How do I deal with bear encounters?

In Ontario, there are a lot of black bears, and most of them tend to live where we like to go camping. From a bear’s perspective, humans are probably seen as everything from an annoying nuisance, to a delicious source of food (what we leave behind, not us!) to a terrifying menace that shoots their loved ones. It really depends a lot on the humans.

As confusing as humans can be (and likely because of how confusing we are) a black bear’s normal instinct is to stay away and leave us alone. There are only a few exceptions to this rule, which we will cover below.

One: Human makes a mess and leaves food out. The forest is a very diverse ecosystem, but is utterly devoid of restaurants. As such, bears are almost always on the lookout for food. If you leave food – or anything smelly that can be mistaken for food – on your campsite, bears will come and try and eat it. If you happen to BE on the site while this is happening, mistakes can be made, misunderstanding are possible, and the bears can get upset.

Even worse, the more this happens, the more the bears come to expect that food will be on campsite. The more they will visit, and the more problems can arise. There have been far too many instances of bears wandering into human-only zones, only to be shot by terrified humans.

Two: Human gets between a mother and her cubs. Like human moms, bear moms are super protective of their cubs. If you happen to wander between a mother and her cub, she will probably see it as a threat and get very, very, upset with you.

Three: Human and bear meet by chance. This occasionally happens. Usually a bear will do what it can to avoid us, but ever-so-often a bear will be caught unaware and a close encounter will take place. Both the bear and the human are usually terrified at this point, so proceed with caution.

What to do:

DO NOT run. Running will trigger a predator-prey instinct and the bear will chase you. Bears are faster than you, and can run and swim better than you. They will catch you and mess you up. Don’t run.  

DO NOT charge at the bear. This is lunacy.

DO NOT make eye contact. This is a sign of aggression, and remember, the bear is bigger and stronger than you are.  

DO make yourself big and loud. Talk in loud voices, bang pots together, hold canoe paddles in the air, and do anything you can to make yourself seems like too much of a hassle for the bear to attack you.

DO calmly back away, showing the bear that you are not a threat. Keep doing this until you are a safe distance away. Then keep doing it.

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