I have attended a number of seminars with some of western Canada's leading bear biologists. I understand why hikers carry
bells. They fulfill a psychological need we have as humans to be doing those things necessary to our preservation. There is
a comfort that comes with feeling that we are in command. Experts play down their value, but if it gives people some peace
of mind [while realizing that more effective means of avoiding bear contacts are recognized], then why not. Tinkle on.
Hopefully the following will give you greater insight
into bear encounters. I have culled all this from my guiding experience and seminars with bear biologists.
Most fatal/serious grizzly encounters are defensive attacks,
while with black bears it is predatory. Your response should reflect the bear's behaviour and circumstance rather than the
species. Most bears have had some previous experience with humans and this will dictate its behaviour.
A defensive situation is one in which you have entered
a bear's personal space, surprising or crowding it, i.e. mother and cubs, protecting food. It most likely will appear agitated
or stressed. The closer you are, the more likely that it will react in a defensive manner. Most defensive attacks stop short
of contact, but sometimes result in attack. Other reasons why bears may approach you are that they are curious, used to humans,
testing its dominance, or, on rare occasions, predatory.
Unaware Bears: you see a bear that has not noticed you.
Remain calm but stop. Don't yell or bring attention to yourself. Move away while keeping an eye on the bear. If it moves in
your direction, look for change in behaviour. Either way make a wide arc around the bear or leave the way you came. Don't
ever shout at a bear you have surprised. It may be viewed as an aggressive intent and provoke an attack.
Aware Bear: bear has seen you. Calmly, in a non-threatening
voice, identify yourself as human. Wave your arms slowly and try to position yourself upwind so bear can catch your scent.
Safest thing is to leave area. If not possible then wait some time and proceed with caution. Bear vocalizations or cubs on
the ground or in a tree are a definite sign to leave the area.
When a bear is aware of you and seems unconcerned means
that you have not entered its zone of comfort. Take this as an invitation to leave.
Bear Approaches: best response initially is to stop and
remain calm. Don't run unless safety is near and you are absolutely sure you can reach it. Climbing a tree is an option but
no guarantee of safety. Prepare your deterrents [bear guard, field howitzer, bangers]. Now, comes the time that you must assess
the bears intent as this will determine your response.
Defensive Bear: the bear is stressed [vocalization, head
movements] as you have entered its comfort zone. If it approaches or charges [its ears will go back] you must stand your ground
[yes I know this can be terrifying but contact is rare] as most charges stop short. Try to appear non threatening by speaking
firmly to the bear. This may calm it. Don't shout or throw anything as this can provoke an attack.
If the bear stops moving towards you begin slowly backing
away, all the time watching the bear. The idea is to increase your distance from the bear and thus recreating its comfort
If the bear seems intent on contact then your first line
of defense is your bear guard. I am totally amazed at how many hikers carry it but have no clue how to use it [removing the
safety and spraying is only one part of it]. If you don't, ask someone who does to demonstrate its use. It may mean your life
Fall to the ground at the last possible moment. Lay on
your stomach with legs spread slightly apart. Lock your fingers behind your neck. This protects the neck and head. Defensive
bears usually concentrate their attack on the face. If flipped continue rolling back into the defensive position so that vital
organs are always protected against the ground. If you have a pack, keep it on. Do not struggle or cry out.
Typically a defensive bear will end the attack once it
thinks you are no longer a threat. Don't move until you know the bear has left or it will otherwise return and attack. If
the attack is prolonged or the bear appears to view you as a meal, the fight is on. You must do all you can to save your life.
Non-defensive approaches: these bears may be curious,
habituated, asserting dominace or predatory. Best response for all these [as you yet know its motivation], is stop, remain
calm, talk firmly, and try to move away. This may be all it wants you to do. Watch the bear. If it follows and is directed
to you, then stop and hold your ground.
All but an aggressive or predatory bear would have abandoned
its advance. There is real danger at this point. Time to be aggressive yourself. Shout at it. Look it in the eye. Challenge
it. Try to make yourself appear bigger [maybe stand on a rock or log], stamp your feet, step towards bear. Use any deterrent
If it does attack, then you must fight. Kick, punch,
hit it with whatever is available to you. Concentrate on face, eyes, nose [always fight any bear that attacks you in your
This is however a very rare situation where a bear will
attack in a predatory manner.