What should I Do if I am Attacked by a Bear?

Bear pepper spray may be helpful when out in the wilderness.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 March 2014
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While a rare occurrence, being attacked by a bear possibility for anyone visiting areas that overlap bear habitats. Simple precautions can help avoid most dangerous animal encounters, but wild animals are unpredictable and can attack if provoked. The best defensive tool is knowledge, so be sure to enter the wilderness as prepared as possible. Be aware that no method of defense from an attack is foolproof, and some people who have been attacked by a bear have used what experts consider to be the wrong approach and yet survived.

Bears will attack for several reasons. Most mother bears are fiercely protective of their young, and can attack if they sense a threat to cubs. Never approach a cub in the wild, even if you cannot see its parents. If you are concerned for its health, contact a park ranger, forest service worker, or local wildlife rescue agency.

Bear attacks are more frequent in years when food sources are particularly low. Hunger will drive a bear out of its natural range in search of food, and while it bears do not normally eat humans, people have been killed by bears in pursuit of human food. If you are camping in a bear area, be sure to string all food up where the bear cannot reach it, and take care to avoid aromatic foods.


If you are attacked by a bear and have time to notice, it helps to know what kind of bear it is. It is recommended that you study photos of bears before entering the wilderness, as it will affect your defensive strategy. In America, the most common types of bears are black bears and grizzly bears. Do not try to identify bears only by color, as they vary depending on their range. Grizzly bears are generally far larger than black bears and have a large hump of muscle on their shoulders.

If you are attacked by a bear that appears to be a grizzly, do not run. These bears can reach up to 30 miles per hour (48 km,) far faster than most humans. If there is a tree nearby, climb it, as full-grown grizzlies will only reluctantly enter trees. If there is no way to get up a tree, curl into the fetal position and use your arms to protect your neck. Playing dead should only be used as a last resort, as if you get up and try to run after lying down, the bear will probably charge you.

For black bears, defense strategies are somewhat different. Do not attempt to climb a tree, as black bears are adept climbers. Most black bears prefer to avoid fights, so some experts suggest waving your arms and shouting, or even running at the bear. If the bear continues to attack you, try to punch it in the snout or eyes. While animal activists may object to injuring a wild animal, if it comes down to you or the bear, fight it in any way possible. If you can, find a large stick or rock to use as a weapon.

A new method of defense against being attacked by a bear is to carry bear pepper spray. This concentrated burning spray will probably stop a bear from attacking, but is obviously a close range defense. Bear pepper spray is available online and at some outdoor gear stores, and costs approximately $30 US Dollars (USD).

Being attacked by a bear is a terrifying concept, but be comforted by the fact that it is extremely rare. Less than 25 fatal bear attacks have been recorded in the United States between 2000-2007. If you frequent the wilderness or live in an area with a bear population, be prepared and try to know the bears you are likely to see. Experts agree that you should not let the threat of being attacked by a bear prevent you from enjoying nature.


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