Bear habitats are often nearby when you’re out hiking, trekking, and indulging in nature.
Hiking in bear country, however, can be dangerous, and even fatal if you don’t know the safety guidelines.
Here are 10 tips to remember when hiking near bear habitats.
Learn How to Identify the Bear
One of the first prerequisites to planning your hike through bear country and setting up safety guidelines is to know the type of bears you might encounter.
Black bears and grizzly bears (brown bears) are the two most commonly encountered bears. But, don’t fall for their deceptive names; both black and grizzly bears appear in various colors, including black, brown, honey, and other shades.
Try to analyze a combination of characteristics such as the shape of their ears, head, paws, and other physical features.
Here are some points to remember:
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- Grizzlies have smaller, furrier ears than black bears, who usually have taller ears.
- While grizzlies are often brown, they can also be black or light brown
- Grizzlies have a distinct hunched back and stubbed snout.
- Grizzlies are more common in U.S. states like Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and even in Washington. Also, countries like Russia.
- Black bears have smaller claws than grizzlies.
- Black bears can also be brown.
- Black bears are more common in Canada and parts of Mexico, and can also be encountered commonly across the contiguous United States of America. They are also common in other parts of the world, such as India. Here, you might find the Himalayan Black Bear.
Should You Try to Outrun a Bear?
Most experts will tell you that trying to outrun bears is useless. You can’t outrun them, and it’s usually a bad idea to start running when you are faced with a bear. If a bear has seen you, calm down and try to determine what type of bear it is. Why is it important to know the difference between grizzlies and black bears? Because your response to an attack by either will be different in either case.
Call a Grizzly’s Bluff
In the case of a Grizzly bear, try to make out if the bear is really going to attack or is it just bluffing. (Yes, grizzlies do that). In case of a “bluff charge,” the bear’s ears will be pricking up, and it will make a lot of huffing noises. In case it is a bluff charge, the bear usually charges toward the prey but stops short before attacking. You’d also know if a bear is bluffing by the snorting and grunting sounds it makes.
What to do: Respond by standing your ground and facing the bear without backing away. In case of a bluff charge, it is essential to let the bear know who the boss is. (The bear is the boss, but you can still fool it into believing you are). The chances are that the bear will retreat, which is a cue for you to slowly do the same.
What to Do if Attacked
Upon spotting you, if a grizzly bear’s ears are bent low, and it is not making any sounds, chances are that it will attack.
In this situation, you have to act quickly.
- Do not run. Bears can run very fast, both up and downhill. According to recommendations by United States National Park Services, running is not a good idea.
- Do not climb a tree. Both grizzlies and black bears can climb trees.
- Your best bet is to lie down and play dead. Fall down face front with your backpack turned up.
- Put your hands on your head with your elbows by your side. This makes it harder for the bear to turn you over.
- You can use weapons in case you have them.
In case you are faced with a black bear, playing dead will not help. Black bears are usually attacking out of predatory needs, and you will have to fight it. Rare as the situation is, and in case you have no deterrents like bear spray or other weapons, you will have to fight the bear with your hands. Punching a black bear’s face and snout can confuse and destabilize the animal for some time, buying you enough time to flee.
Trek in Groups
When hiking in bear country, remember to trek in groups. Bears are usually more afraid of humans than you are of them. They are likely to stay away and resist attacking a group with three or more people. Make sure no one falls back while trekking.
Keep Your Distance
For bear enthusiasts, bear sightings can be a treat. But, even if you are one of them, it is crucial to follow safety rules. Remember to always maintain a safe and recommended distance from bears, even if you are trying to take a picture. Most experts recommend a distance of at least 70 meters or yards for black bears, and 100 meters or yards if it’s a grizzly.
Please don’t try to take selfies with bears. They don’t look like it, but bears can be surprisingly quick when they are in attack mode, so always be alert.
Stay Away from Cubs
Never try to get between a mama bear and her cubs. Don’t even try to approach the cubs if you see them without the adult. The mother is likely to be around, and will not be pleased to find you messing with her kids, resulting in a protective attack response. If you see bear cubs, it’s best to quietly step away.
Bear Spray is Best
The idea is not to kill a bear, but to neutralize it enough to allow you time to escape. To that effect, bear sprays are the perfect solution. Bear sprays act like pepper sprays, and can temporarily blind a bear for a few seconds if it chooses to attack. Unlike guns that can cause injuries to both humans and animals, bear sprays can save your life without causing any permanent harm to the bear.
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When using bear spray, remember to:
- Spray it only when the bear is close enough to you
- Don’t spray it too high if the direction of the wind is toward you, as it will blow into your own eyes
- Maintain a lower angle below the bear’s snout when spraying so that it doesn’t blow over its head and catches it in the eyes.
Traveling in bear country can be a gratifying experience, and can even leave you with some memorable sightings of the great beast in its natural habitat. Remember that bears are gentle creatures and rarely attack without provocation. In case you find yourself facing a bear attack, keep calm and follow the steps in this guide, and you may live to tell the tale of how you escaped a bear during your last adventure.
When hiking, bears are not the only things that threaten your safety. You could fall and suffer from a broken leg, or you could simply become ill. In this case, a trip to the emergency room could prove costly. Purchase travel insurance so that you can have a safety net for your finances in case of emergency.
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