If you’re heading out to some the national parks in the west like Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, etc., you’ll want to know about some ways to stay safe from bears and bear attacks.
Black Bears and Grizzly Bears
Fur color alone won’t always tell you what kind of bear it is since both black and grizzly bears can range in color from blonde to black. One thing that separates grizzly bears from black bears is that grizzly bears have a shoulder hump and black bears do not. Grizzly bears also have short, rounded ears while black bears have tall and more pointy ears. Grizzly bears also have front claws that are hope you are able to stay far enough away from all bears so that identifying them is difficult!
Bear Safety Tips
It’s against the law to get any closer than 100 yards from a bear. And why would you want to?! If you want to avoid a bear, it’s recommended that you stay on roads and trails but even then, there’s no guarantee. After all, you’re in bear country!
Keep your eyes and ears open!
Look for bears as well as bear poop. Also keep your eyes peeled for bear tracks.
Make a lot of noise when hiking. Most bears (and other wildlife) will avoid humans if they hear them coming. Sounds will often tip of a bear to your presence rather than scaring it.
Carry EPA approved bear spray. It’s important that it’s EPA approved because that’s the only kind that’s tough enough to stop a bear in it’s tracks.
This is only half the battle. Keeping it handy and also knowing how to use it is the other half. At the very least have it where you can get to it quickly rather than buried at the bottom of your pack. Our can of bear spray has an expiration date so make sure you’re good to go before setting out. Some towns will rent bear spray, other places out west will have it for sale.
Hike with a buddy or two.
Yellowstone National Park recommends hiking in groups of three or more people. There’s safety in numbers…
If You Encounter a Bear
If you come up across a bear, do your best to back away slowly and do not run!
Try not to scream.
Leave the bear an escape route!
If you are attacked by a bear:
- Brown/Grizzly Bears – If you encounter a brown bear or a grizzly bear, play dead and remain as still as possible. We’ve never had to do this and it sounds terrifying, but this is what experts recommend.
- Black Bears – If you encounter a black bear, try to get out of there. If you can’t get out of there, fight back and try to hit the bear in the face. Again, this sounds incredibly scary.
- If any bear unexpectedly attacks you (say you’re in your tent, making food, etc., fight back!)
Practice bear food safety
Use bear lockers and be sure to get rid of trash in bear-safe trashcans. Bears are attracted to smells so make sure that all food, garbage, toiletries, cookware, tuppereware, coolers, dog food and even water bottles, bug spray and sunscreen are stored properly. In addition, don’t leave any of the above items unattended while you are at camp. Make sure you are actively using them. Don’t keep them in your tent!
How to Use Bear Spray
- If attacked or being charged by a bear, try to remain calm.
- Remove the safety from the spray.
- Aim the bear spray slightly downward (be aware of wind!) Snow, sleet, rain, wind, etc. will all reduce the range of your spray.
- Spray at the bear (make sure you know how far your spray will reach. Ours has a range of about 30 feet).
- Our canister has about 5 seconds of spray in it. Check yours and know how to use it.
After a canister of bear spray has been used it should be recycled and new spray purchased. Don’t go into the woods or on the trail with expired or empty bear spray.
Bear spray doesn’t work like bug spray so don’t apply it to your skin in order to ward off bears. People will just laugh at you!
Want to learn more about bear safety? Check out one of the free ranger programs that’s put on Memorial Day to Labor Day at visitor centers throughout certain parks including Yellowstone.
Bear Safety Recap
Make sure to check with each specific park about their bear spray regulations since not all parks allow it. It also can’t be taken on planes so make sure you know where to get some if you are traveling to a place via air. In addition, if you’re going to be traveling via car, keep in mind that some cans can explode if they reach temperatures of 120 degrees.
In short, be sure to be as bear aware and as prepared as possible! It could mean the difference between life or death for you and or the bear.