Be prepared to defend yourself from a bear

Yesterday I talked about how to avoid encounters with bears. After this break, I’ll tell you what to do if an encounter is unavoidable.

If you’re wandering around the woods, doing everything you should do to keep from startling a bear, chances are you won’t see one. But even the best precautions don’t always work.

Say you’re whistling as you walk, talking to your hiking partners, or even wearing bear bells on your hiking boots. You hang your food far from camp, and you cook at least a hundred yards from your sleeping area. You don’t wear the same clothes to sleep or hike that you wear when you’re cooking and eating. You’re doing what you can to avoid a bear confrontation.

But there’s still a chance you might come upon a bear that doesn’t hear you coming. Now what do you do?

If you startle a bear while you’re hiking, the first thing to do is to watch its body language. A stressed bear will pace or pant and swing its head. It might also huff or woof, and it may snap its jaws and slobber.

Get your defenses ready. Pepper spray is the most effective defense you can find. But make sure your can of spray is no older than two years old. It might work if it’s three or four years old, but I don’t want to be the guy testing the hypothesis.

Take the safety off and hold it at the ready. Don’t use it unless the bear charges. If the bear stays put, back away slowly, and don’t make eye contact.

If you can’t back away or if the bear charges anyway, stand your ground. It might be a bluff charge. Fire your pepper spray directly into the bear’s face and keep spraying until the bear turns away or until your can is empty.

Drop to the ground only if the bear makes contact with you. In that event, lay flat on your stomach and lace your fingers behind your head. Don’t fight back. When the bear has decided he has shown you who is boss, he’ll go away. That may be easier said than done, but it’s all you can do in that situation.

But do all you can to avoid a confrontation. You and the bear will be better off for it.