A bear running right at you. Image credit: Michal Ninger / shutterstock.com

First of all, if you've found this article through a panicked Google search, good luck. Second, don't be tempted into the old joke advice of merely having to outrun a slower friend. 

When you encounter a bear, your instincts will tell you to run (or, let's be honest, to cry and soil yourself before begging for mercy whilst listing your favorite bears in the hope it takes pity on you). All of those are bad ideas, as the National Parks Service points out.

"If you come upon a stationary bear, move away slowly and sideways; this allows you to keep an eye on the bear and avoid tripping. Moving sideways is also non-threatening to bears. Do NOT run, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. Like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals. Do NOT climb a tree. Both grizzlies and black bears can climb trees," the service writes. "Do NOT push down a slower friend (even if you think the friendship has run its course)."

The main point of their advice is easily the most difficult: Remain calm. It is possible, as these women with nerves of steel will demonstrate.

"Most bears do not want to attack you; they usually just want to be left alone. Don’t we all?" the service wrote.

They do however advise you to make human noises to try and appear as least prey-like as possible: "We recommend using your voice. (Waving and showing off your opposable thumb means nothing to the bear)." They make a good point.

Bears may come closer to inspect you and stand up on their hind legs to get a better smell. Though this probably won't help you to stay calm in the situation, they usually do this out of curiosity rather than as a threat. 

On the NPS website, they warn that bear behavior can be unpredictable and there is no single strategy that will work in order to guarantee safety. If none of the above advice works and you are being attacked by a brown/grizzly bear, you should lie on your front with your hands clasped behind your neck and play dead, spreading your legs to make it more difficult for the bear to flip you over. Then you lie and hope the bear leaves you alone, and only move once it has left the area. If the attack continues, you should fight back using whatever you can to hit the bear in the face.

For black bears, you should not play dead and instead, try to escape to a car or a building. If you can't do that and the bear attacks, you should fight back against the bear, aiming your blows at the bear's face and muzzle.

Your best bet, of course, is always to avoid an encounter with a bear in the first place, following the advice and trails at national parks around the US.

However, just to remind hikers, using others as a human shield is not an option, the National Parks Service concluded: "P.S. We apologize to any 'friends' who were brought on a hike as the 'bait' or were sacrificed to save the group. You will be missed."

A version of this article was originally published in August 2020.


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