What Does Being ‘Bear Aware’ Mean?

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An image of how to store food properly out in the woods near bears

Encountering wildlife while exploring nature can be an incredible and humbling experience. However, in certain parts of the country, you must constantly remain bear aware.

If you fail to do so, you could end up in a risky situation. Don’t expect these monstrous creatures to be as friendly as Smokey Bear or Winnie the Pooh.

Today, we’re unpacking what the term ‘bear aware’ means and how to stay safe during outdoor adventures. Let’s get started!

Where Do Bears Live?

Regarding bears, almost every state, except Hawaii, has had some bear presence. However, sightings are rare for a handful of states throughout the Midwest. As a result, you must familiarize yourself with bear safety if you plan to spend time exploring the wilderness.

Black bears are the most widely distributed bear in the United States. They can adapt to their environment and live as far south as Florida and north as Alaska.

They have a significant presence in California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. 

Additionally, brown bears are another common type of bear in the US. One of the most known and feared types of brown bears is the grizzly bear. They’re predominantly in Alaska, but some roam throughout the Rocky Mountains and Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington.

A bear crossing the street

Are Bears Dangerous?

Like any wild animal, there’s a certain level of danger during encounters in their natural habitat.

These creatures can behave very unpredictably, and the level of risk depends on the situation. You’re in trouble if they’re hungry or injured, but especially if you get between them and their cubs or a food source.

Thankfully, bear attacks are uncommon—with an estimated 40 attacks on humans yearly. While the odds of avoiding a dangerous situation are in your favor, you don’t want to take any chances. Do all that you can to prevent encounters.

What Does Being ‘Bear Aware’ Mean?

Being ‘bear aware’ means understanding their behavior, where they live, and basic safety precautions. However, knowledge will only do you good if you apply it. Being bear aware means using that knowledge while spending time in the wilderness.

Being bear aware will affect how you maintain your campsite, bring gear, and conduct yourself. Safety is one area we believe you can never take too seriously. By staying bear aware, you help protect yourself and the wildlife.

A sign of what to do when interacting with bears in the wilderness

Tips for Being Bear Aware

Are you planning to spend time in the bear country? If so, we have some tips to help you stay aware during your adventures. Let’s take a look!

Make Noise

One of the last things you want to do is startle a bear. If you do, it could cause a defensive response from them. The best way to avoid surprising these large creatures is to make noise.

Many hikers use hiking bells to constantly create noise while they explore the great outdoors. However, you can also do this by playing music, singing, or conversing with other hikers.

You must be extra careful in noisy areas. For example, you may want to swim at the base of a waterfall or in rapids. However, the noise from the rushing water can make it challenging to hear.

If a large creature comes looking to score a meal and finds you, the situation can quickly turn serious.

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Travel in Groups

Another effective way to increase safety in bear country is to travel in groups.

Sticking together minimizes surprise encounters with these hairy and powerful beasts. You’re likely to maintain conversations with each other and naturally make noise.

If you encounter a bear, they’ll be more likely to leave a large group alone. Spread out and make the group seem as large as possible. However, you want to do all you can to de-escalate the situation. Group travel can give you confidence and security in a tense situation.

Carry Bear Spray

Carrying bear spray is a good idea whenever you enter areas frequented by bears. However, these encounters can happen quickly. As a result, you need to store bear spray somewhere that is easily accessible.

You can use a chest holster, or some brands include a belt clip holster. These methods help ensure that your source of protection is always within reach.

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It’s a good idea to test and practice using bear spray beforehand. You don’t want to wait until you’re face-to-face with an angry bear to figure it out. You can find practice canisters that can help increase your familiarity and confidence. 

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Store Food Properly

Bears have a sense of smell that’s exponentially more powerful than humans. Bears can smell their next meal from over a mile away. The National Park Service discusses an account of a bear in California that traveled approximately three miles to snack on a deer carcass.

Because they have a strong sense of smell, you must recognize how you store food. Some wilderness areas require individuals to use bear-resistant containers to store food. These are sturdy and rugged materials that will keep your food safe.

If bear-resistant containers are unavailable, always store your food at least 100 yards from where you’re camping. Hang it from a tree branch at least 10 to 15 feet from the ground. You also want it to be four feet from the tree trunk.

It’s also a good idea to cook and eat at least 100 yards away from where you plan to sleep at night. You don’t want a bear to smell food and work up an appetite. The last thing you want in your campsite is a hungry bear looking for a meal.

An image of how to store food properly out in the woods near bears

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

When exploring an area with a reputation for bear activity, you must stay aware of your surroundings. Scan your surroundings for tracks, scat, or torn-up vegetation.

Remember to use your ears too. Bears are large creatures that will make noise as they maneuver through an area. In addition, they’ll likely make noises as they breathe or if you get too close to them.

Another way to stay aware of your surroundings is to check signage and speak with local officials. If there have been recent or frequent bear activities, they’ll often do their best to inform the public. They may request or require you to find a different area to explore.

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Close up of bear tracks

Keep Your Distance

If you do spot a bear, keep your distance. If you’re within 100 yards of a bear, you’re far too close. Most bears can move very quickly, and their massive stride can result in them catching you in seconds.

Invest in binoculars or zoom lenses to observe bears from a safe distance. These devices allow you to look closer without encroaching on their personal space. While we understand you may want to document the experience with a photograph, no photograph is worth risking your safety.

Two Grizzly Bears outside in the woods

Stay Calm and Avoid Sudden Movements

During a bear encounter, you must stay calm and avoid sudden movements. While it can be an intense experience, people tend to make irrational decisions when panicked or stressed. Sudden movements can be perceived as a threat and may cause a defensive reaction.

Do not turn your back on the bear and back away slowly. Talk calmly but firmly with the bear and tell them you’re not a threat. While they may not speak English, the words can help to assure them you don’t mean any harm.

One of the worst things you can do is to turn and run. As we mentioned, bears have a long stride and can run incredibly fast. No matter how fast you think you are, bears are roughly two or three times faster. You won’t stand a chance, and it will likely result in a predatory response.

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Follow Local Regulations and Guidelines

Wildlife officials have a critical job of protecting humans, wildlife, and natural habitats for the animals. Regulations and educational efforts promote a sense of coexistence between humans and nature.

By following local regulations and guidelines, you’re helping rangers and other officials do their job. Not only should you obey all of these rules, but you should also support their efforts by donating your time and money. This helps ensure these environments remain available for future generations to enjoy.

A sign about Grizzly Bears out in a nature area

Stay Safe by Bearing Bear Aware

By staying bear aware, you can help ensure you have a safe and enjoyable adventure. While the risks of an encounter or risky situation are low, they’re far from zero.

The more precautions you take, the more you increase your safety and reduce the chances of a dangerous encounter. So get out and enjoy the wilderness, but stay bear aware so you can stay safe.

Last update on 2024-06-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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