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What makes bears angry?

What to Do if You Encounter a Bear

Grizzly bear: the grizzly bear is a subspecies of brown bear that inhabits western Canada and the northwestern United States.

AKA: Grizzlies or North American brown bear

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Ursus
Species: U. arctos
Subspecies: U. a. horriblis

Grizzlies are a subspecies of the brown bear (Ursus arctos). In the United States, bears found inland are typically referred to as grizzlies, while those on the coasts are referred to as brown bears. In comparison to the brown bear, the main differences of the grizzly are its physical appearance and diet. Because grizzly bears are found inland, they mainly forage for plants, as well as small rodents, insects and fish. Meanwhile, coastal brown bears have a fatty, salmon-rich diet, which is why those found along the Alaska Peninsula are some of the largest in the world.

It has also been suggested that there are temperamental differences. Inland grizzlies seem to react more aggressively to others due to the competition for food.

The grizzly bear takes its name from the ‘grizzled’ blonde-tipped fur that grows along its shoulders and back.

What to do if you encounter a bear

Before visiting Yellowstone National Park or “bear country” familiarize yourself with safety precautions in order to avoid bear encounters. “Run for your life” may seem like common sense if a grizzly approaches you, but such action is highly unlikely to foil an attack. The recommended steps are not easy to follow, but they offer the best chance for survival.

Here’s what the experts say:

  • If you encounter a grizzly, do not run.
  • Avoid direct eye contact.
  • Walk away slowly, if the bear is not approaching.
  • If the bear charges, stand your ground (you cannot outrun it).
  • Don’t scream or yell. Speak in a soft monotone voice and wave your arms to let the animal know you are human.
  • If you have pepper spray, prepare to use it.
  • If the grizzly charges to within 25 feet of where you’re standing, use the spray.
  • If the animal makes contact, curl up into a ball on your side, or lie flat on your stomach.
  • Try not to panic; remain as quiet as possible until the attack ends.
  • While in bear country, be aware that you may encounter a bear at any time.
  • Be sure the bear has left the area before getting up to seek help.

Additional facts about grizzlies:

  • Most human injuries from grizzly bears are caused by females acting aggressively to protect their young.
  • Grizzlies are omnivores; they will eat almost anything. Although a large part of their diet is vegetation, grizzlies will also kill and eat large and small animals.
  • Fewer than 1,100 grizzlies exist in the lower 48 states, in 5 populations in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. An estimated 500 to 600 grizzlies populate the Greater Yellowstone area.
  • Grizzlies are North America’s slowest reproducing land mammal. A female may not have her first litter until she is 5 or 6 years old, after which she will then typically produce two cubs every 2.5 years. Cubs from the same litter can be from different fathers. Grizzlies have a natural life span of 30 years or more.

Bear Attacks

A hiker encounters a bear

Every encounter is different. Bears exhibit different kinds of behaviors during different situations, and understanding the bear’s behavior can make the difference between life and death.

There are two types of charges—bluff charges and aggressive charges.

Bluff charges are more common.
Bluff charges are meant to scare or intimidate. When a bear bluff charges, it will have its head and ears up and forward. The bear will puff itself up to look bigger. It will bound on its front paws toward you (moving in big leaps), but then stop short or veer off to one side. Often bears retreat after a bluff charge, or they may vocalize loudly.

If you can see a bluff charge is about to happen, slowly back away while waving your arms above your head, and speak to the bear in a calm voice. When the bear charges you, hold your ground and stay calm. After the bear charges, slowly retreat while keeping an eye on the bear. Let the bear know that you’re a human, and that you aren’t a threat. Continue to speak to the bear in a calm voice and make it clear that you are a human.

Do NOT run during a bluff charge, it may trigger the bear to attack. Stand your ground. Be ready for the bear to make contact in case the charge is not a bluff charge. Know how to protect and defend yourself in case the bear turns aggressive.

Aggressive charges are very dangerous. Bears may yawn or clack their teeth, and pound their front paws on the ground while huffing—these are warning signs. These behaviors indicate that a bear is stressed, and it may be getting ready to charge. It will have its head down and ears pointed back, and the bear will come at you like a freight train. Be ready to protect and defend yourself!

  • If a black bear charges and attacks you, FIGHT BACK WITH EVERYTHING YOU HAVE! Do not play dead. Direct punches and kicks at the bear’s face, and use any weapon like rocks, branches, or bear spray to defend yourself.
  • If a grizzly/brown bear charges and attacks you, PLAY DEAD. Do not fight back! Cover your head and neck with your hands and arms. Lay flat on your stomach, and spread your legs apart. Keep your pack on, it will help protect you during an attack. Stay still and don’t make any noise—you’re trying to convince the bear that you aren’t a threat to it or its cubs. Do not get up right away because the bear may still be in the area. Wait several minutes until you are sure that the bear is gone.
    • Fighting back during an attack from a grizzly/brown bear will usually worsen the attack, but if the attack persists, then fight back with everything you have!

    What If I Surprise a Bear?

