Whenever I watch videos of hikers interacting with bears, I can immediately point out what they’re doing wrong, but how many of us can say what’s right when it comes to bear encounters?

With bears going into hibernation, it’s important for September hikers and campers to know what to do in case you cross paths with bears. Learn how to prevent bear encounters and what to do if you’re in a tough situation below.


The best thing to do is to avoid these interactions altogether.

  1. Avoid areas that are known bear habitats. If you’re unsure, do your research on the area and talk to park rangers if possible.
  2. Travel in groups and make noise. Even if you’re alone, you can still make noise or listen to music – just not with headphones, of course.

If you’re in an area that has bears, you might want to invest in some bear spray in case of a worst case scenario. Be aware that bear and pepper spray are prohibited in some parks, like Yosemite.

Original watercolor of Francina Maria
Original watercolor of Francina Maria

Let’s say you follow this advice, but you still encounter a bear. Immediately, you should:

  1. Observe the bear. Is it a grizzly or black bear? Are there any cubs around? Is there a food source present that the bear may defend? These factors can affect how the bear will react. Know what you’re dealing with.
  2. Note the distance. How far is the bear from you? Are you able to back away calmly? If possible, keep your distance.
  3. Prepare your bear spray. Get it out and remove the safety.

Let’s go into more detail:

1. If you encounter a black bear:

If you’re positive you’ve crossed paths with a black bear, try moving it out of the area by scaring it away. Make noise and if you’re with others, group together to appear larger and more intimidating. If you’re alone, appear larger and yell firmly. Do not get closer to the bear. You’re trying to scare it from the area, not harm the bear.

2. If you encounter a grizzly bear:

Do not try to move a grizzly bear. Look for signs of defense, such as blowing, snorting, or “bluff charges” (when bears lunge toward you to get you to leave). If this happens, the bear wants you to know that you are too close and need to leave. Remain still and calm to seem like a non-threat. Speak calmly and begin to back away, then get out of there immediately.

3. If you encounter a mama bear or bear on a carcass:

Follow the suggestions as if you were encountering a grizzly bear. Get as far away from the cubs or the food source as possible. Leave the area quickly and quietly. Do not play dead and do not act aggressively. If the bear makes contact, use the bear spray.

4. Using bear spray:

Aim above the bear’s head so that the spray goes into the eyes, nose, and mouth.

Bear Encounters | Get Bear Smart Society
What to Do if You See a Bear | National Park Service

Leave a Reply