The other day I met a bear

Two hikers on a trail came around the bend to find an enormous brown bear about 75m up the trail.  The bear spies them and begins running toward them at a full gallop.  One hiker drops his backpack, sits down, throws off his boots, and starts lacing up a pair of running shoes.  The other hiker says:  “What are you doing?  You will never outrun that bear!”  The first hiker replies: “I don’t have to outrun the bear…”.


I’m going trail running in bear country.  I worry I have exceeded my quota of escape luck when encountering rarely seen wild animals on the run.  A friend who works for the Ministry of Natural Resources has outfitted me with bear balls (erm, round jingling bells to warn bears there are humans among them), so I don’t accidentally scare a cub-protecting mamma.  As I’m apt to, I’ve been researching what to do if I run across a bear.  Most of the advice instructs me to first stop and figure out (a) what type of bear I’ve encountered and (b) the type of attack.  Once I know what and why I can react appropriately.   My Plan B involves (a) panic and (b) running away at top speed.

Dr. Stephen Herroro (in his must-read book Bear Attacks, which is filled with very awesome descriptions of real bear attacks) recommends playing dead during an accidental grizzly bear encounter.  Playing dead to a predatory black bear won’t help you much, but it may help the bear.  Climbing might help you escape a grizzly attack, if you can scramble up at least 10 metres before the bear gets to the tree.  Tree climbing to escape a black bear is rather foolhardy and will probably result in a bear battle amid the branches.  By all accounts outrunning any bear is highly improbable.  Bears can run up to 30 miles per hour.  I can not.  I remember an old myth about escaping a bear by running down a slope, under the assumption that bears can’t run downhill without tripping over themselves and turning into rolling projectiles, eating you all but forgotten as their life flashes before their low-vision eyes.  For your own reference, this is fiction, not fact.  Do not head for the hills.

In my neck of the woods roams the poorly named black bear, as colours vary from blonde to brown to black.  Lucky for me, no grizzly bears live in my province.  In the unlikely event of a black bear attack, all I need to do is figure out if the motives are defensive or predatory.  Something about being stalked by a bear sends chills down my spine.  I’ve gone to the helpful Bear Wise website for tips on visiting black bear country.  

To sum:  do the opposite of what I’m naturally inclined to do. 

Know the language of black bears.   If you by chance encounter a black bear it may:  (i) stand on its hind legs to get a better look at you, (ii) salivate excessively, exhale loudly, and make huffing, moaning, clacking and popping sounds with its mouth, teeth and jaws, (iii) lower its head with its ears drawn back while facing you, (iv) charge forward, and/or swat the ground with its paws – this is also known as a bluff charge.   Generally, the noisier the bear is, the less dangerous it is – provided you don’t approach the bear.  These are all warning signals bears give to let you know you are too close.  When bears are caught off guard, they are stressed, and usually just want to flee. 

Basically the bear will try to scare me.  I suspect this will not be a challenge for the bear.

What to do – Surprise and Close Encounters:  (i) Remain calm. Do not run.  Stand still and talk to the bear in a calm voice, (ii) arm your pepper spray, (iii) do not try to get closer to the bear, (iv) if the bear does not get closer to you, slowly back away, talking to the bear in a quiet, monotone voice.  Do not scream, turn your back on the bear, run, kneel down or make direct eye contact.  Watch the bear and wait for it to leave.   

If the bear does not leave or approaches you, yell and wave your arms to make yourself look bigger.  Throw objects, blow a whistle or an air horn because the idea is to persuade the bear to leave.   If you are with others, stay together and act as a group.  Make sure the bear has a clear escape route.  If the bear keeps advancing, and is getting close, stand your ground and use your bear pepper spray (if the bear is within seven metres) or anything else you can find or use to threaten or distract the bear.   Do not run or climb a tree!

So, if the bear does not approach I should stay clear of the bear (no problem), stay calm (I will try, but I will surely fail) and if it seems prudent to do so I should back away slowly (the slow part would be a test of courage) and try to calm the bear (the bear!) by speaking to it in a soothing manner (what with my girly screaming, this could be hard).   If the bear won’t go away I’m supposed to scare the bear.  Bwa ha ha.  Any bear intimidated by me would probably answer to the name Pooh.

Attacks! Black bear attacks are extremely rare.  A black bear may attack if: (i) It perceives you to be a threat to it, its cubs or it may be defending food.  This is a defensive bear that wants more space between you and it.  Such attacks are exceedingly rare although a bear’s aggressive display may seem to suggest otherwise or (ii) It is a predatory bear.  These bears are also very rare.  Predatory attacks usually occur in rural or in remote areas.  Predatory bears approach silently, and may continue to approach regardless of your attempts to deter them by yelling or throwing rocks.

What to do if an encounter results in an attack: use your pepper spray, fight back with everything you have, do not play dead except in the rare instance when you are sure a mother bear is attacking you in defense of cubs.

If a bear attacks fight like hell.  Got it.

