How to Survive a Bear Attack: Brown, Black, and Polar Bears

There is a chance — depending on where you are — that you might come across a creature (say, a grizzly bear) that could, if provoked, cause you serious bodily harm or even kill you. Sure, a bear attack isn’t exactly a prevalent occurrence, but it does happen from time to time. Though there are a number of factors that lead to such events, Mother Nature Network points out that the increased number of human-bear conflicts can be linked to environmental degradation, such as habitat loss, increasing populations, food shortages, and climate change. The best way for you to survive a bear attack, of course, is to avoid one entirely.

When exploring, take extra steps to guard your food — such as by hanging a bear bag to avoid curious animals — and carry a bear deterrent with you, such as bear spray. Also, protect yourself when in your most vulnerable states (like when you’re pooping in the woods).

Nonetheless, in the event that you are forced into an encounter with a bear, you’ll want to be prepared. Here’s a rundown on how to survive a bear attack — including specific tips for grizzly bears, black bears, and polar bears.

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Brown Bears

AKA Grizzly Bears

Brown Bear Characteristics
Location Most brown bear populations now reside in parts of Europe, Russia, Asia, Canada, Alaska, and into portions of the Northwest United States (Washington, Idaho, Montana).
Color Medium-to-dark brown
Body shape Look for a hump of muscles in its upper back, a trademark of brown bears.
Average height  6.5 feet

Brown bears are the most widespread species of bears in the world in terms of continental reach. They’re also typically bigger and more aggressive than black bears, meaning a date with a brown bear is one you will absolutely want to be prepared for.

Most bear attacks occur during grizzly-human interactions and usually involve a mother bear protecting her cubs. Though food conditioning and surprise can also startle a brown bear into aggressiveness, they’re notorious for being fierce protectors. Brown bear attacks tend to be at their highest between the months of May and June, when mothers are raising their young after a long hibernation.

Here’s what to do if you come in contact with a brown bear:

  • Use bear pepper spray: Experts recommend that hikers in a bear country bring along bear pepper spray — and have it handy. UDAP bear pepper spray is a highly concentrated spray that can stop a bear in its tracks better than a gun.
  • Do not run: I repeat — if you meet a grizzly bear, make sure to stand your ground, stay calm, and slowly reach for your bear spray (here’s how to use bear spray). The last thing you want to do is run because the bear will catch you. If he or she stands tall in curiosity, move away slowly with your spray in your hand. If the bear continues to follow you, continue to stand your ground and use your spray if necessary. (The best distance to spray at an attacking bear is 40-50 ft.)
  • Tuck and cover: If the bear starts to charge, it’s best to fall down into a fetal position while protecting your head, neck, and stomach.
  • Play dead: If the brown bear continues to charge at you, play dead. Grizzlies attack when they feel surprised or threatened, so they tend to stop attacking when there’s no longer a threat. However, don’t just get up and run away once the bear leaves. Brown bears are ferocious beasts that won’t quit until they’re 100 percent sure that threat is gone.

Black Bears

Black Bear Characteristics
Location Black bears are found across all of Canada and 41 of the 50 United States.
Color Though they’re called “black bears,” these guys can exhibit a variety of colors from black to light blonde.
Body shape Black bears are typically smaller and more slender than Grizzlies.
Average height 6 feet

Black bears have a great sense of smelling and hearing, which makes them very curious creatures. Though their curiosity may spark encounters, black bear attacks are very rare because they tend to be less aggressive than brown bears. However, with human encroachment on bear habitats, black bear attacks are not unheard of and should be taken seriously.

Here’s how to survive a bear attack from a black bear:

  • Bear pepper spray: No matter what the threat, bear spray should always be handy on your adventures in the woods. It works on all bears.
  • Stay grounded, get big, and be loud: Black bears usually tend to flee rather than fight back when faced with conflict. Sticks or other objects can be used to make yourself look bigger while yelling and being loud can intimidate or scare off a black bear.

You should still have your spray ready to go, though, and don’t try and run away. The best way to fend off a black bear is to act aggressively (as weird as it sounds). Throw stones, hit them with a stick, anything you can find.

But whatever you do, don’t climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers and they will catch you.

Polar Bears

Polar Bear Characteristics
Location Polar bears can be found in the Arctic Circle and as far south as northern Russia, Canada, and Alaska.
Color White
Body shape These Arctic dwellers are much larger than most brown and black bears (with the exception of the Kodiak).
Average height Polar bears are massive — males can be anywhere between 7 feet to over 10 feet tall.

Many reading this may never come into contact with a polar bear, but if you ever plan to take a trip up north into the tundra, you better go prepared. Not only are polar bears the largest bear species in the world, but they’re also carnivorous creatures that tend to view humans as prey because of minimal interactions.

Nonetheless, learning how to survive a bear attack from the largest land carnivore on Earth will surely help if you ever find yourself with cold feet:

  • Bear pepper spray: The best way to survive a bear attack from a polar bear is to not have one in the first place. Your chances of scaring a polar bear away on pure intimidation and pride are slim to none. Though, like with other bear species, bear spray is your best weapon.
  • Fight like Jon Snow: With help from the Lord of Light, Jon Snow fought like a literal god in the “Battle of the Bastards” episode of Game of Thrones. You’ll need the same amount of luck and guidance as he did when trying to battle a polar bear. If you’re forced to fight back, aim to injure sensitive areas such as their eyes and nose, while staying away from their massive, deadly claws.

Unfortunately, you can’t just play dead or be aggressive and expect a polar bear to run away. You’ll have to endure the elements and hope for the best. If you’re afraid you may run into a fight with a polar bear, think about bringing a few weapons to protect yourself.

(Note: The Manual does not condone hurting animals in the wild. Always do what you can to avoid such attacks in order to preserve your own life, as well as the lives of animals in the wild.)

How to Survive a Mountain Lion Attack

Bonus Lesson

We’re going to give you a short overview of what to do if you run into a cougar. Cougars — also known as mountain lions, pumas, etc. — have long, sharp claws and can run at speeds of up to 50 mph. You can find them as far north as Canada and as far south as Patagonia, make the cougar a true, transcontinental American species.

According to the Mountain Lion Foundation, cougars tend to hunt their main prey at dusk or dawn. Though this is the best time for some cool weather hiking, it’s also the most common time you may come into contact with a cougar. So, plan accordingly:

  • Be aggressive: Cougars, unlike bears, are on four legs and lower to the ground, so the bigger, louder, and more aggressive you seem, the less likely the cougar will attack. Wave your arms in the air and yell loudly to show that you may be a threat to the animal, rather than prey.
  • Again, do not run: All cats have an instinct to chase when something starts to run away from it. Do whatever you can to make the cat feel frightened or threatened, so they run in the other direction. And of course, don’t go chasing them.

There you have it. If you encounter any of the above animals, keep your cool, remember these tips, and stay alive.

Article originally published August 9, 2017.

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