Saturday, November 10, 2012

Tips for Encounters with Bear

Throughout the years I have encountered numerous bear during my travel.   The funniest encounter was when my brother and I went to Yosemite a couple years ago and woke up early one morning to hike Half Dome.   I went to the bathroom to get ready for our day trek and as I came out I heard a man yelling.  I turned to see a bear running through the campground with a backpack in his mouth and the man chasing behind him.   It was a true Yogi bear stealing the picnic basket moment- not something you see everyday living in Wisconsin that's for sure!

Unlike the man that I saw chasing the bear, I think most people get that feeling of vulnerability when they come face to face with a bear in the wilderness.  For many, running into a bear may be something you may never experience.  But for some, going for a run in the early morning or late evening may present the possibility of running into one.   Wherever it may happen, it is always good to be aware of the things you can do to prevent an attack from happening.
Fortunately, I have never been charged by bear but have learned a few tips along the way that I would like to share.

1.  Give the bear space.
'you don't come into my bubble, I won't come into yours' is my philosophy.  You need to keep the mutual respect of giving the bear his space if you come upon one.  Back up slowly, not turning your back to him.  Try not to make eye contact though.  They may feel threatened.

2. Never surprise him. 
I am the leader of the pack when I hike with my family.  When we are rounding corners where I can't see the other side, or going up hills where I don't see whats at the top, I always start talking loudly or sing songs.  You never want to surprise a bear and have him not know your coming up on him.  Many hikers will also tie bells to their bags or walking poles so they continually make noise as they step.

3. Carry pepper spray.
It is always a good idea to carry pepper spray in an easily assessible area of your bag.   Make sure you know how to use it.  You wouldn't want to spray yourself on accident.

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4.  Use Bear bins.
Always use the big metal bear bins to store food near your campsite when available.  The smells can cause the bear to attack your tent in the night if they are not taken out and put in a secure spot.  I once had a bear enter my campsite while I was grilling fish for dinner.  They can smell things from far away!

5. Be Big!
Make yourself look as big as possible to the bear.  Raise your arms in the air.  Pick up children and put them on your shoulders.  On rare occasions bears will bluff charge to prove dominance.  Stand your ground and continue to look big.  Many times the bear will stop and turn around. 

However if the bear does attack, experts say to curl up in a ball and cover your neck with your hands.  If the bear persists they say to fight back.

I am so glad that with all the experiences I have had, the bear was always very docile and paid no attention to me.  While hiking in Canadian Rockies my family even ran into a Grizzly mother with her 2 cubs.  Luckily they just walked across the trail and kept going.   Although most cases turn out the same way, it never hurts to be prepared and have an idea of what you should be doing if the situation arises. 

Do you have any bear encounter stories?

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