Bear Safety

Big grizzly bear tracks in sand
Grizzly bear tracks.

NPS Photograph

Most people who see a bear in the wild consider it the highlight of their trip. However, food conditioned bears (bears that have become accustomed to human food and petroleum-based products, such as fuel and bug repellent in aerosol cans) can present a hazard to people traveling in the backcountry. If we all do our best to prevent negative interactions with bears and other wild animals, the backcountry will be a safer place for all, including the bear.

Avoiding Bear Encounters

  • Be alert at all times, in all places. Bears are active both day and night and can be found anywhere. Watch for their tracks and scat, as well as diggings and carcasses they may be feeding upon.
  • Avoid surprising bears. They may perceive you as a threat if you startle them.
  • Sing, shout, or make other loud noises as you walk to warn bears of your presence. Be especially careful in dense brush, where visibility is low, and along rivers, where bears cannot hear you over the noise of the water.
  • Never intentionally approach a bear. Bears should live as free from human interference as possible, so give them plenty of space.
  • Choose and set up your camping sites in a bear safe manner, use appropriate food storage, and always be conscientious when cooking.

If You Encounter a Bear

  • Do not run!Running may elicit a chase response from an otherwise non-aggressive bear. Bears can run faster than 30 mph (50 km/hr) -- you cannot outrun them. If the bear is unaware of you, detour quickly and quietly away. Give the bear plenty of room, allowing it to continue its activities undisturbed.
  • Back away slowly if the bear is aware of you but has not acted aggressively. Speak in a low, calm voice while waving your arms slowly above your head. Bears that stand up on their hind legs are not necessarily threatening you, but merely trying to identify you.
  • Should a bear approach or charge you, do not run -- do not drop your pack! Bears occasionally make bluff charges, sometimes coming within ten feet of a person before stopping or veering off. Dropping a pack may encourage the bear to approach people for food. STAND STILL until the bear moves away, then slowly back off.
  • If a defensive attack occurs(if you surprise a bear) it may be best for you to play dead. Curl up into a ball with your knees tucked into your stomach, and your hands laced around the back of your neck. Leave your pack on to protect your back and vital organs. If the attack is prolonged, change tactics and fight back vigorously.
  • If an unprovoked aggressive attack occurs(if you are sleeping in your tent and you feel a bear scratching or biting through your tent) you should fight back!

Report all bear incidents and encounters to a ranger! Park rangers and biologists need this information to document bear behavior for research and management purposes.


A word about firearms and bear repellent sprays:

Firearms should never be used as an alternative to common sense and sound bear avoidance principle. They are to be used for protection only as a last resort when an attack is imminent. Bears will sometime approach to within 10 feet before turning and running away. It is legal to shoot a bear in defense of life or property in Alaska ONLY if you have made efforts to avoid problems in the first place. Note: In the event a bear is killed for self-protection, you are responsible for ending your planned itinerary and transporting the skull and properly skinned hide with claws attached to the proper authorities. Further information on these regulations are available from the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game.

Defensive aerosol sprays which contain capsicum (red pepper extract) have been used as an alternative for protection against bear attacks. This spray, has proven effective in several situations. It is easy to carry and has a range of up to 6-8 yards. You must handle it carefully - if sprayed upwind, it may blow back into your face and disable you. Similarly, do not transport it in a vehicle or light plane unless it is in an air-tight container because accidental discharge could disable the driver or pilot. Check it frequently during your trip to be sure it hasn't accidentally discharged. If left to linger it may act as an attractant rather than repellent.


For more information on bears and bear safety check out these sites.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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