How to Survive a Bear Attack: An Illustrated Guide

by Brett & Kate McKay on March 27, 2013 · 80 Comments

in Manly Skills, Outdoors, Survival, Visual Guides

How to identify a grizzly (brown) bear: short round ears, should hump, 6.5 ft long, 400-800 lbs, found in Europe, Asia, Canada, and US Pacific Northwest.  Stay Prepared. 1. Always carry bear spray. 2. If you suspect bears in the area, make noise. Sing, talk to yourself, etc. 3. Never leave food on trail. Always pick up all trash, even organic.  Encountering a Grizzly. Walk away slowly. Don’t run. Retrieve bear spray; ideally at a distance of around 25 feet. Be as non-threatening as possible; make your smaller, avoid eye contact, etc.  If Charged. Don’t run. Lay on ground and play dead; protect head and stomach. Wait 10-20 minutes after bear leaves to get up.  How to identify a black bear: taller ears, no shoulder hump, 5 ft long, 100-300 lbs. Black bears aren’t always black; they are often brown or cinnamon colored. Common throughout North America and East Asia.  Stay Prepared. Follow the same steps as above. An additional precaution is to add bells to your pack.  Encountering a Black Bear. Don’t run; stand your ground and make yourself look as big as possible. Shout, wave your arms, create a commotion. Never try to climb a tree.  If Charged. If charged, fight back. Aim especially for the nose or other sensitive area. Use rocks/sticks if available. Let the bear be the first to run.

Illustration by Ted Slampyak

{ 80 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Clayton March 27, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Another thing to carry are bear bangers, which are pretty much .22 exploding pen bullets that make a flash and a very loud bang.

2 Dion March 27, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Step 1. Carry large handgun.
Step 2. Shoot bear

3 Wilson March 27, 2013 at 7:00 pm

So, a grossly oversimplified mnemonic device could be:

If it’s black, attack. If it’s brown, stay down.

Yes? Haha.

4 Justin March 27, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Brown bears are not Grizzlies. Some are brown yes but a person should not treat a brown bear as a grizzly. That is the fast track to becoming eaten.

5 Ben March 27, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Really?? I’m the first one to comment??

you forgot the first rule of hiking in bear country.

Always go hiking with someone who can’t run as fast as you.

6 ryan March 27, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Or…. carry a firearm and shoot it in the face?

7 Chris Gilner March 27, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Funny story – I was in Alaska Black Bear hunting, and the skipper of the boat we were on told us he was hiking in some part of Alaska with a heavy Brown Bear population, and bumped into an “old timer” while on the trail. The old timer noticed the skipper was carrying a sidearm, and asked what it was, and how many rounds it held. The skipper replied it was a Ruger Alaskan, and it held 6 rounds. The old timer said, “You know why there’s six rounds, right? That gives you 6 chances to put a bullet in your head while the brown bear is eating you…”

8 JR Marshall March 27, 2013 at 9:21 pm

I live in the Rocky Mountains. Last summer there seemed to be black bear in our yard every other day.

9 Scott March 27, 2013 at 9:49 pm

1) Always hike with a buddy.
2) Always carry a pistol, caliber not important.
3) In case of bear attack pull out gun.
4) Shoot buddy in the kneecap.
5) Walk away.

10 L. D. Fluty March 27, 2013 at 10:27 pm

I would like to respond to Justin first: All Grizzly’s are Brown bears. A Grizzly is just a sub-species of Brown Bear and is smaller than its Coastal counterpart.

I would also like to add that playing dead doesn’t matter to a Brown bear. If the bear is hungry it will eat. They are opportunity hunters as well as active predators.

11 Clayton March 27, 2013 at 10:39 pm

For all the people talking about shooting the bear, good luck. Bears have solid skulls, and unless you get it right in the eye (good luck hitting the eye on a moving target), you’re just going to piss the bear off. You’re better off shooting the gun in the air to scare it. A pissed off bear means you’re bear food.

12 Spencer March 27, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Thank you! I saw some of these comments and I was wondering how many of these people have ever really seen a bear… Grizzlies are known to get shot in the head with hunting rifles and have the bullets bounce off. I have family that hunt black bear and tell me how they shoot them and then have to track the bear for a couple miles.
Anyway couple fun facts about bears: Grizzlies eat their prey alive, and bears have the best sense of smell out of any animals, and all polar bears are left handed. Speaking of polar bears what gives? No love for the Inuit readers haha?
All in all, this is hilarious, and it’s awesome that it advises fighting a black bear. They might be small bears… But they’re bears and if you fight one you’re awesome.

13 Drewbie March 27, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Six words: Smith and Wesson five hundred magnum.

14 Reio March 28, 2013 at 1:27 am

If you see a brown bear, never crouch or squat! For a bear it means that you’re preparing to attack and thus the bear will prepare to attack too!

15 kevin March 28, 2013 at 4:16 am

There was in fact an instance where a man successfully defended himself from a polar bear with a .45 caliber pistol. By successfully defend I mean he killed the polar bear, however, he did not escape unharmed he was wounded pretty badly. The area between the ball of his foot and ankle was pretty much gone except for the tendon.

