October 19, 2018

Bears: Looking Big and Making Noise Not Always a Working Solution

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I’ve always ridiculed the advice given by people, mostly from those who have never encountered a threatening bear, that when you are encountering a bear, even an outright attack, “look big” and “make loud noises” to frighten a bear away.

Over the past weekend, I was part of a discussion that included a woman that I went to high school with. I had known for several years that she was once treed by a bear near her home while she was out for a walk. It seems that in the past 25 or 30 years, she and her husband have had several encounters with bears at and near their home.

The woman told us that the area around their home has historically been ideal habitat for bears and seeing the animals around their home is a common occurrence.

The day she was treed by a bear, it happened quickly, as one might suspect. She tried the “slowly backing away” approach which only afforded her time to reach a small tree a few feet away. The tree was small enough that she could shimmy up the tree just far enough out of the reach of the bear and also small enough that the bear could not climb it.

The bear persisted to a point where the woman was slipping and losing her grip but she hung on.

She didn’t realize at the time that the bear, once realizing it couldn’t get her from the tree, tried a different tactic – it retreated but only far enough to hide behind a tree. The woman emphasized that in many of her encounters with bears, this seems to be a common method of attack – to hide and wait in ambush.

When she got back down on the ground, she spotted the bear attempting to hide behind a big tree. She quietly snuck away and when she thought she was far enough away from the bear, she ran like hell for home.

What is most interesting is that in telling of the several other bear encounters, most of them right around the house, she was emphatic in saying that the advice to “look big” and “make a lot of noise” is quite ineffective. On multiple occasions, particularly once when a bear forced both the husband and wife into their garden shed, they did their best to “look big,” yelled and made as much noise as they could only to witness the bear basically ignoring their actions.

It is important to note that both of these people, who are not your typical “scaredy-cats” felt threatened by this and all other attacks. They find the advice always given worthless from their own experiences.

I would suppose the takeaway from all of this is that one probably should not completely abandon the advice given but to realize that it is ALWAYS under the circumstances of the moment that determine the actions and reactions of a bear. Perhaps it is for that reason, if someone is regularly hiking in bear country and/or seem to have regular bear visitors to their home, they should consider having at their disposal some other tool to deter a bear other than remembering to “look big” and “make noise.”

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