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Grizzly Bear Safety

Most Importantly, bear spray IS NOT a replacement for proper prevention; it does NOT give you a pass to be careless in bear country. It’s only for defensive purposes if proper prevention techniques fail, or you just have incredibly bad luck. Please go check out, or the National Park Service for in-depth dives on bear safety.

Things to bear in mind.

Over here at BSS we are going to let ‘Betty the Brown Bear’–our spokes-bear, guide you through some wildlife etiquette that could help save your life.

Betty here, I can bearly wait to share some things you should know when it comes to bear safety. Fun fact, there are 8 different types of bears worldwide you can find out in the wild; for our intents and purposes, we’re gonna focus on the two most common bears in North America: the black bear and brown bear.

It’s VERY important to know the difference between the two of us and to act accordingly. For example, I’m a brown bear! We’re not the most common in the lower 48, but we are the grumpiest and should be avoided the most. My bear kin, the black bears, are going to be the most common kind of bear someone will run into in the wild. Thankfully, they are usually less dangerous than I am, except for that time in ‘85 when the black bear Pablo Escobear made headlines for eating 75lbs of cocaine and became the most apex predator an apex predator could ever be on Earth. He would have been scary.

How to tell us apart?

Now, I’m a called a brown bear, but color isn’t always a great indicator of what kind of bear you’re dealing with (I know… frustrating). Brown and black bear fur can range from black to blond and if you go off-color you could easily misidentify us. So, let’s go over some of the easiest ways to tell us apart.

Brown Bears

When people think of the big bad bears they write movies about, they’re thinking about me, the brown bear (or grizzly bear as we’re referred to in the non-costal U.S.). If there’s a bear that’s most likely to fight you and win, it’s yours truly.

Brown Bears

When people think of the big bad bears they write movies about, they’re thinking about me, the brown bear (or grizzly bear as we’re referred to in the non-costal U.S.). If there’s a bear that’s most likely to fight you and win, it’s yours truly.

Identify grizzly bear
Distinctive shoulder hump
Adorable short round teddy bear ears (seriously, they’re cute)
Dish face profile

Black Bears

The bear you’re most likely to run into in North America is your neighborhood black bear. In general, when you’re not dealing with a coked out black bear like Escobear, most black bears can be pretty easy to scare off without having to resort to using bear spray.

Black Bears

The bear you’re most likely to run into in North America is your neighborhood black bear. In general, when you’re not dealing with a coked out black bear like Escobear, most black bears can be pretty easy to scare off without having to resort to using bear spray.

Identify black bear
Normal shoulders with no hump
Ears are taller and more oval shaped than their Brown Bear counterparts
Straight face profile

How to avoid a bear in the first place?


Stay Alert!

Always keep your eyes, ears, and nose open to signs of bears like: tracks, droppings, ripped-apart logs, dead animals, or you know… actual bears.

Don’t Hike Alone

We find larger groups pretty darn intimidating and it’s incredibly unlikely we’ll ever try to take you all on if you are together. Also, stick together closely so you don’t just become a bunch of groups of one and the likelihood that any bear will attack will be significantly less.

Make Some Noise!, “Hey bear!” or “Coming through!” or “I have lots of BS!”. This is triply true if you are going around a blind corner, or through thick vegetation where you can’t see very far. Giving us some advanced notice gives us time to mosey away.

Stay on Trail

Stay on maintained trails and always check ahead with the trail managers if there are any closures due to bears.

Avoid Dead Stuff

For one, yuck, but also because it might be my lunch and I get pretty grumpy when someone’s touching my food. You’d be mad too if I came and stuck my paw in your soup.

What to do if you encounter a bear?

If we HAVEN’T seen you yet, or you are some distance away.


Slowly back off and give us, and yourself, some distance. And I mean more distance than you gave your middle school crush when they rejected you.

We’re fast. We can reach up to 35mph, and some of us weigh up to 1,200 lbs. That’s about 300lbs. shy of three Andre the Giants. Or it’s about 5 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s; if either of them had teeth, claws, and were running at you as fast as a car.


Rethink your hike. Can you pass on the trail and maintain over 100 yards of separation from the bear? If not, I recommend finding another maintained route around us or simply turning back.

Always use your best judgment and err on the side of caution. No hike is worth a scrape with a super predator.

If we HAVE seen you, and you’re too close to us.


STAY CALM!!!! Seriously, don’t freak out or panic; just stay calm. You’re going to want to calmly get your bear spray ready, and calmly get your trigger fingers ready to fire bear spray. Calmly.

Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES whatsoever should you run or make a hasty exit. This could signal to one of us you’re into a game of tag and initiate an attack response.

This is your friendly reminder to STAY CALM!!! Practice your yogic breathing and if you’re with a group, slowly start to gather into the most imposing group formation you can muster.

Slowly start to back away from the bear, and talk to it in a monotone, non-threatening voice. Let ‘em know you’re human and you want no beef. This might be enough to lull us into losing interest in you as a threat and so we wander off.

If that doesn’t work, keep backing away from us keeping us in sight until you have a gotten to a safe distance.

Re-think your hike. As I mentioned earlier if you can pass on a trail and maintain over 100 yards of separation from the bear then do it. If not find another maintained route around the bear or simply turn back.