I’d post the news article, but it seems that msnbc no longer carries it. Ultimately the point being I’d wouldn’t want to run into a pissed off bear, but if I did, I sure as hell would rather be armed than unarmed and forced to confront one with a stick or playing dead.

16 Ara Bedrossian March 28, 2013 at 5:49 am

I’ve run across bear tracks almost every time I’ve been backpacking, and it’s a sobering reminder that although they keep clear of us, you can come across them at any time. You’re in their habitat, so keep your eyes out.

17 James March 28, 2013 at 6:30 am

This seems relevant.

“I’m a bear, etc.”

18 Bevan March 28, 2013 at 7:01 am

I have bumped into a bear or two in my travels while camping. Both times it was a black bear. Backing away if he is not being agressive works. Yes I would carry a firearm if I could when in bear country. There are plenty of instances where a good caliber shotgun or pistol disuaded or killed a bear from eating a hiker/hunter/camper. I know guys who hunt black bears with bows. They still carry 44 magnums in case the bear gets the drop on them. I know a guy who shot a bear with a bow and the bear had the good sense to chase him for a bit before he was able to turn around and finish the bear with his sidearm.

19 Will March 28, 2013 at 7:31 am

Thank you Dion, I was surprised it wasn’t as simple as that myself.

20 OkieRover March 28, 2013 at 7:36 am

Step 5: clean self off, replace underwear.

21 Michael March 28, 2013 at 8:19 am

What kind of bear spray are we talking?

.357 magnum?
.40 cal?


22 John K. March 28, 2013 at 8:35 am

I love these, simple, easy to understand!

I have just one question, what do you do if the Grizzly tries to grab a bite out of you, while you play dead?

23 Steafan March 28, 2013 at 9:18 am

I don’t know how many people here have shot bears with handguns before but I’ve heard more then a few disturbing tales of people shooting bears they encountered and not living to regret it. These are big, powerful creatures and probably could at least take a shot, maybe two before it mauls you if the stories I’ve heard are true. One story I heard about a guy successfully shooting a bear to death that was on the run towards him that crushed him with his momentum. The guy survived but he can’t use his left leg anymore. Sure the bear may bleed to death afterwards, but that’s small comfort when you’re already dead and these methods provided by AOM could’ve resolved the situation amicably for all involved. Guns may make for easy solutions most times but it is not always the smartest or the best.

24 Paul B March 28, 2013 at 9:45 am

I’m wondering: The black bear guide says always carry bear spray but never says to use it …

The Grizzly one suggests spraying the Grizzly at 25 feet … holy cow is that close … Grizzlies move FAST (of course, most bear spray isn’t effective much farther than that and there’s the section on charging grizzlies) …

I’m a tool user myself but I recognize that Grizzlies are very tough cookies. shot placement is king and bringing enough gun. Friends from Alaska report shotguns with slugs as their fishing guns (though that’s before the S&W .500 Magnum)

25 Carl March 28, 2013 at 10:02 am

Bear/Pepper spray is great. Things to remember though: don’t test your bear spray. After the internal seal is broken it will slowly lose pressure over time. Also, bears have been shown to be attracted to the smell when it isnt blasted into their face. If you want to test it, buy two cans, and carry the unused one.
Also anytime you are in the woods far from help it is prudent to carry a firearm, whether it is capable of killing a bear or not. Not all predators in the mountains walk on four legs either.

26 Jeremy Anderberg March 28, 2013 at 10:06 am

@Paul –

It depends on your particular bear spray. Some have ranges of 30-50ft, but the majority are in that 25-foot range.

As for bear spray against black bears, it’s kind of a last resort. Our research showed that bear spray in general is much more effective against grizzly bears. If nothing else works with a black bear — which would be uncommon, they are fairly easy to ward off — the bear spray may get the job done.

27 Chris March 28, 2013 at 10:46 am

Regarding the bear spray and wearing of bells, I’m reminded of a story our guide told us when we went black bear hunting in Canada several years ago, about how to tell the type of bear by the scat. Black bear scat is smaller and contains berries. Grizzly bear scat is larger, contains bells and smells like pepper spray.

28 Justin March 28, 2013 at 11:11 am

All you fellas who say to shoot the bear had better think twice. It takes more than a little 9mm round to bring down a large bear, I don’t care how good your aim is. Unless you’re shouldering a 30.06 or similar, I suggest you follow the advice in the Illustrated Guide. A smaller caliber handgun is just gonna piss him off. If a black bear is showing aggression and isn’t easy to ward off it’s likely to be sick or starving. You’re in trouble, fight like your life depends on it, ’cause it probably does.

29 Mike in KC, MO March 28, 2013 at 11:13 am

Heavy revolver is better than nothing
Rifle is better than than a revolver

People seem to swear by the ‘play dead’ thing. Problem is, when I look up bear attacks, people who play dead seem to get mauled at the same rate. I wonder if this whole ‘play dead’ thing just assumes that no one will ever have a weapon to defend themselves. If that is assumed, then I guess playing dead is your best bet.

Staying out of the animal’s way is always the best idea. If that is impossible, yes, have a weapon and know how to use it under pressure.

