Bear Attacks: Hollywood Vs Reality


We've all seen that television show and that movie.  There is a full-grown bear rushing toward the protagonist, and what do they do? Nothing! They instruct the group around them to stay still and the bear won't attack. I've always wondered if staying still would actually save your life. Though it depends on the type of bear, the proper way to deal with a bear attack is a little different than Hollywood has portrayed.

When confronting a Grizzly bear, the nature section of PBS suggests the following actions. If the bear is not approaching you, back away slowly and do not make eye contact with the bear so you do not instigate an attack. If the bear is already moving toward you, it is actually suggested that you do not try to run because you have a minimal chance of escape. While trying not to panic or yell, you are to wave your arms and in a soft voice try to shoo the bear away. If within 25 feet of you, you can use pepper spray on the bear if you have it. When the bear reaches you, do not try to fight back. Try to curl into a ball on the ground and wait for the attack to end. Make sure the bear has completely fled the area before you leave or seek help.



Grizzly Bear (Credit of

Washington State University provides slightly different tips for dealing with a black bear attack. Similar to confronting a grizzly attack, it is suggested that you avert eye contact and try to back away slowly if the bear is not approaching. Contrasting the more passive approach to confronting a grizzly bear, it is suggested that when a black bear begins to approach you, you should yell and even throw objects at its face. When the bear attacks, you are suggested to use whatever you have to fight back. Curling into a ball or lying down on the ground is only suggested as a last resort. 


black bear.jpeg

Black Bear (Credit of 

As Grizzly bears and black bears often live in the same general areas, it is crucial that when hiking you are able to differentiate between the two species. Using the wrong method could be fatal. For a list of characteristic differences visit the Yellowstone website.

I found the differences in defense techniques very intriguing. The way you are to confront two similar species is very different. This is actually kind of alarming as I fear that most people wouldn't even know what to do in the first place. While people would inclined to watch a television show that teaches the wrong way to handle a bear attack, how many people would want to read a manual describing proper survival tips? What do you guys think? Has our desire to be constantly entertained overcome are desire to know how to survive?



I have an issue with the PBS nature section here. I understand that maybe going into the fetal position is the best way to prevent a bear from attacking you, but what if you get into a ball and the bear proceeds to eat your face off? It seems logical to play dead and hope the bear moves elsewhere, but to me the idea of a bear running at you and your response is to curl up on the ground does not seem realistic. If it were me, I could see myself throwing something at the bear, or hoping I could find a tree high enough to which the bear couldn't get to.

I take issue with a lot of these strategies as well. First of all if you are going hiking in an area you know has bears in it, take some bear mace . You are not superman and attempting to run or assume the fetal position will only result in some sort of injury.

I am an active mountain biker and during the warmer months pretty much live in the mountains. I always carry some sort of mace and a blade larger than 10 inches in the off chance I find myself in this type of situation.

That being said I have encountered a black bear twice in the decade I have lived in State College. Once it was a family of black bears on a trail I was riding. I came around a turn and to my surprise there was a cub sitting there. I foolishly stopped and began to take pictures until I realized the mother was watching me from my right in a bush. I calmly got on my bike and rode off. They made no attempt to chase.

The second time I was actually hiking in the woods and found a smaller black bear. It took one look at me and kept walking. I did the same and had no issue.

That being said I have heard of hunters being attacked as well as hikers. Both times they tried to fight or assume some position and were still seriously injured. Make no mistake even if you "play dead" they are still going to investigate and that entails clawing at you and biting.

Call me egotistic, but if my choices are fight and get injured or lay there and still get injured you better believe I'm attempting to leave with a brand new bear claw necklace.

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