Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

What to do if you encounter a bear

Stay safe in bear country

Former Forest Technology instructor Bruce Avery had a close encounter with a young bear during a summer job in the Whitecourt area in the late ’70s. A black bear came within 4.5 metres (15 feet) as he and a co-worker were taking a timber inventory. The pair stood their ground, yelled and blew their whistles as the bear made several false charges. Eventually, the bear got bored and left.

Avery, who has since spotted several bears before they noticed him and has quietly backed away, says that were he to have the same encounter today, he would make lots of noise and slowly back away while keeping the bear in sight. And he’d have his bear spray ready.

Avery’s advice is based on the Alberta Safety Council teachings.

When in bear country

Be aware of your surroundings. Watch for:

  • fresh tracks,
  • scat,
  • diggings or claw marks on trees, and
  • torn stumps and logs.
     

Travel during daylight hours.

Never travel alone.

Make lots of noise. Shout, talk loudly or use noisemakers, such as bear bells or rocks in a can. “Bear bells may drive you nuts walking for hours, too. It’s a preference,” Avery says. “I’m just an advocate of making lots of noise.”

Store food away from your camp. Hang food about 4 metres (13 feet) from the ground and 1.3 metres (4 feet) from top and side supports or use a bear-resistant bin if one is available at the campsite.

bear sprayIf you encounter a bear

Stay calm. Assess the situation. If the bear is unaware of you, quietly and quickly back away. Stay downwind if possible. If you still need to head in that direction, wait awhile and detour around the area where you spotted the bear.

If the bear sees you, leave the area by backing away slowly. Keep the bear in sight at all times until you are a safe distance away.

Bear spray should only be used with an aggressive or attacking bear:

  • Remove the safety clip.
  • Aim for the face.
  • Spray a brief one-second shot when the bear is within 15 metres. Never spray into the wind.
  • If the bear stops to clean its face, quietly leave the area.

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