30 Mike in KC, MO March 28, 2013 at 11:18 am

“You’re in trouble, fight like your life depends on it, ’cause it probably does.”
- But don’t shoot it. That will just make it angry. Because the last thing you want to do when being forced to fight for your life is make what’s wanting to kill or maul you angry.

Based on field reports, .44s and .454s have a good track record for defense against large predators. Of course, you need to know how to use them.

Yes, staying away from a bear is what you should focus on. A lot of the bear attacks I’ve read about so far are on people who kept trying to get close to take pictures. But, if you really do have to fight for your life, if it’s fight or die, why wouldn’t you want a weapon, any weapon you can get? Why would ‘making him angry’ matter at that point. Poking him with in the eye with a stick WON’T make him mad?

31 Jeremy Anderberg March 28, 2013 at 11:44 am

@ Mike in KC —

Grizzlies tend to match aggression levels. So if you fight, they’re going to fight harder. And as previous commenters have mentioned, bullets won’t always do the trick. The bear is obviously much stronger than you, so you don’t stand much of a chance. A grizzly will attack if it feels threatened, so if you play dead, yes, you may get mauled some, but it will stop once it feels the threat is neutralized. An injury, however bad, is better than death.

I recall a story that I read in part of the research for this article in which a woman was attacked in the night. She initially tried to fight back, and the bear just strengthened its grip. When she played dead and went limp, the bear let go and she was able to get help. Yes, it seems contrary to common sense to not fight back when you are able, but with grizzlies, it gives you a much better chance of survival.

32 Mike in KC, MO March 28, 2013 at 12:22 pm


In general, we are in agreement. Avoidance is the capital way to avoid injury or death in this case.

“So if you fight, they’re going to fight harder.”
- If a bear pulls out a bigger gun than mine, I think there are bigger problems.

“bullets won’t always do the trick.”
- From my research, neither does playing dead always do the trick either. it’s isn’t a magical spell. Bullets don’t always do an instant stop on a human aggressor either, and just like with bears avoidance is the best defense, but I hardly see how using the argument ‘bullets don’t ALWAYS work’ as an argument against CCW in that case.

I also don’t doubt that playing dead has saved people, as your research has shown. I have also read when playing dead didn’t matter and such people died anyway, either because the bear was hungry (in two cases, it’s jaw had been injured) or because the person died from the mauling trauma anyway.

I would also disagree with people who say just haivng the firearm is what you need. No, you DO need to know how to use it effectively.

While a better option than trying to go hand-to-hand with a bear, there are still MUCH better options for defense (provided one learns the associated skills) than playing dead.

33 Sparks1093 March 28, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Of course the simple solution is to stay out of the woods! :-)

34 Psychobobicus March 28, 2013 at 2:09 pm

“If a bear pulls out a bigger gun than mine, I think there are bigger problems.” Lol.
I have a friend who was black bear hunting in Alaska and put 3 7mm mag rounds into a mid-sized black bear. It kept going so his brother shot it with his .338 ultra mag and it finally went down.
From talking with people who live in Alaska, these days they all carry .308 AR’s with 20 round mags and big bore revolvers (.460′s, .500′s etc) for “bear defense.”

35 Greg H. March 28, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Most bear attacks that I hear about up here in Alaska involve a single person traveling at high speed (biking or running) on trails in bear country. Bears don’t like surprises and will sometimes attack to disable the percieved threat. The best defense against bear attacks is to let the bears know that you’re coming long before you see each other. My advise is to travel in a group of three or more people, and if you’re on a trail that is winding through heavy brush, try to make a lot of noise (talk, whistle, sing, etc.). You should also keep an eye out for moose, which are responsible for more deaths and injuries in Alaska than bears are. Normally they’ll just ignore you, but if they’ve been aggitated by other hikers, they might very well charge you. If they do, find a tree and keep it between you and the moose until it settles down and moves on.

The wildlife are just trying to live in peace; they don’t want anything to do with you (with very rare exceptions). Give all animals plenty of space and let them be. Don’t do anything stupid and the fauna won’t give you any trouble.

36 Riley March 28, 2013 at 2:50 pm

How not to get attacked by a bear: Buy a tiny portable wind up radio, attach it to your backpack, and listen to tunes for hours while you walk!

When it dies, 3-4 minutes of winding will give you hours of music!

37 Joe March 28, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Here is a great story about a bear attack up here in Alaska. I remember that there were quite a few bear attacks around this time period. With the food shortage for bears that year I don’t think that playing dead would have worked.

38 Ms. M-S March 28, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Seems to me that a fervent but hasty Act of Contrition would be most to the point!

39 Mike C March 28, 2013 at 6:19 pm

I think it is important to note that the color of the bear does not matter. I have seen Black Bears that are cinnamon colored, brown, blond and black.
Bear spray is very effective and so is a firearm. For black bears, I wouldn’t want anything smaller than a .357 magnum with a 3 inch barrel. With that you would need to have very good shot placement to get a quick kill on a big black bear. For griz, the bigger the better. .454 Cassull is not too big to shoot but still a whole lot of power. Though some may find it too pwoerful. A .45-70 brush rifle is also a good choice.

