I probably spend more time communing with bears than the average human being. I’ve encountered literally hundreds of grizzly bears in Alaska and Russia and black bears in the west, and luckily have had very few bad experiences. (And those bad experiences make for great cocktail party stories.) When you fish you accept the fact that you are sharing ground with the residents, and learn to act accordingly. In fact, I tend to be more fearful of a moose or rattlesnake then a bear.
When you enter bear country you also get a lot of advice on what to do if a bear attacks. If a bear was actually attacking me I have no idea if I would remember the correct procedure – I suspect I might just scream like a little girl and fall into a fetal position – but “just in case” I remain interested in expert advice. The conventional wisdom has always been to “make a lot of noise”, and if a bear does look aggressive you should back away. If attacked you are usually told to fall to the ground and play dead.
However, in a recent article in Fly Rod & Reel, Dr. Tom S. Smith, a bear expert and Professor at Brigham Young University, offers new advice – some of which contradicts what I have heard in the past – on how to navigate bear country, and what do if a bear gets aggressive. For all of you planning summer hikes, here are a few tips from the Professor:
- Dr. Smith agrees that in bear country you should make a lot of noise, avoid hiking alone, and always carry deterrent. He recommends bear spray as opposed to a firearm.
- He advises never camping near water as it increases the chance of attack. He also says never to let a bear touch your tent, suggesting you put a perimeter alarm to drive them off before they get too comfortable.
- If you encounter a bear, group together. Stand abreast of one another so the bear can see multiple people. He claims that during his studies in Alaska he could find no cases of two or more people standing together being attacked by a bear.
- If the bear charges, stand your ground, and don’t back away. Bear spray is effective at up to 25 feet. Do not move or lie down. Lying down signals submissiveness or subordination.
- If knocked to the ground by a grizzly, lay face down and be still, and wait for the bear to move on.
- If attacked by a black bear, never lie down or play dead. Fight for your life, preferably from a standing position if you can.
Of course, my non-scientific approach if attacked by a bear might be to fall down and kiss my ass goodbye, but you are probably better off following the Professor’s advice.