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Knowing the different types of bears can be a matter of life and death


Bears usually hibernate in winter, but it’s summer now, so depending on where you hike, you could encounter a bear.

While it can be exciting to spot a bear, it can be terrifying if one spots you! Bears are, by nature, very curious and observant.

While it may not be widely known, bears don’t generally attack humans. Usually, the only reason a bear ever attacks a human is because they have been provoked.

If a bear becomes scared, either by a person or another animal, it will attack, especially if the bear feels their cubs are in danger or their food may be taken from them.

While it may be rare that you will encounter a bear on the trail, it can happen.

However, if that should happen, you will need to know what to do. You may become startled when you see a bear in close proximity to you. The bear may be just as surprised to see you, as you are to see him.


Know Your Bears


If you do encounter a bear, the first thing you need to do is to identify what type of bear you’re looking at.

How you should react will be determined by the type of bear you are facing.


Black Bears

Black Bears

Black Bear With Cubs

In most states across the U.S., if you see a bear, it will most likely be a Black Bear.

While they are called Black Bears, you will notice that they usually, but not always, have a dark coat, which can range from black or dark brown all the way down to tan. Their muzzle is usually a lighter color than the rest of their body.

These bruins usually weigh about 240 pounds.


Grizzly Bears


Grizzly Bears are generally much taller & larger overall, than Black Bears. They usually weigh about 600 pounds and have a dish-shaped face and a muscular shoulder hump.


Momma Grizzly With Cubs

Encounters with Grizzly Bears are much less common and potentially more dangerous than an encounter with Black Bears.

When hiking in Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming or Alaska, should you spot a bear, it will most likely be a Grizzly Bear.

Be sure to scrutinize the body type when trying to identify a Grizzly from a Black Bear.

Most Grizzlies are dark brown or black, which are typically similar to a Black Bear’s color, so body shape and size are the key to identifying which one is which.


How To React If You Encounter A Black Bear


If find yourself in the precarious position of coming face to face with a Black Bear, your best strategy is to:

  1. Stop moving
  2. Raise both arms up slowly until they are above your head
  3. Yell in a deep, authoritative voice, telling the bear to leave you alone.


Black Bears will often leave if they see a person.

If the bear doesn't leave, or worse, if he starts to move toward you, yell louder, while making as much noise as possible.

If you have trekking poles, bang them together, while continuing to yell.

Another technique would be to start pelting the bear with sticks and rocks, until he retreats.

While it is extremely rare for a Black Bear to charge you, it could happen. In this instance, you will need to fight back.

If you don’t want to be the bear’s next meal, you will have to fight back with every ounce of energy and force that you have in you.


How To React If You Encounter A Grizzly Bear


Should you encounter a Grizzly Bear, you will need to use a completely different strategy.

Things you need to know:

  1. While you are deciding what to do, he is trying to determine if you are a threat or if you could be his lunch.
  1. Never provoke a Grizzly Bear as they are far more likely to charge you than a Black Bear.
  1. You need to speak calmly while you immediately start backing away.
  1. Don’t look the Grizzly in the eye as he may see this action as a sign of aggression.
  1. If the bear charges, you should spray him with “bear spray”.
  1. Whatever you do, never run away. If you run, his first instinct will be to chase after you.


Your Best Bet:  Bear Avoidance


If you are lucky, your encounter will last less than 10 seconds.

You see the bear.

The bear sees you.

The bear retreats before you even have a chance to take a picture.

If a bear encounter is imminent, you should let the bear know of your presence as soon as possible.

A Few More Tips When Hiking In Bear Country:

  1. Be extra careful if your visibility is limited.
  1. Secure your food in a metal locker. If that is not possible, then be sure to hang your food at least 100 feet away from your camping area. Hang it as high up as possible in a bear bag or bear canister.
  1. If you should spot a cub, you can bet that the mama bear is nearby and very concerned that you may mean harm to her cub. You need to leave the area immediately.



Bear Spray

Bear Deterrent Sprays

Different Brands Of Bear Sprays


If there is any chance that your hike may take you to an area where you may encounter a Grizzly, then be sure to bring bear spray with you, just in case.

Most charging bears will stop right in their tracks, if they get a blast of bear spray.

Self -defense sprays such as Mace work well when trying to deter a human, however, it is not powerful enough to deter a charging bear.

Make sure that the product you buy is specifically sold as “bear spray”.


Wrap Up


While it can exhilarating to hike in “Bear Country”, come well prepared in case you do actually come face-to-face with a bear.

Go on the internet and look for multiple pictures of each type of bear, so you will be able to easily identify any bear you “meet”.

Being able to quickly identify any bear you might encounter can literally be the difference between life & death.

The defense strategies you would use for an encounter with a Black Bear are the complete opposite strategies than you would use with a Grizzly Bear.


Last Thoughts


Know your bears and the strategies to use during a “meeting”.

Don’t be any bear’s lunch (or dinner for that matter).

Enjoy your time in Bear Country and stay safe.



To read another interesting article from The Joy of Hiking, click the link below.

Considering Going Hiking With Your Dog?