40 Tac March 28, 2013 at 6:21 pm

For those that want to carry guns for bear protection, remember these:

1) Handguns have, and likely always will have, a spotty record for effectively stopping anything, including humans. Bears are rather more troublesome. But if you’re carrying a handgun in bear country, make well sure it is the most powerful handgun you can possibly control, nothing less than .44 Magnum or 10mm, and loaded with the heaviest load of solid slugs (hard cast lead is good) you can get. You’ll need lots of penetration, and a bit of luck, honestly.

2) Rifles, leave the AR15 at home. I’d say ditto for the 30-06 unless it’s the best you’ve got. You’ll find that those hunting bears in the brush tend to go with large bores pushing heavy slugs. You don’t need to shoot MoA at 200yds. You need maximum penetration and shock against thick muscle and bone at 40yds tops. Heavy bones work a number on fancy expanding bullets, so a solid slug is far more consistent than those ballistic tips. Remember, a bear is the closest thing in North America to an African Dangerous Game hunt. Follow their lead. Large bores with heavy solid slugs are what is relied upon to stop rhino, lion, and cape buffalo. So your 45-70, or that 375 H&H that you got at a pawn shop (a joke of course as it’s really too nice a rifle to find at a pawn shop) are much better bets than your .308.

Shotguns. For most of us it’s the largest bore shoulder arm we own. 12 ga slugs are also large, powerful, and pack a lot of mass. Don’t bother with buckshot, you’ll just piss him off. Slug to the head, and keep them coming until you’re certain he’s dead and not just dazed.

41 Ray Gun March 28, 2013 at 8:02 pm

I new some guys from Alaska and they told me that you can run from a bear if run downhill. I don’t know the truth in this but they said that because of their anatomy they have trouble running downhill. Try running uphill and your a meal. Sure would like some confirmation on this though.

42 Mark Petersen March 28, 2013 at 8:38 pm

A cool bear defense story to share.

My Great Grandfather was hiking around and surprised a grizzly in the mountains of Idaho. The only thing he had on him was a .22 LR revolver. The bear reared up and roared at him. Mid roar, he shot into the bears mouth and killed him.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

43 Simon March 29, 2013 at 2:41 am

As a Parks Canada employee I am sorry to say that this is highly outdated information. Modern bear aware protocol states that you should attempt to look bit and talk firmly without yelling as you back away from the bear. Also if charged you should stand your ground, 90% of the time it is a bluff charge. If the bear touches you in any way then lay down on your stomach covering your head and neck, spreading your legs so you are harder to roll over is also a good idea.

44 Christopher March 29, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Awesome story Mark.

We have a local here who was almost attacked by a black bear. It happened upon his marijuana patch in the woods and surprised the gentle grower when he went to check on his plants. When the bear stood upright he charge it and punched it so hard in the nose he killed it.
He at pretty good for the next couple of weeks and now he has a lovely rug he curls his toes in when he recounts the story.

45 Phil March 30, 2013 at 12:40 am

My 4’8″ grandmother frightened off a black bear by frantically clanging a frying pan cover on the bumper of the family car during a family camping trip in MN. Her husband sat in the car with the two children and soiled himself.

Of course her fish recipe was really awful – maybe the stench from that ran it off.

46 Ken March 31, 2013 at 4:39 pm

speaking of bear attacks, anyone else here know the story of Hugh Glass? “Lord Grizzly” is a good read, though not non-fiction. And a comment, I’m not against hunting, hell I’ve done a little myself, but I am against hunting bears, wolves, lions, etc.
Their are prey animals, and then there ain’t.

47 Brian March 31, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I think both those are missing an important step; both second panels should have a “piss yourself” included before “don’t run”.

48 Wallace April 2, 2013 at 4:13 am

I’ve come across bears twice in my life while working in Northern Alberta doing seismic exploration (looking for oil)… I was a jughound.

Once was a medium sized black bear. It was just me and one other guy doing final clean up. We were taking our lunch break & we were laying on our sides in the woods just off the line. I’m busy rolling a doobie and buddy goes, “Holy f@#k man – there’s a bear right behind you!”…

I thought he was just messing with me and I started laughing. Then I glanced up from my business and saw the look on his face. He was looking behind me. He didn’t look like he was joking.

So I turn and here comes the bear, sniffing along the ground – about 5 feet away! I swear I jumped about the same distance straight up into the air like a fricking housecat and by the time I hit the ground I had my bear spray out…

The bear though was already running away from us. He was just as scared as we were.

The other time I was all by myself far behind the rest of my crew. We were picking up equipment. I had to stay behind and hook the heli-bags onto the chopper’s cable to be flown up to the layout crews.

When the last bag was gone, I headed off to catch up with the rest of the guys again. About halfway to where they were I saw movement on one of the shotlines (perpendicular to and intersecting the path I was on). I thought it was one of the shooters or maybe a troubleshooter and I was just about to call out to whoever it was.

But the movement I glimpsed through the trees kept going on too long… and it was brown. Then into the intersection of the two paths about 50′ in front of me walks a grizzly. It was HUGE. Seemed like about the size of an early Dodge minivan – only with fur.

Now I had gone through the bear training course, and I knew exactly in theory what I was supposed to do and what I wasn’t supposed to do.