If while you’re backing away, the bear starts to follow you, this would be a good time to pull the trigger on your bear spray can and blast a short spray aimed at the ground directly in front of the bear. The sound alone could startle the bear away and if it doesn’t and they catch a whiff…even better! It will at the very least get them to rethink their life choices.

If they’re relentless in following you, consider this a potential full-scale attack and move on to the next step.

What to do if an attack is coming?


Stand Your Ground

I know this is easier said than done, but running is far worse. You aren’t going to be able to outrun one of us even if you’re Usain Bolt. We also know how to climb trees fairly easily, and we’re pretty accomplished swimmers. We’re apex predators for a reason.

Yell Aggressively at the Bear

Start at reasonable annoyance and slowly escalate to unreasonable anger if we don’t leave. Show us you mean business and that you aren’t going to be any kind of easy prey and will put up a huge fight. We HATE this.

Prep Your Bear Spray

If we’re still coming even as you’re going full Karen at us, then wait for us to get uncomfortably close (30-60 feet) and then aim, fire, and spray your BS at us creating a thick cloud of spray separating you and us. Make sure we HAVE to walk or run through the cloud to get to you.

Keep Spraying

Keep spraying until the we change direction and skedaddle. If we don’t, start aiming directly at our face and keep spraying until we finally divert, or we close the gap, or you run out of bear spray.

Leave the Area Immediately

If we divert and take off, LEAVE THE AREA IMMEDIATELY. Still don’t run! Stay on high alert and hike back to safety as quickly as possible. Keep your can of BS out and ready to go. If you have a second can that hasn’t been deployed, get that out and ready as well.

Inform a Park Ranger ASAP

Once you get back to safety inform a Park Ranger of the encounter ASAP. They track this sort of info and can take action if a particular bear has a history of being aggressive.

I sprayed the bear, but now I’m being attacked by a bear spray-covered bear… What now?

This is a very rare, but totally possible situation to find yourself in. Maybe the BS hasn’t taken full effect yet, maybe you ran into Paublo Escobear 2.0, or maybe they’re just too confused after a beating with bear spray to put on the brakes and change direction.

Whatever the reason, the good news is that studies have proven that attacks from bears sprayed by bear spray are less severe than if you tried to use a gun or no spray at all. So you’re in the best of a bad ‘shituation’. What you should do next VERY much depends on the bear. The clue is in this handy little mnemonic device: Black Fight Back– Brown Get Down

Black Bears

Black bears will typically skedaddle if you even so much as hurt their feelings. They’re usually standoffish, easily triggered, and easy to scare away. However, if a black bear is attacking you, it is fully on. It is you or the bear. Make sure it’s not you.

  • Contrary to the popular myth you play dead for all bears…. You DO NOT play dead for black bears!
  • Use anything and everything that is available to you that could be a weapon. Sticks, stones, knives, your keychain wine opener, pots, pans, more bear spray, the empty bear spray canister… It doesn’t matter! Put up the biggest baddest fight you can and make that bear regret the decision to attack. A fight with a black bear is not over until it retreats.
  • Once the fight is over, get out of the area as fast as possible without running and report the encounter/get medical help.

Brown/Grizzly Bears

As I said before, brown bears ain’t afraid to throw down and their feelings don’t get hurt very easy. You have no choice but to convince them that you’re either the biggest threat they ever met or are no threat at all. If you’re in this section of our help, you’re not the biggest threat they ever met and it is currently charging you like three Andre the Giants shot out of a cannon.

IMPORTANT: The first thing I want to let you know is that brown bears are known to do a bluff charge. This is where they will come at you full steam until the very last moment when they veer off or stop. You have no way of knowing if it’s a bluff or not until they make contact with you. If you play dead too soon you could end up getting mauled out of sheer curiosity when you could have avoided being mauled all together. With that in mind keep reading:

  • Keep your backpack and any gear you have strapped to you on as it will provide protection in an attack. Not that you’d have a lot of time to take it off anyways.
  • This is the tough part, but if you’re being charged by a bear… stand your ground, brace for impact, hope your underwear stays clean, wish on every star you’ve ever seen in your life that it’s a bluff charge.
  • If it’s not a bluff, once the bear makes contact with you, PLAY DEAD! This has been shown to reduce the length and severity of a brown bear attack.
  • Do everything you can (short of fighting the bear itself) to get onto your stomach and lay face down.
  • Try to protect your neck and head with your hands and arms as much as possible.
  • Keep your legs and elbows spread apart. This helps prevent the bear from flipping you over on your back.
  • If the bear does flip you, repeat step 4.
  • Once the attack has stopped, STAY STILL for several minutes after the attack. It takes time for the bear to be convinced you’re dead, no longer an issue, and to leave the area.
  • When you think it’s been long enough, move slowly as you’re getting up and evaluate the situation to make sure the bear hightailed it outta there. If the bear is still around keep playing dead. Once the bear actually leaves, try to leave the area as quickly as you can and get to safety/medical help.
  • If a bear comes back to attack you again as you’re trying to leave or is persistent in its attack even if you’re playing dead, you need to fight the bear for your life! This is a very very rare type of attack where the bear sees you as prey. Don’t be prey. Attack the bears face with any available weapons you can muster.

Together we can have safe adventures and protect bears