Plenty of things can kill you whilst walking alone for hundreds of miles in isolated woods: hypothermia, starvation, dysentery, hatchet murderers, the headless horseman, lightning strikes, and the most terrifying of all – bears.
Imagine yourself snuggled into your sleeping bag late one night, just beginning to feel the night's sleep come to take you when all of a sudden you hear the loud snapping of branches just outside your tent – something big is out there.
Do you lay in what has now become a human burrito wishing away whatever evil has come to your campsite, or do you step outside and investigate the situation? Does it matter? No. Either way, you are about to die a horrible and excruciating death at the hands of one of nature's most ferocious killers.
That is unless you are properly prepared.
Luckily, in order to protect yourself from bears in the wild, you need only follow one simple rule: don't get dead.
Now since following rules is difficult for many of us, certain precautions can also be taken to ensure the one rule is followed.
The best way to avoid being eaten by a bear is to avoid bears in the first place. Many hikers opt to make noise and alert bears to their presence (which seems counter-intuitive) either by carrying obnoxious “bear bells” or carrying on loud and dull conversations with themselves or companions.
If you see a bear, do not approach it; if you can safely pass at a distance, then do so; never risk surprising a bear, they will likely become aggravated; if you come across a dead animal carcass, move away from it – you may be in the bear's dining room.
And for the love of all that is holy, if you come across a bear cub, get the hell away from it. Cubs are used as bait to lull hikers into a false sense of security as Momma Bear stalks nearby waiting to take down their next meal.
Your Food (aka Bear Bait)
Just like people, bears love food. Unfortunately for people, sometimes that food is you.
The biggest mistake people make is leaving food out unprotected; said food becomes a beacon calling all hungry bears in the area. To prevent bears from devouring all your food, a bear canister (or a bear box) can be employed.
Now bears can still locate said canisters and boxes, but they cannot open them. That being said, it is highly recommended that you camp away from where your food is being stored (at least 100 yards). Also, make sure you are storing your food downwind from your campsite – you don't want food scent wafting through your tent and inviting the bears inside.
If using a bear canister or box is not an option, then hanging your food in a tree can serve as a supplementary tactic. It is recommended that you hang your food at least 15 feet high (a standing bear can be over 10 feet). Note that many times this can be done improperly and will result in bears simply tearing off the tree limb your food is hanging from.
What to Do When Attacked
Most “experts” suggest that upon being spotted by a bear you act like a huge bitch – you should avoid eye contact, speak in a very soft voice, retreat slowly (facing the bear) and appear as non-threatening as possible (but wait, you ring bells and talk loudly before you see it?).
Should the bear become aggravated (ears lowered, head rocking, and heavy breathing) and begin to stalk you (or come charging at you – holy shit) as you retreat you have a few options:
- Best case scenario: you have a gun and you shoot dinner in the face.
- Take out any bear mace or pepper spray you may have brought along and get ready to spray it wildly as if extinguishing your on-fire grandma.
- Switch back to intimidation mode by making large gestures with your arms, waving sticks, yelling, blowing a whistle, anything.
- Clench your butthole, stand your ground, and call the charging bear's bluff (note: the bear may bluff-charge more than once).
- Play dead and hope the bear loses interest in you (supposedly works best against grizzly bears or black bears attacking in defense).
- FIGHT! Get out your knife and get ready to do battle to the death (go for the eyes!).
- Run for your fucking life (try dropping something to distract the bear).
Apparently, bears can achieve running bursts upwards of 35 miles per hour. Unfortunately for humans, our measly legs do not allow us to operate at such speeds (Usain Bolt hit 27 mph setting the world record in the 100m). That said, it is not recommended that you attempt to outrun a pursuing bear.
And don't forget, bears can climb trees.
Bear Tips and Review
So what have we learned?
Well, we make noise until we see a bear, then stop making noise and act docile, then begin making noise again if it becomes aggressive, stand your ground when charged, play dead if attacked defensively, but then fight back if you decide you're being attacked predatorily. Yeah, you're pretty much screwed.
Some final tips and summary:
- Usually, bears go onto their hind legs to get a better view, not to be aggressive.
- Keep all food or otherwise smelly items away from your campsite.
- Your best bet against being attacked is to avoid bears in the first place.
- Stay away from areas with bear tracks, bear scat, animal carcasses, and most of all cubs.
- Note the direction of the wind when storing your food.
- Carry bear canister and bear mace if you so desire.
So remember, if a bear charges you in the wilderness, then follow your one rule and don't get dead.
Good luck out there.