But I tell you when I saw the sheer size of that thing and then it stopped and slowly turned its head and looked RIGHT AT ME – everything I had been taught went right out the window and I immediately turned and ran in the opposite direction as fast as I could. I knew that if it wanted to eat me then I was going to be eaten without a doubt. I refused to just stand there and wait for it to happen. I decided I was going to get the F*%k out of there!

I didn’t stop running until I reached a road I had crossed about half a mile back.

The grizzly did not chase me. I still thank God for that because I would have been toast – for sure.

Needless to say I’ll be OK with it if I never see another bear again for the rest of my life.

49 Lawrence Tonner April 2, 2013 at 7:48 am

Nice article, if I’d ever encountered a grizzly I’d have tried to scare it as that’s what I’ve heard, but now I know better! Props though to anyone who manages to continue playing dead with their kidneys in a bears mouth!

50 Jon April 2, 2013 at 9:56 am

Best advice I’ve seen is from “A Walk in the Woods” by BIll Bryson. Paraphrased:

‘The book said not to run if you encounter a bear, but I say go ahead. It gives you something to do for the last 6 or 7 seconds of your life.’

51 Matt April 2, 2013 at 11:35 pm

You should know the difference between grizzly scat and brown bear scat. Brown bear scat is smaller and has nuts and berries in it. Grizzly scat smells like pepper spray and has bells in it

52 S.J. April 3, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Actually, it’s well known in northern areas (and advised to travelers, new and experienced) not to place bells on their packs anymore. Due to casual back packers and campers, these people bring food and leave it out without thinking or have somehow made it accessible. The bears have come to link food and the sound of bells together and may come looking if you have bells ringing on your person. So, as an experienced camper in areas known to have bears, I would suggest to avoid bells.

53 George April 4, 2013 at 9:57 pm

@ Kevin

the attack you’re talking about actually involved a 12 guage. The Inuit was hauled from his tent by the head and was able to grab the gun on the way out. He shot it several times before it died and shot himself in the ankle in the process, i have the photos somewhere…

In terms of shooting a bear, even a shot through the heart will take considerable time for it to succumb as the heart rate of a bear is considerably slower than that of a human.

Grizzlies are not a sub species of brown bear nor is a kodiack a different species. They’re all just names for the same bear species.

I’d watch out for the grizzlor though, that SOB will mess you up.

54 Brent April 10, 2013 at 3:58 pm

I spend a lot of time in the back country up here in Alaska. Based on dozens of conversations with experts and lots of time in close proximity to bears myself, I recommend the following for grizzly:

A clean camp and no food odors while hiking are your best protection.

Never turn your back or run from a bear. Bears run about 35 mph. Usain Bolt runs the 100m at 27 mph. All you accomplish by running is triggering the bears predator instinct.

If the bear does not notice you, give it plenty of room, and allow it to continue its activities undisturbed. Watching a bear in the wild is a wonderful experience as long as it is at least 300 yards away and you are not altering its behavior.

If the bear gets too close, back away slowly. If the bear becomes aware of you, speak in a low, calm voice (I like to repeat “hey bear” over and over) while waving your arms slowly above your head. Bears that stand up on their hind legs are not threatening you, but merely trying to identify you.

Stop if the bear approaches you directly. Do not run. Do not drop to the ground. Bears sometimes charge, coming within ten feet of a person before stopping or veering off. This is called a ‘bluff charge’ and is designed to see what you do. Stand still until the bear moves away, then slowly back off.

If a grizzly makes contact with you, play dead. Curl up into a ball with your knees tucked into your stomach and your hands laced around the back of your neck. Leave your pack on to protect your back. The bear is probably just telling you who is boss.

If the attack is prolonged, the bear has become interested in you as food. Fight back vigorously. Use any weapons at your disposal. Eyes and nose are the most vulnerable spots.

Carry a large can of pepper spray (small is good for muggers, but not bears). Pepper spray has been shown to be 90% effective at deterring bears. Remember wind direction when using and make sure the bear close enough for it to be effective. You should discharge a full canister in practice conditions to see how it works.

I generally do not carry fire arms due to weigh, but will occasionally if fishing or hunting (not just hiking or camping) in heavy bear country. The only fire arm that is proven effective against an aggressive bear is a 12 gauge shotgun. Use #1 buckshot and/or slugs. If you don’t know the advantages and disadvantages of each, stick with the pepper spray.

A ranger in Denali National Park once told me he had been bluff charged 3 times. He had never personally witnessed an actual bear attack. He had called in 7 helicopters to medivac victims of accidental shootings & pepper spray.

Remember, the guy you pass on the trail is way more dangerous than the bear you see in the wilderness: 1 out of 220,000 bears will kill a person. 1 out of 20,000 people will murder a person.

55 S. Anderson April 11, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I had a run in just before Deer season last year out near the Virginia/West Virginia border. A friend an I were scouting a couple of spots along a ridge line in the national forest.

We ended up between a black bear and her cub who sounded as if they had been chased through the valley by a couple of dogs. We knew this was about the worst place to be we got up on the highest spot we could and made as much noise as possible.

