This is what to do if you come eye to eye with a bear.
It may not feel like it yet, but summer is winding down—and with the approach of fall comes bear season. When the hint of fall hits the air, bears get active, hunting for food. The National Parks Service warns that during the fall months, bears eat and drink nearly nonstop, to bulk up for winter hibernation. And with the recent news of various bear attacks happening in Colorado, preparation is key.
But what should you do if you encounter one of those hungry bears? Read on.
Tip #1: Ditch the Food
Stephanie Mantilla, who runs the animal training and behavior blog Curiosity Trained, spent 12 years as a zookeeper, training black bears, grizzly bears, and other carnivores.
"Usually it is unsecured food and easy meals that get a bear interested in a certain location. When camping, if the prior campers left food out then bears may check out that location on a regular basis," she says. "The best thing you can do is to secure all your food and body care products into a bag hung dangling from a tree a distance away from your campsite. Avoid leaving food items or body products in your car or tent since bears have an excellent sense of smell."
Tip #2: Make Noise
Mantilla suggests making noise while you hike as a bear deterrent. If they hear you coming, they’ll most likely leave before you ever even see them, she said.
Video courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Tip #3: Back Away, Slowly
"If you do come across a bear, it is best to stop and back away slowly while still facing them," said Mantilla. "Black bears will often sit up on their hind legs, but this isn't an aggressive posture. They are trying to smell and get a better view of you. Raise up your arms with a jacket or shirt to make yourself look larger. Making direct eye contact with a brown bear or grizzly bear can be viewed as a sign of aggression, so don’t do that. Backing away slowly is your best option."
If you have a backpack with food and the bear seems to be following you, it is best to ditch the food items in the opposite direction of where you're going, she adds.
Carrying bear spray is also a smart idea, because it could give you a few seconds to escape. But Mantilla advises taking time before your hike to make sure you understand how to use it, so you don’t accidentally deploy this highly concentrated pepper spray on yourself.
Seth Newton runs the popular outdoor blog OutMoreUSA. "Bears generally avoid people but will defend their territory if they have to, so when they encounter you, they are trying to determine if you are a threat or easy prey," he said. "Stand firm, stay in a group, speak firmly, and slowly back away. These actions tell the bear that you are not a threat but also not to be messed with."
Tip #4: Do Not Run
Do not try to outrun the bear, advises Mantilla. "If you are being actively attacked, curl into a ball and protect your face with your arms. Bears are fast runners, and black bears can quickly climb trees."
Newton advises that the way you should respond to a bear attack depends on the type of bear.
"In Colorado, black bears are by far the most common type of bear," he says. "Black bears are known to 'bluff' by making intimidating gestures or even charging, only to stop short and retreat. In these situations, you absolutely need to stand your ground and not run. Running will cause the bear to attack as it will see itself as dominant over you."
Being attacked by a bear is not likely. But, if you are attacked, put up a fight. "The bear needs to know that you are willing to fight to the death,” said Newton. “Aim to hit it in the face, eyes, and nose and use anything you can grab to defend yourself, including sticks or rocks."
And, take note: Newton points out that black bears are not always black; they can be blond or cinnamon-colored.
Now that you’re prepared for the bears—which trails will you be hitting this weekend? Let us know in the comments below. Stay safe out there, Colorado!