There aren't many wild beasts more terrifying than a bear. A natural predator, human beings know that if they encounter a bear in the wild, there is a good chance that they are going to come off second best if that bear goes on the attack.
It sounds dramatic, but bears and humans cross paths quite often, particularly in Alaska and North America, and when these incidences occur, it is usually the result of humans getting in the way of a bear’s food source, or because their leftovers and trash have attracted the attention of these hungry beasts.
According to Statistic Brain, there have only been five deaths as a result of a brown bear in North America between 2009 and 2012, with the same number of deaths in that time period coming from a black bear. But despite the numbers being low, it is still essential to know how to do if such an attack occurs. Ten deaths over four years is still ten deaths too many.
If you’re out in the wild and come across a bear, here is what you need to do in order to survive:
Knowing who you’re dealing with
There are different species of bears out there, and knowing the difference between the species could determine the likelihood of an attack and the behaviour coming from the bear. The most common types of bears are black bears, grizzly bears (AKA brown bears) and polar bears, and they all appear in different locations. For example, polar bears are only found in Alaska in the US, whereas some species of black bears can be found in Texas, California and New Mexico.
Black bears can weigh up to 650lbs+ (approx. 300kg), and can be as tall as 7 foot when standing on their back legs. Grizzlies are much larger, often weighing twice as much as the black bears (up to 1,500lbs (450kg)) in coastal areas, whereas the interior bears weigh around 1000lbs. The claws on a brown bear are long and curved, whereas the black bears claws are much shorter.
Male polar bears weigh around the same as the largest grizzlies, with females being about half the size, and both are found in the and around the Arctic Circle. A stunningly beautiful white bear, it is still a fearsome beast when crossing its food path or when you have intruded in its territory, and as the largest land-based carnivore, it is best not to get too close if you can help it. There have been reports of many attacks, and luck plays a huge part in whether you’ll survive an attack if it ever arises.
Understand why the bear is attacking and react accordingly
If you are intruding on a bear’s path to food, the attack is likely to be more vicious as they will see you as prey, and if this happens, you are unlikely to be able to play dead or intimidate the bear in order to make it leave you alone, which are useful if you come across a bear in the wild and they attack you because you are close to their cubs or have simply crossed their path at the wrong time.
Black bears that are startled or attacking defensively are likely to swat and bite, but are less likely to aim for the head or neck, unless they have stalked you for food, and in that case, they will attempt to use their weight to hold you down in order to bite you.
Brown bears are known to give off signals as to how serious their attack is going to be, including how far their ears slope backwards. The hair will also rise on the back of their neck and they will growl should an attack be imminent.
Polar bears are naturally predators who often see humans as food, and will attack without any pause for thought. When any attack occurs from any of these species of bears – and in particular if they attack you in your tent or in groups – it is important to give everything you have to escape, using all your might and any tools you have to hand. Acting like prey will not serve you well. It really is the survival of the fittest out there when a bear attacks.
Due to the size of a bear, humans are giving away any natural advantages, but there are protective measures, including what you wear. For example, a bear might attack you from behind, and if you are wearing multiple layers and a backpack, they are likely to go for this first, which could give you vital seconds to wriggle free of the attack and escape. In your tents, you should have equipment to hand that can be used to protect yourself too, including a flare gun and any poles, skis or anything else you can use to fight off an attack if it should arise.
It is also important to inform others that you have seen bears in the wild. For example, let local authorities know if you see any wild bears, especially around camp sites. They could be casing the area out and stalking prey, and just because they don’t attack your group, they could attack someone else. Letting people know that they are around gives both sides peace of mind, and can be the difference between an attack happening and it not.