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How To Fight A Bear And Win

The most common large predators you'll encounter outdoors in North America, bear
s also really, really, really want to eat your food and sometimes even you. Here
's how to keep them from getting either.
When I say bears are common, I mean that you've probably already seen one in you
r back yard, on a camping trip or while visiting a national park. Bears are oppo
rtunistic scavengers looking for an easy meal. Sadly, due to carelessness and ig
norance, us humans have created a situation where many bears now think of us as
a food source. They routinely raid garbage cans, campsites and even coolers and
backpacks as part of their main diet. Smart and capable of learning
like a dog
ome bears have even figured out how to open car doors in pursuit of a tasty mors

The vast majority of us have nothing to be afraid of. Black Bears, by far the mo
st common species in North America, have only killed four people in the last fou
r years. 11 Americans have been killed by the much more rare, but also more aggr
essive brown bear during that time. To put that in perspective, 4.5 million peop
le are bitten by dogs here each year.
Still, it's no fun losing your dinner to a bear or even unexpectedly stumbling a
cross one in the backcountry. Both types of encounter are entirely preventable a
nd, even if one does stand up and roar, you've got options.
Types Of Bears
How To Fight A Bear And Win
Photo: North Cascades National Park
Black Bear: There's 900,000 of these little guys in North America and adults ran
ge in size all the way from 100lbs sows to big 500lbs boars. The "black bear" na
me is actually a little deceptive; they can be anything from white to black to b
rown and even a reddish cinnamon. The best way to tell them apart from the much
more dangerous brown bear is in their size and build a black bear is not just sm
aller, but slighter and has longer ears and a slimmer build. You can effectively
scare most black bears off.
How To Fight A Bear And Win
Photo: Doug Brown
Brown Bear: Also called Kodiak or Grizzly bears depending solely on geography, b
rown bears usually do tend to be brown, but that fur can appear blonde too. Whil
e black bears exist across most of the US and Canada, only 200,000 brown bears r
oam through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Alaska, Washington and Western Canada. You'
ll know it's a brown bear because it'll be huge
200 to 1,400lbs
and distinguishe
d by a prominent hump on its back, as well as the fact that it's going to be utt
erly unafraid of you. If you see a brown bear, the best option is to get far awa
y from it.
How To Fight A Bear And Win
Photo: Visit Greenland
Polar Bear: You know what a polar bear looks like. If you're doing stuff in the
outdoors where they live then you're probably already aware of their behavior an
d precautions you must take. No one should roam polar bear territory without a g

Like most things in life, the best way to deal with a bear problem is to prevent
a bear problem. It's worth noting that bears don't just want your picnic basket
, they're attracted to stuff like deodorant, dirty dishes or even sealed energy
bars too. Put absolutely anything that may smell nice in a bear bag or canister
and place that at least 100 feet outside camp. Don't clean fish or create other
compelling odors near where you plan to sleep.
Bear Canisters: These come in a variety of shapes, sizes and purposes. You'll fi
nd "bear lockers" in organized campsites that tend to have problem bears and inc
reasingly, their smaller, more portable cousins are required for people backpack
ing through bear country. Essentially a large, very tough plastic food container
, bear canisters came about because we were all too stupid to hang bear bags pro
perly, so now we get to lug these things around. The idea is to put your food in
it at night, then stick it 100 feet or more outside of camp. That gives the bea
rs something to play with all night. Bonus points for still hanging or placing o
ne where a bear can't get it, but don't put it somewhere that it's going to be k
nocked off a cliff or into flowing water, where you'll lose it. In escalation of
the bear/human arms race, some bears in New York's Adirondack Mountains have al
ready figured out how to open these.
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Bear Bags: The idea is to counter balance two sacks full of your tasty food from
a narrow branch both too tall for a bear to reach and too slim for a bear to cl
imb out on. You retrieve it by pushing one bag up with a long stick till the who
le thing falls into your arms. Trouble is, bears are smart and humans are stupid
. The bears have learned to climb neighboring trees, then drop onto bear bags fr
om above or to find and cut support ropes. Most of the time, they haven't had to
though, most people hang bear bags too low, too close to a nice, climbable tree
trunk or in an otherwise vulnerable position.
Bear Bells: You can also encounter bears while you're just hiking along, minding
your own business. That's only if you're being quiet though. Attaching bells to
your pack (just plain ol' jingle bells pulled off a Christmas decoration work j
ust fine) or talking amongst a group of hikers will warn bears of your approach
and shoo them away from the trail.
Bear Dogs: The scent and sound of a dog or dogs is as effective a bear deterrent
as any that exists. Keep your dog on-leash while hiking in bear country and tie
it up at night, but never leave a tied-up dog unattended.
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Fire: A campfire keeps most animals away, but tending it all night can prevent y
ou from sleeping and in areas where there's a ton of camper/bear interaction (su
ch as the Adirondacks), the bears may no longer be wary of fire.
Running Away: The best way to win any fight works equally well in this one. But,
rather than running, just walk like you mean it. Running away from animals can

