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Bear Attacks and
Bear Encounter

Facts on bear attacks. What to do if you have a bear encounter . Differences between black and grizzly bears.

Bear attacks are a relatively rare occurrence. Generally speaking, bears are afraid of people and will do their best to avoid people if they know they are there. There are many things you can do to prevent a bear encounter such as bear canisters and bear bells or repellents . This page will also explain the difference between a black and grizzly bear and what to do if you come across one. Most bear attacks have been from a bear being surprised, although most bears will run if they come across a human.


In the 1990’s, bears killed around 3 people a year in the USA and Canada.

You are more likely to be killed by a dog, or lightning that a bear.

Black Bear Attacks

Rarely attack and would rather avoid confrontations with people. If they do have human contact it is usually with a mock charge, make blowing noises or swat the ground with their paws. Only 23 people died from Black bears from 1900-1980. That is pretty low number. Usually black bears only attacked if they were very hungry. Even female black bears aren’t as protective of their babies as grizzly’s.

Black bear attacks usually end with minor injuries.

Grizzly Bear Attacks (a type of brown bear)

Grizzly bears can attack if they feel threatened or surprised. Female grizzly bears are very protective of their young and will attack if they feel their babies are in danger. Are more likely to attack smaller groups of people. Grizzly bear attacks are often more than one per year, depending on the year during the 70-90’s. More recently there are fewer than 1 injury every two years.

Grizzly bear attacks are much more serious and end in serious injury and even death.

Telling the difference between a black or grizzly bear.

The best distinguishing feature between a black bear and a grizzly bear is the shoulder hump that grizzly bears have. Plus they have much longer claws than black bears.

ColourBlonde, Brown, Black. Have lighter tip on fur, making them look ‘grizzled’.Light blonde, Cinnamon, Brown, Black. May have a light patch on the chest. Snout is lighter in colour on most black bears.
SizeMale = average 500 lbs (225kg) Female = average 350lbs (160kg). Largest bears may be 800lbs (360kg). Size is not a good way to tell them apart, as both species vary greatly in size.110-300 lbs (150-140kg). Large male black bears can reach 400lbs (180kg), thus bigger than female grizzlies. Size is not a good indicator of species.
HeightOn all fours 1metre (3.3feet) Standing tall- 2 metre(6.5ft)On all fours- .75-.9m (2.5-3feet), standing tall 1.5m (5 feet)
Body ShapeHas a shoulder hump from digging roots.No shoulder hump.
FaceRounder face. Depression in forehead. Shout rounded ears.Less round face, longer snout. No depression in forehead. Longer more pointed ears.
ClawsVery long and visible from a distance –length of claws 5-10cm ( 2.4 inces)Shorter claws. Length 4cm (1.5 inch). Less visible from a distance
Paw PrintsClaws are long and visible in the print. Toes are closer together.Claws are not always visible in the print. Toes are further apart.

A few ways to tell if a bear has been in the area:


Bear scat looks similar to people poop, but less solid shape, and usually with some evidence of what the bear was eating- for example, berries, seeds. If they are feeding on meat, then the poop will look black and runny, possibly with hair in it. It is difficult to tell the difference between grizzly or black bear scat.

Bear rubs:

A tree with the branches lower down missing, and hair along the lower part of the tree.


Large pawprints , about 6 inches across may sometimes be visible if the ground was soft.

Claw marks:

Scratch marks down trees.

Bear Encounter s that are most dangerous:

· Bears acclimated to human food or garbage and are not afraid of people.

· Females with first year cubs. She will not leave her cubs and may charge.

· Females with second year cubs.

· Bears protecting an animal carcass.

· Predatory bears- very rare.

Bears can run at 50km/hr (30-40mph). If you plan to climb a tree to escape, make sure that you can get 10m (33ft) off the ground.

Three situations if you encounter a bear:

Three situations if you encounter a bear:

1) Bear Encounter #1 - Bear is further than 100m (350 ft), and does not know you are present.

a. Back away slowly, make sure you are facing the bear and can see what it is doing. Do not let it know you are there. Do not make noise. Do not turn and run. Keep downwind if possible. If you cannot back away, make a wide detour around the bear, always keeping an eye on the bear.

2) Bear Encounter #2 - Bear is further than 100m (350ft), and does know you are present.

a. Let the bear know who and what you are and that you are not a threat. Speak calmly to the bear. Wave your arms so that it can tell that you are human. Once the bear knows that you’re human it will probably high tail it out of there (if not check out situation 3). Back away slowly while talking to and watching the bear, or make a side detour. Detour upwind so the bear can smell you. Make sure that the bear is not cornered and can escape. You may want to use

3) Bear Encounter #3 - Bear knows you are present and shows signs of aggression.

a. Evaluate the situation. Black bear? Grizzly? Cubs? Climbable trees nearby?

b. DO NOT RUN. Bears can run faster than you (even down hill).

c. Attempt to back away slowly. If you can climb up a tree at least 10m (33 feet), so that the bear can’t pull you down. Climbing a tree is so that the bear feels less threatened. Both black and grizzly bears can climb trees. Black bears are particularly adept at climbing trees.

d. What if it charges you? Usually this is a bluff charge to make enemies back down.

e. What if it’s stalking you? If a stalking bear makes contact, you are it’s prey and it wants to eat you. You must FIGHT BACK. Black bears are more likely to back away, however it may work for grizzlies too.

f. If a Grizzly makes contact? This is a sticky situation. If it was stalking you, then fight back, however if it isn’t stalking you and is defensive in nature, then if you play dead, it may reduce injury as the bear no longer finds you a threat. Position yourself on your side in a foetal position, wearing your backpack. Tuck your head between your lifted legs and wrap your arms around your legs. If it starts to eat you though, fight back. Only play dead if you find yourself on the ground. Stay standing if at all possible.

g. After being attacked? Wait until the bear has left the area, then seek medical assistance.

More articles on bears and if you have a bear encounter:

Products to scare a bear away - Bear Bells, Bear Banger, Bear spray.

Bear safety – how to prevent bear encounters.

Bear canisters – Where to keep your food.

Return from Bear Attacks to Camping Expert (home)

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