prints, droppings, demolished berry bushes, claw marks on trees or the smell of carrion, you shouldn’t continue onward.

Avoidance always is a better solution than being forced into a situation where you have to scare off an attacking bear. As parent Eric M., of Bend, Ore., notes: “Some hikers recommend jingling bells, but if you’re that close to a bear that you need to do so, you probably won’t have enough time to get the bells from your backpack should it decide to attack. You also can throw rocks at the bear if it approaches, but this probably necessitates that you bend down, making you an easier target for a fast-moving animal. Pepper spray will ward off a bear, but often by the time the danger is upon you, again you won’t be able to reach for the spray or you’ll end up spraying it so some will go on you, meaning you suffer much the same fate as the bear (which is slightly better, I suppose, than being at the bear’s mercy).”

If you do encounter a lone bear, don’t turn your back to it but gather everyone in the group together in a single cluster, make as much noise as possible, and move slowly in opposite direction. Bears usually won’t attack a group of more than four people.

If attacked, don’t run but play dead by lying on the ground, bringing your legs to your chest, tucking in your head, and covering the back of your neck with your hands. The bear might swat and sniff at you, but when it sees you’re playing dead, it won’t consider you a threat.

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