    If you surprise a bear, regardless of the species, don’t fight it. Unless the bear is acting predatory, do not fight it. This can cause the bear to act more aggressively toward you and trigger an attack.

    If you surprise a bear, slowly and calmly back away while avoiding direct eye contact—the bear may see this as an aggressive or challenging behavior. Slowly and calmly speak to the bear, wave your arms to let the bear know you are a human. Pick up any small children or pets immediately. Watch the bear as you leave the area.

    • If you surprise a black bear and it charges or attacks, fight back with everything you have!
    • If you surprise a grizzly/brown bear and it charges or attacks, do not fight back! Only fight back if the attack persists.

    Never run from a surprised bear because it can cause a predatory reaction from the bear. Do not try to climb a tree. You cannot outrun or out climb a bear.

    Predatory Bears

    Predatory bears are very different than surprised or defensive bears. If you encounter a bear that’s curious or stalks you like a predator, be ready to fight. Do NOT run. Stalking and curious bears are not in a defensive mindset like a surprised bear. They are ready to attack their prey at a moment’s notice, and YOU are the prey. Try to seek shelter in a car or building if possible. If that isn’t an option, be ready to fight. If you notice a bear stalking you, now is the time to get your bear spray ready. If the bear attacks you, fight back with anything that you have. Use any available weapon to fight the bear (sticks, rocks, bear spray, even your fists). If a predatory bear attacks you, no matter the species, fight back with everything you have.

    Report all bear encounters. If you are involved with a bear conflict or encounter, report it to park authorities as soon as possible. If the conflict is serious and cell service is available, call 911.

    Learn more about hiking in bear country

    • Hiking in Bear Country
    • Bear Spray and Firearms
    • What If a Bear Finds Me?
    • Storing Food

    What makes bears angry?

    30 Years . working with Bears!

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    • Understanding the Black Bear
    • Human-Bear Coexistence
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    • Bear Residents
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    What You Need To Know About The Black Bear


    The black bear:

    -Very intelligent mammal. Intelligence rivals that of the great apes.

    -Extremely acute sense of smell. Scent oriented mammal.

    -Good eyesight, similar to humans, bears see colour.

    -Cubs stay with mother for minimum 1.5 years.

    -Cubs learn by following mother, mimicking her actions and activities .

    A bear is an omnivore, however it is classified as a carnivore, yet the black bear is primarily a vegetarian.

    Large male black bears can weigh over 227kg (500 lbs). Females weigh up to 100kg, often less, occasionally more. Bears reach their full size at an age of 10 to 12 years (males), about 8 for females. Females reach sexual maturity between 5 and 7 years. Exceptions are documented.

    A bear rarely dies of old age because of human activity. An old bear in the wild is 20 years old. If humans did not interfere many bears could conceivably live to 30, sometimes 40 years.

    Living and Recreating in Bear Country:

    When you live, camp, hike or walk your dog in a woods where there are bears you have little to worry about pertaining to the bears. The reality is you are safer in the woods compared to a place you may be where there are many people. Bears need not be a concern, just remember to follow some simple rules.

    Your Home:

    1-When the grass turns green put bird feeders away until the snow turns the ground white again.

    2-Do not put meat products in compost, no eggs.

    3-Secure food garbage in an area away from the house. Put garbage out for pick up the morning of scheduled pick up. If in rural area take garbage to waste disposal on a regular basis.

    Camping and Recreating:

    1-Keep your food out of your tent and out of reach of a bear.

    2-When hiking, ensure you do not surprise a bear by making noise such as singing or humming etc.

    3-If you have your dog(s) with you keep your dog(s) on a leash.
    Bears usually run from a dog because most bears have learned to associate dogs with people. However, a dog off leash may chase and harass the bear causing the bear to get angry and chase the dog. When dogs get scared they may run to their owner.

    4-If you hike or camp often you may want to consider purchasing some pepper spray. Pepper spray may make you feel more at ease and it is very effective in the unlikely case it is needed.

    Bears come around people when there is food available. Bears do not consider people food. Bears that are accustomed to being around people and human establishment historically have not attacked people. A bear may get used to the activity of people in a certain area and therefore appear complacent possibly because the bear does not fear harm from the people. Although it is possible for an individual bear to become assertive when accessing people’s food in garbage or bird feeders there is no record of an all out attack from a bear behaving in this way.

    Many times a bear’s nervousness is misread as aggression. When a bear clacks it teeth, exhales heavily through its nose, slaps the ground with its paws, the bear is “asking” the person to leave or give it more space. Rarely does this kind of behavior from a bear result in an injury to a person.


    Learn more about all aspects of bear behavior and about the black bear in general at Be Wise About Bears. Information regarding the work of the Bear With Us Sanctuary and Rehabilitation Centre for Bears is available at Bear With Us Sanctuary and Rehabilitation Centre for Bears

    More information about the black bear can be found at the Ontario Government website for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry/Bear Wise. Bear Wise: Bear Wise / MNRF

    © Bear With Us Inc./Mike J McIntosh

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