By: Evan Wishloff
Bears can be scary, but you don’t need to be afraid. A bit of basic education and the right gear is all you need to adventure safely in the wilderness. Read on to learn more.
The best way to handle a bear encounter is to avoid bear encounters. Obvious, I know, but how do you do that?
- Make Noise – call out, clap, sing, and talk loudly, especially in dense vegetation or when near running water.
- Travel in Groups – the bigger the group, the less likely you’ll have a serious bear encounter
- Use Officially Marked Paths and Trails
- Check for Wildlife Advisories or Trail Closures – before departing, make sure to check official trail reports through a website such as Alberta Parks or Parks Canada.
You followed all the above advice, but you still come across a bear on the trail. What do you do?
- Staying Calm – screams or sudden movements may trigger an attack
- Speak to the Bear – talk calmly and firmly. This lets the bear know you are human and not a prey animal. If a bear rears on its hind legs, it is trying to identify you.
- Back Away Slowly
- Make Yourself Appear Big. Pick up small children, and stay in a group.
To learn more about how to be Bear Smart, click here to read the Alberta Parks Bear Smart Brochure.
The vast majority of bear encounters resolve themselves without the need for deterrents such as bear spray or bear bangers, but you should still know how and when to use these safety devices.
- Bear spray burns the eyes and noses of bears that walk into the mist sprayed from the container.
- Effective range varies from 15-30 feet depending on the product and wind conditions. Familiarize yourself with your chosen brand of bear spray.
- Make sure your bear spray is readily available, NOT buried inside a zippered compartment in your pack.
- Bear spray is more effective at interrupting a bear attack than a firearm. That’s right, even hunters should consider carrying bear spray.
- Always check the expiry date on your bear spray prior to departing
Familiarize yourself with how to use bear spray. This instructional video below will help!
Bear Bangers and Airhorns
- Noisemakers like these can be used to scare away bears that are aware of your presence but do not leave the area.
- You should not use bangers in dry forest conditions as they can cause fires.
- When aiming a noise deterrent, aim at the sky – do NOT shoot it directly at the bear, as it may go past the bear, detonating behind them, and scaring them towards you. Not the intended effect.
- You should still be prepared with bear spray in case the noisemaker does not deter the bear.
All this talk of bear encounters might leave you thinking of them as a major inconvenience that could hinder your next trip. Life would be easier without worrying about bears on the trails! But don’t forget, we are in THEIR homes when we step out into the wilderness and we need to respect them and their habitat.
How can you help protect bears? Follow all Parks Canada tips on protecting bears, including keeping a bare campsite when you’re not around (bare campsite. Get it?), respecting all trail closures, using official trails, never approaching or feeding wildlife, and more.
Conservation isn’t just about bears – it’s about protecting the entire ecosystem.
For even more information on how to safely adventure in the outdoors, check out the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley. They offer a “Nature for Newcomers” section filled with information on wildlife safety in nine (that’s right, nine!) different languages.