Title Reference:  Barenaked Ladies – The Other Day I Met a Bear.  From the album The Simple Life: Campfire Songs.  2007.

Book Reference:  Stephen Herroro.  Bear attacks: Their causes and avoidance.  Revised edition.  The Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut, USA, and McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  282 pp.

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16 responses to “The other day I met a bear

  1. There was a blurb in the most recent Wired on what to do if you come face-to-face with a bear. Those who play dead only had a 29% chance of coming out of it alive, but your odds increased to about 60% if you actually fought back. Apparently staying still shows that you’re vulnerable. I’m probably getting my stats a bit mixed up, but looks like you’re getting some good advice! Good luck! (btw, now i have that song stuck in head!)

  2. Good advice on what to do in case of encountering a bear but I think I would just try to fight it. Davy Crockett killed a bear when he was only 3. Also, about a year ago a Davy Crockett decedent killed a bear when he was 5. I’m not a decedent of Davy Crockett but I am older than a toddler.

    Plus I’m smarter than the average bear.

  3. Not Your Average Bear

    If you look or smell like a picanic basket, you might want to reconsider running through my park!

  4. It’s good advice to be bear aware, but I believe that it is highly unlikely that a runner will be in danger from a bear. I encounter black bears in the woods around my cottage near Bancroft Ontario when I am trail running. I have had two potentially sticky encounters: once when I ran into two cubs and their mum, and once when a juvenile male was challenging an adult male. In the first case, Mum sensibly put herself quickly between me and her cubs and simply led them away; in the second case the bears were too interested in boxing each other to worry about me. Now I did have a grizzly close encounter in the Yukon which was definately more scary…but that’s another story!

  5. Although older than a toddler, I don’t have the confidence of the Crockett family and I do have a tendency to smell like yummy food, so I think the bear balls are a ood bet for me.

    And Chris, your encounters totally made me feel less crazy for jingling my way through the woods. p.s. I want to hear that grizzly story.

  6. Are you saying that we’d better skip LSD if we’re off to cottage country on weekends?

  7. It is remotely possible to outrun a bear, because I’ve done it. In fact, I may be the only written documented case with an official eyewitness and police report of anyone ever outrunning a bear. I outran the bear over a stretch no less than 100 yards, possibly much longer. I don’t know what my clock speed was as I was fighting for my life. As for my musculoskeletal system, I pulled several ligaments in my leg in the process according to the doctor who treated me. The bear itself may have weighed well over 300 lbs. and was very large, an adult. So it is possible, but you have to be extremely lucky.

    DISCLAIMER: In case anyone wants to try this out for kicks, I don’t ever recommend it. I just decided to outrun after I’d exhausted all other options. Don’t ever taunt a bear thinking you can outrun it. Because you probably will not live to tell your tale. It’s 99.998% chance it will either kill or maim you very severely for life. Please don’t attempt it or think you can do it as animals in the Wild are extremely dangerous. They are not your domesticated pet. They kill to eat and to survive. They eat anything which fulfills this need…including you.

    • Dear Frank,

      You didn’t outrun me… I lost interest.

      Happy trails,
      Bear

      • “Dear Frank,
        You didn’t outrun me… I lost interest.
        Happy trails,
        Bear”

        Yes Bear, once you chased me over 100 yards and after I climbed a tree, you didn’t pursue up the tree me after that. You were a large bear, not a small one. Therefore, your size may have been a factor in your decision not to climb up after me. Had you been smaller, you might have followed me up there. You were fast, but bulky and not as agile as a smaller bear would be. But after I climbed, you did start to walk towards my friend who was hiding in the bushes. You might have devoured him had I not shouted and warned him that you were coming after him. But I give you credit; that despite having a good 70+ yard head start on me, you were only 5 feet away at one point. I’m glad you never touched or got hold of me, because I probably would be dead now.

        The other thing I was going to mention about the joke “you don’t have to outrun the bear, just outrun the slowest runner” isn’t true. Being faster, might be to a runner’s detriment. The faster he runs, the faster the bear runs until it catches up to its target. In my case, the bear went for the fastest runner first-me. Therefore, it might have necessary to outrun you in order to eventually save my friend, the slower person. And I had to tell him what to do in order to save himself from you.

        Just thought I’d let you know.

  8. I basically died laughing at these comments. You have quite a clever/wise-ass contigent of followers.

    • …as long as you only die laughing. Just make sure you don’t die on the trail at the hands of ‘Bear’. It must be the worst way to die…at the hands of a vicious, hungry wild animal. And it’s painful too. You don’t even have to go to Hell after that to know what suffering must feel like.

      • Agreed, if I had the choice between (a) happy death by laughter or (b) painful death my bear mauling I’d certainly choose A. Although I am a poll of one, I ssupect the findings are generalizable.

        p.s. I swear, I’m not “The Bear”. I’m not even sure if Jellystone is real or a Hanna Barbera creation.

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