How to Survive a Bear Attack

For the most part, bears leave people alone. It’s usually only when they feel threatened that they’ll attack. Still, it’s inevitable that bears and people are going to cross paths. When this happens, being knowledgeable about how to survive a bear attack can help you live. Although bears are becoming more and more accustomed to seeing humans, they can still be unpredictable and dangerous. I’ll start this article by showing you how bears think. Then we’ll move on to talk about how to increases your chances of survival in the event that you are attacked.

Bear Psychology 101

As a general rule of thumb, bears attack people for one of two reasons:

  • Predatory Behavior
  • Defensive Behavior

A bear’s behavior towards you will ultimately dictate how you react. What I mean is that you’ll use different survival strategies towards a predatory bear than you would a defensive bear. To learn how to survive a bear attack, you must have a good understanding of how bears think. Specifically, you must know whether it’s a predatory attack or a defensive attack.

Defensive Attacks

How to Survive a Bear AttackThis is by far the most common reason people get attacked. In many bear attacks, it’s a mother protecting her cubs. Or it could be that the bear feels threatened.

Either way, realize that the bear is in “defensive” mode. When a bear has this mindset, they don’t want to eat you. Their goal is to “neutralize” you and leave. How can you tell when a bear is defensive about your presence? Here’s how to know for sure:

  • Clacking Teeth
  • Sticking Out Lips
  • Huffing
  • Woofing
  • Slapping Ground w/ Paws

If you see a bear doing this, it’s because they are nervous about your presence. If you’re fortunate enough to see these warning signs (most people aren’t), then back away. When learning how to survive a bear attack, you must pick up on these clues. Otherwise, you’ll have no idea as to whether the bear is attacking because it’s hungry, or because it’s nervous.

Predatory Attacks

This is when the bear wants to kill and eat you. Keep in mind that this is rare. In most cases, the bear will simply be trying to defend itself or its cubs. Generally, these are the worst kind of attacks because the bear won’t stop until you’re dead. During a predatory attack, the bear won’t give you any warning signs (huffing, clacking teeth, etc.). It will simply attack. If you fall victim to a predatory attack, the chances are high that you won’t survive (unfortunate but true). However, there are ways to increase your chances of survival, even if it’s only by a small amount. Let’s look at how to survive a bear attack based on the bear’s behavior and/or attack type.

Defensive vs. Predatory Attacks – How to Increase Your Chances of Survival

During a defensive attack, don’t fight back. All the bear wants to do is neutralize you. Once they feel that you’re no longer a threat, they’ll move on. Play dead, and hope that the bear inflicts as minimal damage as possible. During a predatory attack, do fight back. It really is your only hope. Even if you play dead, the bear isn’t going to care (remember, it’s planning on eating you!). Do whatever you can to discourage the bear from continuing the assault. When learning how to survive a bear attack, understanding these simple principles can mean the difference between life and death.

Frontiersman Bear Spray

Avoiding an Encounter in the First Place

Encounter

Obviously, the best way to stay out of trouble is to avoid the bear attack in the first place. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Give Them Space: Bears need space. If you see one in the distance, rather than walk closer, use binoculars to view them. Getting too close can provoke an attack. As a general rule of thumb, if a bear changes its behavior because it sees you, then you’ve come too close.
  • Stay on Designated Trails: Trials are put in place for a reason. They’re designed to keep you safe. If you wander off of a trail then you radically increase your chances of getting attacked. You won’t need to know how to survive a bear attack if you don’t put yourself in the situation in the first place!
  • Hike in Groups: Never travel alone. A bar is far less likely to attack a group of people than someone walking alone. Picture yourself as a bear: would you attack a large group of people of whom you know nothing about? Probably not.

These are a few effective tips for avoiding an encounter in the first place. Statistically, though, some people are going to get attacked. It’s simply the reality of being in nature. If a bear does notice you (known as the “oh s*** moment”) but doesn’t attack, here’s what to do:

  • Identify Yourself as Human: Don’t portray yourself as prey. Knowing how to survive a bear attack is about helping the bear recognize that you’re human. If it comes closer and stands on its hind legs, it’s probably more curious than it is aggressive.
  • Keep Your Backpack On: If you’re wearing a backpack, keep it on! This will provide you with an additional layer of protection of the bear decides to attack. Some people think, “But I can run faster without a backpack on!” True. But here’s the reality: you can’t outrun a bear anyways (they can run 30 MPH).

I found a video on YouTube that shows a man squaring up to a bear. Basically, as the bear runs up to him, the man opens up his arms and “roars” at the bear. How does the bear react? Take a look at the video to find out:

Crazy video, right? It just goes to show that some bears are more scared of you than you are of them. If a bear attacks you out of predatory behavior, this might be worth a shot (you have nothing to lose since the bear is going for the kill anyways). If it’s a defensive attack, I don’t recommend that you try to “intimidate” the bear. Instead, play dead and hope they lose interest quickly.

Quick Tip: When trying to survive a bear attack, NEVER climb a tree. Bears are extremely good climbers. Not only will they still get you, but you’ll then have the added danger of falling out of the tree and killing yourself. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make when learning how to survive a bear attack.

Surviving Grizzly/Brown Bear Attacks

If you are attacked by a brown or grizzly bear, play dead. Make sure you leave your backpack on as an added layer of protection. Lie down flat on your stomach and place your hands behind your neck (so it doesn’t sever your spinal cord). Spread your legs so that the bear doesn’t turn you over. Be completely still. If you fight back, the intensity of the attack will likely increase. Knowing how to survive a bear attack boils down to following these tips when faced with a grizzly or brown bear. Here’s a news segment about a father and daughter who survived a grizzly bear attack:

Surviving Black Bear Attacks

If you’re attacked by a black bear, it’s probably a better idea to fight back. Why? Because most black bear attacks are predatory in nature. They want to eat you! When learning how to survive a bear attack, use anything you have to fight back- sticks, rocks, etc. Concentrate your attacks to the bear’s muzzle, face, and eyes. You might get lucky and cause the bear to lose interest. Again, while your chances of surviving a predatory attack are pretty low (unfortunate but true), you can increase your chances by following these tips.

How to Survive a Bear Attack – Bottom Line

For the most part, bear attacks are rare. If you find yourself in one, you’ll want to do everything you can to survive. I highly recommend learning about bear psychology if you’re going to be hiking in their territory. Being able to distinguish between predatory and defensive behavior is very important. Even if you never use the knowledge of how to survive a bear attack, it’s still something know (knowledge is power in survival). And remember, bears are majestic creatures that need their space. If you get too close, you’re asking to get attacked!

Resources

  1. How to Survive a Bear Attack (Wiki How)
  2. How to Survive a Bear Encounter (Tree Hugger)
  3. How to Best Survive a Black Bear Attack (Washington Post)
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