Traveling Safely in Bear Country
Bear Encounters in Yellowstone

Bears & Bear Encounters in Yellowstone

This is one of THE most important topics regarding backcountry travel in Yellowstone. Educating yourself about bears, their appearance and behavior is important if you plan on spending time hiking or backpacking in the Yellowstone ecosystem. There are an estimated 600 grizzlies living in Yellowstone and although encounters are rare, if you frequent the backcountry, eventually you will run into a bear(s).

For the most part all bears are generally shy, solitary animals except during the mating season or if the bear is a mother with cubs. If given enough warning bears will usually avoid confrontations with humans. While traveling through the wilderness in Yellowstone it's important to pay attention to your surroundings and make plenty of noise so you can reduce the chances of a surprise encounter. If you should meet a grizzly bear on the trail DO NOT RUN. This will trigger the bears natural predatory instinct and it could charge or chase you. Bears can sprint at nearly 30 mph so trying to outrun a bear is futile. Stay calm and back away slowly. If you're in a group, stay together so you appear larger to the grizzly. Avoid eye contact and talk softly. Remove your bear spray and assess the situation further. Always take note of the wind direction if you plan on using your bear spray. On windy days it may do YOU more harm than the bear if a strong breeze carries the pepper spray back in your direction.

If the bear exhibits the following behavior; huffing, growling, jaw popping or swatting at the ground the bear is clearly agitated and may charge. Back away slowly.

If a bear does charge you try to remain calm and stand your ground. This is often a bluff charge and the bear will abruptly stop and or veer away at the last minute. However, if the bear makes contact lie face down and cover your neck with your hands. Leave your backpack on for additional protection and lie still until the bear has moved off.

It is nearly impossible to predict how any bear encounter will unfold. Like people, bears have their own personalities and while some may be naturally aggressive, other bears may be more docile. Every situation is unique and requires good judgement to prevent possible injury or death. Signs posted at most trailheads within Yellowstone display the following message; "There is no guarantee for your safety in bear country."

Preventing Bear Attacks

• Make noise when hiking. Clap, shout or sing.
• If approached DO NOT RUN - bears may interpret you as prey if you run.
• Never approach a female bear with cubs for any reason.
• Do not hike after dark.
• Watch for signs of animals including tracks and scat.
• Carry bear spray and know how and when to use it.
• Avoid animal carcasses. Bears may be feeding or resting nearby.

NOTE: Although extremely rare, any bear attack that takes place at night is considered predatory and you must do everything you can to defend yourself. This is a dangerous bear. The strategy in this situation is different and you must fight back.

Identifying Black Bears & Grizzly Bears in the Wild

Identification is always important when observing bears in the backcountry. Proper recognition will allow you to act appropriately should you come face-to-face with a black bear or grizzly bear. Do not rely solely on coloring to identify either species of bear. Both animals share similar color characteristics.

Can you spot the differences between these two bears?

Here are a few physical attributes that will help you determine the differences between a black bear and a grizzly bear.

Black Bears (Ursus americanus)
Black bears tend to utilize the forested areas more than grizzlies and their claws are better suited for climbing trees to escape danger or other predators. Although generally less aggressive than grizzlies it is still best to give them their space as well.

• Black bears are black, brown or cinnamon colored (not reliable for identification).
• No prominent shoulder hump like the grizzly bear.
• Black bear claws are much shorter with a greater curve or hook (1 1/2" in length).
• Black bears weigh between 150-300 lbs. with males being heavier than females.
• The snout is straighter and more pronounced on a black bear.
• Ears are taller on black bears.
• Rear end is higher than the shoulder.

Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos horribilis)
While grizzly bears can be found anywhere in the park they tend to forage in open meadows, and the larger valleys which are a major part of the landscape in Yellowstone. Grizzly bears have a wider territory than black bears and like most animals they will use the trail systems in the park to travel from one area to another as they look for food.

• Grizzly bears tend to be brown, cinnamon or blonde colored.
• Grizzlies have a very pronounced shoulder hump.
• Grizzly bear claws are much longer with less of a curve (2-4" in length).
• Grizzly bears weigh between 200-700 lbs. Males are much larger than females.
• The snout is shorter and the face is rounder compared to that of a black bear.
• Ears are smaller than those of a black bear.

Bears & Bear Spray

If you're planning a day hike or a week long backpacking trip in Yellowstone we recommend carrying a can of bear/pepper spray. This product works and it could save your life in the event of a bear attack. If you've never used bear spray before it's important to understand how the product works and what to do during a bear encounter.

Staying alert and make noise while hiking will greatly reduce your chances of surprising a bear. Carry the bear spray on your hip belt or chest so you can grab the canister as quickly as possible if needed. Don't keep it hidden inside of a backpack or out of reach. Seconds make all the difference. When in camp or while sleeping keep the canister nearby with the safety clip in place. The safety cap is designed to glow in the dark so you can find it even at night. If you're traveling with a group each person should carry their own canister of bear spray and should understand how to use it. It may be up to you to help another backpacker should a surprise attack occur on the trail.

Bear & Bear Spray Safety Tips
• First, DO NOT RUN! A bears natural instincts will interpret you as prey if you run.
• Try to remain calm.
• If a bear charges use the pepper spray at a distance of 30 ft. if possible.
• Be aware of the wind direction before discharging the pepper spray.
• Do not use pepper spray on clothing or backpacks.

We recommend the UDAP Pepper Power brand bear spray. It has a range of up to 30 feet and produces a broad, powerful blast of highly concentrated red pepper (Oleoresin Capsicum) and the cloud is easily visible. The product is oil based which means the spray will remain airborne much longer. This also means that if you get any on you it's not going to come off easily and can spread to other areas of the body, face or eyes. Wash all clothing and other items that come in to contact with pepper spray thoroughly.

Read the directions carefully before using this product. Bear spray is very potent and it could severely disable you or those hikers nearby if discharged improperly.

Note: Carrying bear spray does NOT give you a reason to seek out bears or attempt to get closer to other wild animals. Use common sense and enjoy wildlife from a safe distance.

Recycling Bear Spray Canisters
Ever wonder what you should do with old bear spray canisters? Depending on the brand bear spray has a shelf life of around 3-4 years. UDAP states a can will last for 3 years and Counter Assault is about 4 years. If you've exceeded that timeframe you should consider investing in a new canister. Aerosol cans lose their pressure naturally over time so it's best to check the date on the canister and replace based on the manufacturers recommendations.

If you're traveling in the park you can drop off used or expired canisters at the entrance stations as well as most hotels and stores. Visit the Bear Spray Recycling website for a complete list of locations that recycle bear spray canisters.

Safety Regulations When Flying
FAA & TSA regulation for mace and pepper spray are as follows:
"Self Defense Sprays - one 4 ounce (118ml) container of mace or "pepper" spray is permitted in checked baggage provided it is equipped with a safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge. Self Defense Sprays containing more than 2% by mass of Tear Gas (CS or CN) are prohibited in checked baggage."

Before flying visit the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for a comprehensive list of items prohibited in carry-on bags or checked luggage.

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