trigger their prey drive. No meal or fish or any amount of ego is worth getting
eaten over.
An Anti-Bear Armory
Even the most responsible of campers will occasionally find themselves face-to-f
ace with a hungry or curious bear, particularly in areas where they frequently i
nteract with humans and consider us a food source as a result. If that happens,
you'll need to scare the bear off.
Propaganda: Animals are instinctively afraid of humans for a reason. You need to
be that reason. Stand up to your full height, open your coat or jacket so you a
ppear larger, move in a purposeful considered manner and wave your hands in the
air while shouting menacingly.
Pots and Pans: Banging metal cookware together loudly nicely supplements the abo
Flare Pistol: Straight redneck stuff. If you've got a bear problem, it's nice to
be able to keep that bear problem away from you. A flare pistol can be roughly
aimed and can travel a hundred yards or so, enabling you to scare off a bear at
a distance with a loud bang and bright flash, but probably won't hurt the bear.
Just beware firing incendiary rounds into the woods if there's a high risk of fi
re. This is probably illegal pretty much anywhere, be advised.
Air Horn: Like a flare pistol, these will work with some distance between you an
d the bear. The very high decibel noise hurts their sensitive ears, driving them
Bear Mace: Here's the deal with bear mace. It's only got an effective range of 1
5 feet or so and has been known to piss off a bear as much as scare it away. I d
on't know about you, but I a) don't want a bear within 15 feet of me b) don't wa
nt to piss off one that is that close c) I don't want to get really strong peppe
r spray in my eyes because I didn't take the time to consider wind direction whi
le a bear was within 15 feet of me.
A Big Stick: Whacking a bear upside its head with a big stick is as effective a
deterrent as I've found. There's something in a big stick understood by animals
on a primal level, much more so than with a funny piece of orange plastic or a s
illy human jumping up and down and shouting.
Rocks: Pick them up and throw them, aiming for the bear's face. You aren't reall
y going to hurt a big ol' bear with a thrown rock, but you may annoy it enough t
hat it decides to leave you alone. Pairs well with shouting.
Your Backpack: As a last ditch method of survival, a backpack might keep a charg
ing bear off you. Most aren't dead set on mauling you, so maybe also cross your
So, Should You Be Scared Of Bears?
A little. Ultimately, being attacked by one would go pretty badly for you, black
, brown or whatever. But, that's an extremely unlikely occurrence. Be responsibl
e, prevent them from getting your food, make some noise as you hike through thei
r territory, take your dog and you won't have any problems. If you do see a bear
, enjoy watching it from a distance and, if it moves close to you or your campsi
te, you'll probably be able to scare if off. They're a part of the nature you ca
me to see, don't aggravate or harm them and we'll all be able to keep laying awa
ke in our tents at night, thinking every little sound is an approaching bear, fo
r a long time to come.