A man running away from a bear.

The Wrong Way to Handle a Bear Encounter

Spotting a bear in the wild can be a heart-pounding experience. However, it could become deadly if you don’t know how to handle a bear encounter.

If you’re visiting some of the most popular national and state parks, you must know how to handle these situations. Luckily, there are some things you can avoid doing to help keep you safe.

Today, we’re diving into some of the biggest mistakes you should avoid when handling a bear encounter.

Let’s get started!

Where Do Bears Live in the United States?

Bears have had a presence in 49 of the 50 states in the United States. Hawaii is the lone state that has never had a bear population. Overall, Alaska has the highest population of brown and black bears.

However, the states of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and North Dakota have no breeding populations. As a result, sightings in these states have become extremely rare or non-existent.

To increase safety, it’s critical to familiarize yourself with the potential dangers unique to where you’ll be adventuring. If you spend time outdoors in bear country, carry bear spray and take the proper precautions.

How Common are Bear Encounters?

Bear encounters are somewhat rare, but they can and do occur. Because many meetings go unreported, it’s hard for officials to provide any hard-and-fast numbers. However, there are typically only a handful of deaths each year due to bears. Unfortunately, some years are more deadly than others.

If you take the proper precautions, you can drastically decrease the risks of encountering a bear. Knowing how to handle bear encounters properly can also help avoid escalating the situation.

The Wrong Way to Handle a Bear Encounter

If you’re unaware, there’s a right and a wrong way to handle a bear encounter. These situations can be stressful and chaotic. However, handling them correctly could mean the difference between walking away or not.


It may be easier said than done, but one of the worst ways to handle a bear encounter is to panic. Like many other animals, bears can sense panic in humans and may interpret it as a threat. This can ignite the bear’s defensive or aggressive mechanisms and worsen the situation.

Additionally, most people don’t think clearly when they panic. This can result in further bad decisions that escalate the encounter. Like a car going down a steep hill without brakes, the situation will get more intense and likely not end well.

Running Away

Another mistake you want to avoid making is running away from the scene. While they may be massive creatures, some bears can run approximately 20 to 35 miles per hour.

Unfortunately, the fastest human being in the world ran approximately 27.33 miles per hour. Most of us wouldn’t stand a chance in a foot race with a bear.

Instead of running away, your best bet is to slowly back away from the scene. Avoid making any sudden or drastic movements. Again, the bear may interpret them as a threat and respond accordingly.

A man running away from a bear.

Getting Too Close

The next wrong way to handle a bear encounter is to get too close. Most national and state parks require visitors to stay at least 100 yards from bears. Bears are curious by nature and may not keep their distance. However, we’ve seen far too many videos and pictures of guests purposefully violating these rules.

As mentioned, bears are incredibly fast, and getting too close to them can be a significant mistake. They could be on top of you or a loved one in the blink of an eye.

Avoid getting too close if you want to handle a bear encounter correctly. Invest in a quality pair of binoculars and enjoy the view from a safe distance. This can help you avoid encroaching on their space or putting yourself between a mom and her cubs.

A bear walking in a national park.

Making Direct Eye Contact

Another mistake that many people make is not avoiding direct eye contact with the animal. In general, most animals interpret direct eye contact as a challenge. Direct eye contact is typically a sign of dominance in the animal kingdom. A bear may interpret your stares as aggression and respond accordingly.

Instead of staring directly into the animal’s eyes, focus on something near them. Use your peripheral vision to keep an eye on it. Remain calm and back away from the scene slowly. However, don’t turn your back as you leave the scene.

Feeding or Approaching the Bear with Food

One of the worst ways you can handle a bear encounter is to attempt to feed or approach it with food. Not only is this incredibly dangerous, but it’s also illegal in many places. By doing so, you put your life and the bears at risk.

Bears can become a severe threat to humans when they begin to view them as a food source. They may inhabit campgrounds and other high-traffic areas.

They’ll also become more aggressive when their attempts to get food are unsuccessful. This can result in increased human-bear encounters and the potential for danger.

Additionally, you may unintentionally feed bears by not storing your food correctly. If you will spend time in bear country, brush up on how to store your food correctly. Some campgrounds will provide bear boxes or containers and require visitors to use them.

A bear approaching a man out in nature.

Climbing a Tree

Despite their massive size, bears are incredibly skilled climbers. They’ll dig their huge claws into the trunk of a tree and scale a tree incredibly quickly.

As a result, climbing a tree is another terrible idea when trying to escape a bear. You limit your options and increase the risk of death or injury should you fall out of the tree.

Instead of climbing a tree, you should look for a path to make your escape slowly. Carrying the proper equipment, including bear spray, can come in handy should a bear become aggressive. However, it’s essential to take the time to familiarize yourself with how to use it correctly.

What a nightmare! An RVer discovered their brand new RV had been crushed by a tree.

Playing Dead (Sometimes)

Many believe playing dead is a good idea during intense bear encounters. However, this is only advisable during certain types of bear encounters. Playing dead is best when you’re dealing with a grizzly bear.

This is because they’re less likely to be intimidated by a human and won’t stop attacking until they no longer view you as a threat.

Playing dead is typically a last resort for survival. Make sure you exhaust all other options before attempting to test out your acting skills. If all goes as planned, you’ll want to continue to lay there until the animal leaves the area.

On the other hand, if you’re dealing with a black bear, your best bet is to stand your ground. You’ll want to appear as large and intimidating as possible. Grab large branches and sticks and make as much noise as possible.

Handle a Bear Encounter the Right Way

Knowing how to handle a bear encounter can mean the difference between life and death. Unfortunately, in most of these situations, no two are the same.

Do yourself a favor and prepare before setting off on an adventure in bear country. Gather the right tools and equipment to ensure you and your loved ones remain safe. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Do you have any other tips for handling bear encounters? 

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