Fortunately for us both bears eventually left the area, but it was a tense few minutes and at least twice the mother tried to circle around us from above. (We were on the side of a ridge)

This was by far the closest I have been to a bear and as close as I would ever like to be; probably about 20yds at one point.

56 S. Anderson April 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I usually do carry a firearm in the woods, but for exactly the reason that you mentioned. The person you pass on the trail is more likely to be dangerous than the wildlife.

57 Frank April 22, 2013 at 11:48 am

Ive done a lot of research on this topic
Firearms 44 magnum with the right ammo is the SMALLEST pistol. 45 forget about it. Same goes for 357 9mm 41mag etc.

44 i carry Corbon 280 hard cast ammo $3 a shot. Putting out 1350fps 280gr @ 1133 psi
remember a grizzly skull is anywheres between 6-10 inches thick (think about that. That 3-5 times thicker than the flat side of a 2×4)
BuffaloBore makes the best 44mag load pushing a 340gr 1478fps @1600+psi outperforming a standard 454casuall i personally am going to invest in a S&W 460 magnum for bear country. Also a good pistol grip and sling for my 12guage and magnum slugs Bears are nothing to mess with you better put it down fast hard and permanently if you miss or fail to “drop it dead in its tracks” you mihht as well eat your last bullet it will be a less painful quicker death than when that bear does get its paws and teeth in you. A grizzly is the only animal that has my imedate maximum respect and full attention. If you dont take them serious you have NO BUSINESS IN GODS COUNTRY my advice is stay in the city where you belong.

And those of you who think ill just take my 45act or colt or 9mm 10mm whatever see above for the proper firearm calibers that have the potential to kill a grizzly (notice i said has the potential … bc its still on you to put that bullet in the right spot to drop that bear)

58 Brad April 24, 2013 at 10:45 am

When we were visiting in Yosemite, we went to a Ranger Talk. She said a Bloodhound’s sense of smell is 100 times that of a human, and a Grizzley is 7times that of a bloodhound…Pretty sure they know you’re there.

I carry a 40 due to being compact, I have a 44 but hate to carry due to bulkiness. After reading this, may put the 40 away for trips to the woods.

59 yan May 5, 2013 at 3:25 pm

In regard to the use of a new 44 against a bear, I recall the story of the man who thought it would be a good idea to carry it in case he came up against an Alaskan grizzlie. When he asked an Alaskan about this, he was advised to saw off the site. The owner of the gun asked, ‘why would I want to do that to my new 44?’ His mentor advised, ‘that way it won’t hurt so bad when the grizzly shoves it up your behind.’

60 David May 31, 2013 at 12:21 pm

When I was around 22 years old, (about 12 years ago), I was camping in the mountains and came face to face with a black bear. I don’t know what’s considered to be large for a black bear but I’ll say this… he was big! He stood there in front of me, about 10 to 15 feet away, with his head low and making a low grunting type noise. Not knowing what to do, (and having a few camp beverages in me already), I remembered I had a pretty big knife on my belt.

I crouched down as in a stance similar to a wrestler, pulled out my blade with a firm grip and shouted loudly at the beast… “Come on… Come get some”! I was fully ready to take my chances and fight this bear to the death if necessary!

About 10-20 seconds passed by in which he shuffled his feet back and forth a few time. Awaiting his charge, I dug my footing firmly into the dirt and prepared myself for the initial attack. Just watching him was more than enough to realize my pathetic odds in a fight but I’d rather stand firm than turn my back to such a beast. He continued to size me up and down a few more times when suddenly, he spun around and scurried back up the mountain side.

Maybe I would have gotten lucky that day and landed my first stab perfectly… or maybe he had been the one to land the first blow? I can only imagine if he had then he would probably have landed the rest of them as well. Part of me has always wondered how it all would have turned out had the animal decided to accept my challenge rather than retreat. I suppose I’ll always wonder what could have happened and if it’s even possible that I could have found a way to defeat such an tremendously favored opponent? Either way I’m fortunate to have such a story to tell. I can rest assured that only one of us on the mountain that day was a coward and it wasn’t me! I win by default and at the end of the day… that’s still pretty cool!

61 Jonah June 4, 2013 at 12:11 am

This is how I fight a bear off!

62 Joe June 10, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I love all of the ‘shoot it in the face’ comments, when in all likely hood the majority of these nimwits have never fired a weapon at a moving target much less one that is charging them with intent to kill. Bear spray is a lot easier to deploy, aim, and hit a charging bear than any handgun. Nothing wrong with carrying a handgun when out in the wild, but best to save it for the two-legged predators.

63 Darren June 12, 2013 at 3:24 pm

I wouldn’t fancy my chances trying to hit a charging bear in the face yet a lone surviving an attack from one I had wounded and seriously ticked off. There is a polar bear mounted in Dublin’s natural history museum that was killed by Francis Leopold McClintock while searching for the remains of the doomed Franklin expedition. It had weathered 6 rifle shots including one that broke its leg and continued to try to attack until it was finally put down by a shot to the head

64 Josh G June 17, 2013 at 11:20 am

First off, good post…this information is very true. However, I must say that I was attacked by 5 black bears (a sow and 4 cubs). Here are the differences between my experience and the advice given above:

1. The sow was over 500 lbs (huge for a female black bear – almost unheard of).
2. I ended up running because I was knocked unconscious and when I had awoken, I think they were about to start trying to eat me (seriously).
3. I waved my arms. The sow grunted at me, then sat down. Noise and waving clearly is not 100% effective. :)
4. I was in a tree to begin with (bad position to be in).

