Are you planning a trip to Alaska and are wondering what to do if you encounter a bear during your trip?
Alaska is a land of natural beauty, blessed with spectacular landscapes and abundant wildlife, including Bears.
In fact, it’s one of the few places in the world where the three species of Bears found in North America live.
While you’re most likely to encounter Black Bears in the forest areas and Polar Bears in the sea ice and in the tundra located in northern and western Alaska, Brown Bears (Grizzly Bears) can be found everywhere in the State. Experts have estimated that the Alaskan “Grizzly” Brown Bear population is holding strong at about 40,000 individuals, about 40x the number in the Lower 48. If you include all bear types and considering Alaska’s population is only 670,000, that’s one bear for every 21 people.
So, what to do if you encounter one of these mighty, powerful animals that sometimes grow up to 1,500 lbs ?
In this guide, we’ll provide three tips to avoid Brown Bear attacks before explaining what to do if you come across a Grizzly Bear during your travels or during Bear Viewing adventures here in Alaska.
3 Tips To Stay Safe Around Bears
Never Come Close To Bears
Bears tend to ignore people or they at least try to, and if you leave them alone, chances are they’ll ignore you too.
So, one of the most important things to remember is to never approach bears. Give them their space. Let them know you are there and call out “Hey Bear, Coming Through” even if you can’t see one. Almost all Bears have terrible eye sight, but what they lack in vision they make up with their smell, and the chances are they will smell you before they see you. However you don’t want to startle a Brown Bear as you will find out why they are called Grizzly, more on that later.
Here are a few facts you need to know about Bears and their personal space:
If you enter a Bear’s personal space, they might feel threatened and become aggressive. If this happens talk to the Bear in a low voice, facing the Bear walk backwards very slowly and make yourself look as big as possible. Try and maintain at least 400yrds and never run from a Bear, it will chase after you and chances are will catch you.
The females will feel even more threatened if they perceive you as a threat to their young. So stay clear of small cubs if you see them, chances as Mumma is near by.
Bears use roads and trails. So, to avoid invading their personal space, don’t camp near a trail you know they might be using. Always check for tracks and their sizeable #2s and look for signs posted about recent sightings.
Never stop in an area where you can see or smell fish or animal carcasses. It could be a Bear’s catch, and they might become aggressive if they think you’re trying to steal their dinner!
Don’t Feed Bears
After hibernating, Brown Bears only have a few months to gather food before winter. And even though they don’t spend all of their time looking for food, they strive for efficiency when hunting and eating the food they need to survive. This means that they’re particularly attracted by easy food.
Here are a few things you should do to avoid attracting them with food when cooking and camping:
• Keep a clean camp, clean clothes, and avoid cooking smelly and greasy food like bacon. If Bears can smell bacon on your clothes or dishes, they’ll come looking for it.
• Place all of your food in Bear-resistant containers or Bear canisters. This one from REI in the US is perfect.
• Cook away from your tent and store the food away from it, at least 150yrds.
• Burn food waste as Bears are attracted to garbage. Alternatively, you can also place your garbage in a Bear-proof garbage can and hang it from a tree using string.
• Items such as deodorants, toothpaste, or soap have a strong smell and can attract Bears. Therefore, these items should be stored away from your tent or in specially designed air-tight containers.
NEVER knowingly feed Bears, they will grow to associate food with humans, which will lead to serious injury or death to someone, even if that’s not you. So for the safety of all, NEVER FEED A GRIZZLY BEAR.
Don’t Startle Bears
If you surprise a Bear, they might feel threatened and become aggressive.
So, here are a few tips on how to avoid surprising a Bear.
Make a lot of noise when walking, as we mentioned before “Hey Bear” or talking in a group at all times will alert the bears to your location. The Department of Fish and Game recommends clapping, talking loudly, or singing while hiking. You can also carry a Bear Safety Bell.
This way, you’re letting bears know you’re there, allowing them to walk away to avoid an encounter with you. If you happen to walk through dense vegetation, make extra noise. Hiking in a group is safer as groups make more noise and are easier for bears to detect.
Even better, hire a local pro guide for your group to help you stay safe at all times. Especially in places you are not familiar with.
How To Deal With Close Encounters?
While nothing can ever guarantee your safety while traveling in “Bear Country”, knowing how bears behave and what can set them off can help reduce the risks.
If, after following the three rules mentioned above, you still end up close to a Bear, especially a Brown Bear, here are the main things you should do:
If you see a Bear, but the Bear hasn’t seen or smelt you yet, circle far around while keeping your eyes on them.
If a Bear sees you, don’t panic. Sure, it’s easy to say, but staying calm and standing your ground can be surprisingly effective. Bears are curious in nature so try to keep your cool, stand your ground, wave your arm slowly above your head and speak or make noise in a normal voice. Then back up slowly. If the Bear follows you, then stop and hold your ground.
If a Bear comes close and stands on its hind legs, it’s most likely curious about you. This is not always aggressive behavior. If the Bear continues to approach, use pans or other cooking utensils to make loud noise and deter the Bear. Using hiking poles is also another technique. If the Bear is upwind and you’re carrying Bear spray, time to use it!
Never run from a charging bear. They’re much faster than humans, and they’ll chase you. Instead, stand your ground. If they’re coming really close, play dead. Lie on the floor still in a fetal position to protect your vital organs. If you happen to be wearing a backpack, lay on your front, use the backpack to protect your spine. Place your hands behind your neck to protect it. Lying still can deter Bears from coming any closer.
Don’t climb a tree to get away from a bear, all bears are supreme climbers and no matter how good your skills are any bear will equal it.
In the rare event of an attack, fight back by hitting them on the muzzle or face with any object you can find, carry a small knife if possible which is close to your hip or backpack strap for easy access.
Bear attacks are rare and common sense can often prevent deadly encounters.
However, nothing beats exploring the Bear Country with a guide who knows exactly how to handle this type of situation. Our Kodiak Photo Workshop has been designed to allow nature lovers and photographers like you to explore the incredible Kodiak Island safely and observe Brown Bears in their natural habitat. On ALL of our fly-outs and workshops we include a pro-guide to keep us safe, these guys and gals are in the wilderness all the time, we love they keep us and our guests safe.
So, if you’re after a true Alaskan experience and would love to safely photograph these majestic animals, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Come and observe Kodiak Brown Bears on our epic photography workshop.