What to do if you meet a bear

bear on Alaska Highway

Although there are many kinds of bears, the two types of bear you will be most likely to encounter in Canada are black bears and grizzlies.

Know Your Bears

The main differences between black and grizzly bears are:

  • Grizzlies have a hump over their shoulders; black bears do not.
  • The highest point on a black bear is over its hind legs, whereas the highest point on a grizzly is their hump.
  • In looking at their profiles, the black bear’s face makes a straight line down to its nose, but the grizzly has a very distinct brow.
  • Claws are longer on the grizzly.
  • Tracks of grizzlies will include claw imprints, while those of a black bear often do not.

Both black bears and grizzlies eat primarily vegetation, including berries. However, in years when their natural food sources are scarce, they will forage widely for food – including human-made food.


How to Avoid Problems with Bears

bear on Alaska HighwayWhen you venture out into bear country, there are several things you can do to minimize risks:

  • Stay alert. Keep an eye out for bears and be sure to give them plenty of room. Look for signs of recent bear activity including tracks, scat, fresh diggings, or tree scratches.
  • Choose routes with good visibility whenever possible.
  • Travel in groups. Bears are less likely to be aggressive toward groups.
  • Make noise. Let the bears know you are there, especially in thick brush, berry patches, or near running water. Loud talking or singing is better than bells.
  • Don’t approach a bear for a better look. Use binoculars.
  • Choose a campsite well away from places known to attract bears – wildlife trails, spawning streams, and berry patches.
  • Keep all food and garbage in odor-proof containers and store it well away from your campsite – preferably downwind.


If You Do Encounter a Bear

Even if you do all the above, there is still a chance you might encounter a bear. If you do see a bear, stop, remain calm, and assess the situation.

If the bear does not know you’re there:

  • Move away quietly, being careful not to startle it. Shouting at the bear could provoke an attack.

If the bear is aware of your presence:

  • Stay calm.
  • Talk to it in a low respectful voice.
  • Wave your arms slowly.
  • Back slowly away, avoiding sudden movements.
  • Be certain not to run – running could trigger a chase.

bear on Alaska Highway

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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