I think your post really is good advice though. Perhaps one thing that people should be aware of (in every dangerous scenario), is that there is no “textbook” situation. The keys to survival in this type of situation is to:

1. Be equipped with proper outdoors attire (tough boots – this is what saved my foot which had a paper-punch hole from the sow’s eye-tooth into my big-toe).

2. Understand your terrain – have a plan of escape and also understand the potential threats which exist.

3. React quickly but mindfully – in other words, you want to be able to make GOOD decisions QUICKLY. This comes from anticipating potential threats before they happen and equipping yourself with the necessary knowledge (which can be gained through awesome websites like this).

Cheers from the northwoods of Wisconsin!

65 Jaereth July 3, 2013 at 8:07 am
66 david gibson July 7, 2013 at 8:00 am

excellent article, exactly what i train myself mentally to practice, but so far have only had to pull spray and face a bear off. Joe in post 62 is dead on, As a fairly experienced “bear whisperer” (j/k) and photographer, I cant count how many times people have told me the old worn out joke that “they dont have to outrun the bear, just outrun me”. my reply: “fine, i’ll stand still and take pictures as the bear passes me by to chase and catch you”.

67 Joe Ehart August 21, 2013 at 11:20 am

No opinion on bear avoidance, only this instead. Look at how many comments and different opinions ARE posted here. Now go back and look for a personal attack on any one person for their comments, I saw exactly none. Says a lot for the AOM site and it’s readers, don’t you think?

68 Kris September 20, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Good luck trying to shoot a bear from close range… Darwin Award material… :D

69 Yisrael October 28, 2013 at 11:15 am

Step 1: Pull Pin
Step 2: Throw Grenade
Step 3: Duck for cover
Step 4: Hope you didn’t miss

70 Tim December 6, 2013 at 7:23 pm

You know. Bear spray is most effective at distances under 17 feet. More than that is too far for the spray to reach the bear. And if the wind is towards you your only option is to stick it up the bears nostril. OR be prepared to experience the same burning sensation as the bear.

71 Brandon R. December 9, 2013 at 8:19 am

My little brother and I was squirrel hunting one day when we heard a bear grunt not far off. Then, we started hearing the underbrush cracking and noticed that the birds were going crazy. Then, we heard the bear grunt right behind us. We couldn’t see him but he could probably smell us.

We evacuated the area, needless to say. We weren’t equipped for bear–having only 6-shot shells in our shotguns and a .22LR pistol–and had no bear spray.

If bear is not in season, I would not recommend shooting it. While your life is definitely worth the fine, you will be fined a pretty penny if you kill a bear (or any animal) out of season. That, and unless you’re equipped to shoot a bear, you’ll only put yourself and the bear in greater danger of injury. For example, we could have loaded the bear full of birdshot, but it would have just pissed him off and caused him more pain than necessary.

Fight the bear or play dead, but only shoot him if it’s open season (and you can take it down while minimizing suffering on the bear’s part) for bear or you have no other choice. If you do kill a bear, always report it to your state wildlife resources office and please, please make use of the meat if you get to keep the bear (which you will if its in season). If it’s not open season, you’ll get slapped with a hefty ticket, but you won’t get slapped with a failure to report the taking of a game animal along with it–plus, your life is worth the fine, if it comes to that.

What is defined as not having a choice? You’ve tried to fight and the bear won’t let up; he’s cornered you and there is no chance of escape or fighting back; he’s sunk his teeth into you; or, he’s set upon someone else and likewise does not show signs of letting up, even after you have tried to fight or used bear spray.

Basically, if he’s rabid or starving, the bear will be extremely dangerous and lethal force may be necessary.

72 triangle whip December 18, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Carry a bullwhip and crack it in the woods, unless you’tr hunting. Animal attacks mostly happen because you surprised the animal. Making noises can alert animals of your approach and they would rather leave..

73 Scott H. January 26, 2014 at 9:11 am

Then there is the story of Maggie O’Brian, which is supposedly true and still told in Vermont. It was a very windy day around 1910, and the fire in her woodstove went out. She headed to her nearest neighbors, about a mile and a half away through the woods, to borrow some hot coals to restart her fire, carrying a large, covered pan to carry the coals with. Halfway there she encountered an extremely large bear on the path. Startled, she dropped her pan, and the bear rose up and began coming towards her. She stood frozen to the spot, and flapped her apron at the bear, shooing it as if it were a cat. This actually frightened the bear, and it climbed a nearby tree. Thinking quickly, Maggie ran up and tied her apron around the base of the tree, leaving it flapping in the wind, retrieved her pan and proceeded, with some haste, on her way. When she got to her neighbors farm her neighbor fetched her husband from the barn who then set off with a horse and rifle, and by and by they heard a shot, and by and by the husband returned to say the path was now free of bears. Maggie headed back home with her coals, retrieving her apron on the way, and arriving just as a cold rain began to fall. She restarted her fire and was taking a moment to warm her fingers when her husband came home from his job in town. The story goes that he stood in the doorway for a moment and then said, to his pretty young wife who had just walked three miles in the wind and the rain carrying a cast iron pan and faced a bear, “Why Maggie, where’s my dinner?” We close the curtain on the remainder of the scene!

