By Steven Gillman
I opened my eyes and held my breath. Was I
dreaming? The bear growled again. I wasn't dreaming. He shuffled
around in the pine needles, a few feet away. Only the thin nylon
wall of my tent separated us. I waited for the bear to attack.
I breathed slowly, trying not to make a sound.
There was nothing to be done, nowhere to run, and not another person
within ten miles. I could die in a few seconds, I realized. I could
be torn apart.
Grizzlies had already killed two people in Montana
this year, and mauled several others. That's what the ranger told me
when I entered Yellowstone that morning. A mild winter had left too
few dead animals for the bears to feed on, so they were hungry and
The pamphlet, the one with "WARNING" written in
red over a silhouette of a bear on the cover, was in my backpack. I
mentally reviewed it. My food was in a tree fifty yards away, I
wasn't wearing cologne or deodorant, and I wasn't moving. I should
The bear grunted and pawed the ground. Then
nothing. I strained to hear something, anything, but the sounds of
the river covered any smaller sounds. Had the bear left? I couldn't
be sure. I looked at my watch without moving my head. I could barely
make out the glow-in-the-dark hands. It was four a.m. I was starting
to sweat. Does sweat attract bears, I wondered. (related
How To Prevent Bear Attacks
The good news was that the bear eventually left. I
think he was just upset because I had set up my tent in the middle
of the path along the river, where he probably walked nightly. Don't
do that, if you want to avoid being in stories like this. Here are
some other ways to avoid a bear attack.
- Talk quietly or just don't talk at all. The time
for loud noises was before you encountered the bear. Try to detour
around the bear if you can.
- Don't run! Try to back away slowly, but stop if
this agitates the bear.
- Assume a non-threatening posture. This could
mean turning sideways, or bending at the knees to appear smaller.
- Don't look straight at the bear. Bears may
interpret direct eye contact as threatening.
- Drop something, like a water bottle or hat, to
distract the bear. Don't drop food, however, or he may come to you
looking for more. Leave your backpack on for protection in case of
- If you have bear repellent (pepper spray) get it
ready. If the bear attacks, use it!
- If the bear makes contact, fall to the ground on
your stomach, or assume a fetal position to protect your chest and
abdomen. Lace your fingers together over the back of your neck.
Don't move until you the bear has left.
The above is good advice only if the bear attack
is a "bluff" attack, or a surprised bear. This is the most common
type of bear encounter. However, if the bear is stalking you, you
need to take entirely different actions. That, however, is a topic
for another article. (related
Copyright Steve Gillman. Learn how to tell the difference between
a "bluff attack" and a predatory bear attack in the ebook "Ultralight
Backpacking Secrets (And Wilderness Survival Tips)" Get it FREE, as
well as photos, gear recommendations, and a new wilderness survival
section, at: The Ultralight Backpacking Site: http://www.The-Ultralight-Site.com
More about Black Bears
Black Bears - What Backpackers Need to Know
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