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.