74 Doug January 30, 2014 at 11:48 am

All animals detect fear. They also detect being considered “prey”. If you display or reveal “food” they want a treat. Use common sense and observe them with determination. Even small calibers will maim/disable bears eyes and sensitive muzzles.Shoot their paws and wrists. Always consider the tools and weapons of early man. They used clubs as it would crush skulls. Now of course this would ruin it for display. When I was young my first bear hunt was in Wawa, Ontario. The cabin we rented had a grease/sink drain into the rock below. In the middle of the night I heard scuffling and went out to see what it was. Right, five hungry blacks. Unless you spot the eyes they are inperceptive in flashlight (especially those old ones). I heard that “jaw popping” for the first time. You won’t forget it. I fired the five rounds that I had loaded in my brand new Marlin 336. 200 grain .35 Rem. The others came out. Bears scattered. No blood trace. Those were the only bears we encountered. Heavy snow came the next day and they went under. You need good dogs. My uncle used road flares with good results. He had a handle he could hold them with. Bear meat is delicious. Both of my grand fathers would always ask; “Why did the dinosaurs die off?” “Because they were delicious.” “Just ask Alley Oop.”

75 Bob the Eternal Flame January 30, 2014 at 9:33 pm

I have never encountered a bear, nor do I ever hope to.

To all those who say “Guns do no good,” while that may be true, I’d feel a whole heck of a lot better knowing I’ve at least got SOMETHING to fall back on if the bear mace fails.

I carry .45 Long Colt when I hunt. It’s got just a *touch* more power than an ACP, I’ve never heard of a revolver jamming, and I can empty five rounds from each of my two revolvers (single action, no safety-1873 Colt Clones) ACCURATELY AT MOVING TARGETS in around 5-7 seconds (competitive shooter in Cowboy Action). Bears may be tough, but something tells me that taking 10 rounds of .45 LC to center mass and the head? I’m no expert, but I get the feeling they’d be going down.

Eventually, I plan to get me a .30-30 revolver from Magnum Research (it’s called the BFR, and yes, it’s a real thing). The main reason is I could standardize my hunting ammo, and my “Holy **** that wild hog is charging me!” ammo (I say hog because I routinely hunt hog).

The whole “Lie down and play dead” thing, while it SEEMS to be good advice, it also seems a way to get yourself killed.

Again, I’m no expert, nor do I ever hope to be-but I tell you this-when I go hiking, I am armed. Usually to the teeth-and not just because bear-as a few have stated, I’m more concerned with them what go on TWO legs!

76 Lee February 11, 2014 at 9:48 am

My ancestors were settlers in Africa. Their letter and notes reveal a bit about big animals. Elephants were shot in the leg first, then close up in the heart or head with very large caliber rifles. In the old days you needed 5 or size guys to hand muzzle loaded weapons to you in order to kill an elephant.

Lions can and are hunted with large caliber rifles. Although you need backup, the lion will still charge even after a fatal heart shot.

I lived in Alaska, and locals carried shotguns with slugs for bears. I have also been in the military, so… I would advise you carry a Saiga Shotgun in your hand, no damn strap so you can pull it up quickly. If you have a friend, they should carry one too. Shoot grizzly that is showing aggression till dead. Reload. Next really ensure it really is dead.

Thank God they dont hunt in packs.

77 Billy February 13, 2014 at 3:25 pm

To everyone saying that carrying a gun to shoot a bear if you are suddenly attacked is a good idea:
For the love of God, you are WRONG. Grizzly bears have incredibly dense bones and domed foreheads, so unless you manage to get a shot in the eye or at the perfect angle for penetration, even heavy caliber bullets are going to bounce off of its skull. You’re also incredibly unlikely to land a shot anywhere on its body that could hurt it due to the position in which the bear charges and the amount of fat and muscle protecting it. Having a gun if you are SUDDENLY ATTACKED by a bear is only going to do you good if you want to put yourself out of your misery. (Hunting bears is an entirely different matter that I’m not qualified to speak on.)

Let me reiterate for the record: do not attempt to shoot a charging grizzly bear in the head. The bullet will literally bounce off unless you are incredibly lucky. Even if you have a shotgun and you wait until the bear is close enough to punch a hole through its head, at that point you will have 600+ pounds of animal traveling at roughly 30 mph falling onto you, and you will be lucky if you’re not crushed to death.

Guns are not always the answer, guys.

78 wondering March 6, 2014 at 4:42 pm

What about fire? How do they deal with it? Are they scared, are they unfazed, or is their fur slick and oily enough to not even care if they come into contact with it? Just wondering what effect a torch would have.

79 Zachary Leifson March 28, 2014 at 11:20 am

Fire does not scare them away. If you hit them with a torch it might bother a grizzly, but not enough to keep it away from you

80 Half-Man April 1, 2014 at 9:19 pm

I love to camp and hike so this is very helpful.

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