Grizzly Bear Encounter: What to Do If It Happens to You

grizzly bear mom with cubs

If you’re head­ing into griz­zly coun­try, you’d be crazy not to brush up on some brown-bear eti­quette before you go. When you find your­self face-to-face with a griz­zly, you don’t have much time to think. If you have a griz­zly bear encounter, here’s what you need to know to stay safe.

Griz­zly 411
Griz­zly bears are beau­ti­ful, pow­er­ful crea­tures that typ­i­cal­ly do their best to avoid bump­ing into peo­ple. They will almost nev­er seek out a human as prey; if you do come across one, the bear is prob­a­bly just as sur­prised as you are.

Get Up to Speed
Before you head into griz­zly bear ter­ri­to­ry, check in with rangers to see if any sight­ings have been report­ed in the area recent­ly. As with any back­coun­try mis­sion, noti­fy some­one at home about your plans and the route you will be taking.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled
The safest option is to avoid a ren­dezvous with a griz­zly alto­geth­er. Keep your eyes open for signs that a griz­zly bear is in the area, and change your course if that’s the case.

Spot­ting fresh tracks along a trail is a dead give­away that there’s a griz­zly near­by, and so is find­ing large piles of scat (a diam­e­ter larg­er than two inch­es means you’ve like­ly got a griz­zly near­by). Watch out for the par­tial­ly eat­en car­cass­es of small ani­mals and for torn-up areas in the ground where a griz­zly might have been scavenging.

Avoid Sur­pris­es
If you’re some­where where you might encounter a griz­zly bear, don’t hike alone. Make lots of noise with your hik­ing part­ners to avoid star­tling the beast. Stay alert, and always be aware of your surroundings.

You See a Grizzly—Now What?!
If you spot a griz­zly in the dis­tance and it doesn’t seem to notice you, stop. Don’t move any clos­er for that once-in-a-life­time pho­to op. Your best bet is to qui­et­ly back away and leave the way you came. If you must go around the bear, give it plen­ty of room. Make as wide a detour as you can.

angry grizzly bear

Mak­ing Eye Contact
If you see a griz­zly and it sees you, but it’s still a good ways away from you (350 feet or more), let the bear know that you’re a human and that you’re not a threat. Speak calm­ly and back away, and keep your eye on the griz­zly with­out mak­ing eye con­tact. Wave your arms and ensure that the bear has an escape route.

Get­ting Up Close and Personal
If a griz­zly is behav­ing aggres­sive­ly, repeat the steps described above (walk­ing away, speak­ing calm­ly, avoid­ing eye con­tact). Griz­zly bears some­times make a false charge to see how threat­en­ing you are. So if a griz­zly bear is charg­ing you, it isn’t always a death sentence.

If the griz­zly does start to attack you, it’s most like­ly try­ing to defend itself. If you have bear spray, use it when the bear is close to you—be care­ful not to get it in your own eyes.

Most of the time, you can min­i­mize injuries by play­ing dead, which sends the sig­nal that you are not a threat. Roll face­down into a tight fetal posi­tion and tuck your head into your legs. Pro­tect the back of your neck with your hands. Keep your back­pack on, as this can offer extra protection.

Don’t try to out­run a griz­zly bear; it can run faster than you. Fight­ing back isn’t a great idea either; you won’t win in a fight against a griz­zly. The one excep­tion is if a bear is attack­ing you preda­to­ri­ly (ver­sus defen­sive­ly): if the bear seems to have been stalk­ing you or seek­ing you out, you might have no choice but to fight back.