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Bear Awareness in

Yellowstone National Park

Resources Bear Awareness in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is bear country, grizzly and black bear, and both can pose a risk to your safety. They are found in every section of the park, and we as visitors should assume their presence when venturing out. As with any safety consideration, preventive measures should be taken to avoid a bear confrontation.

How to Avoid a Bear Encounter When Hiking

  1. Hike in groups of at least three, and more if possible, and stay close to each other. Statistically, the incidence of bear attacks drops dramatically when the group size is three or more.

  2. Avoid hiking at night, dawn, or dusk when bears are more active.

  3. Make noises, speak loudly, sing a song, especially when hiking in dense brush or forest area where visibility is limited, when by rushing waters, and when a wind is in your face. Your voice will let the bear know that you are human.

  4. Be alert and aware to your surroundings. Signs of bear activity, and possible proximity, include:

  • Bear Tracks: A five-toed print with claw mark indents distal to each toe print. The back foot track is longer and narrows toward the heel. The front foot track is more oval shaped with a rounded front and concave rear area. The heel pad of the front foot track usually does not show.

  • Bear Scat: Bear scat, or droppings, often looks like a cow pie and often has plant materials in it such as berries, grasses, etc.

  • Cache: A cache is where a bear has covered an animal carcass. If you spot a cache, avoid the area as a bear will often stay nearby its food cache. A cache has the appearance of a rounded and elevated mound that is partially covered by grasses, branches, and possibly dirt.

  • Scavenging Birds: A group of ravens or crows either sitting atop a mounded area or circling overhead, may indicate a carcass cache and should not be approached.

  • Diggings: Bears will search for food under rocks, in rodent burrows, and certain plant roots, leaving an area that appears to have been dug up.

  • Day Beds: A bear will often lay down during the day between feeding or traveling and flatten the vegetation. Nearby bear scat is a good indicator that the flattened area is from a bear verses another large animal.

    5- Avoid wearing scented substances, such as deodorants, cosmetics, and hair products. And, never spray yourself with bear spray as it can attract bears.


Responding to a Bear Encounter & Confrontation

  1. If while hiking you see a bear in the distance, stop any progress toward the bear and slowly attempt to leave the area or make a wide detour, ensuring the bear has a clear escape route.

  2. If while hiking a bear sees you, stand your ground, remain calm, and do not turn your back on the bear. If the bear disengages, back away slowly.

  • NEVER ATTEMPT TO RUN FROM A BEAR. This may trigger its chase instincts and there is no way you can outrun a bear that can reach speeds of 30+ miles per hour in a split second and cover 50 yards (46 m) or half a football field in less than three seconds.

   3. “Defensive” encounters with bear. If you surprised the bear, come upon its food cache, or if a female sow with cubs, and it appears to be agitated and aggressive (ears pulled back, lowers head and swings it side to side, paws at the ground, makes a woofing noise, snaps its teeth), the bear is behaving defensively.

  • Speak in a calm voice so the bear can identify you as human, remove your bear spray, and back away slowly.

  • If the bear charges: Stand your ground and spray the bear with your bear spray. (See instructions below for “Using Your Bear Spray Properly”)

  • If the bear engages/contacts you: If it is a grizzly bear, go face down on the ground, interlock your hands/fingers behind your neck to cover it with your hands, and spread your legs for balance against being rolled over. If the bear manages to roll you, continue to roll to the face down position again. The bear will often leave after it feels the threat has been eliminated. If it is a black bear, fight back with everything you got.


4.“Predatory” encounters with bear. If a bear (grizzly or black) continues to approach you in a slow and purposeful way, or disappears and reappears repeatedly, the bear is behaving predatory. The bear is stalking you as prey, and you must defend yourself.

  • Stand your ground and try to intimidate the bear. Look as large as possible, wave your

hands, shout intensely, throw rocks or sticks.

  • If the bear continues to stalk you, or charges, spray with bear spray, preferably when

the bear is within 40 feet. If you are wearing a backpack, take it off and throw it down in

the direction of the bear as a distraction.

  • If the bear attempts to make contact with you, or does make contact with you, fight

back with everything you got – a knife, rock, stick, your fist – and try to strike the bear’s

head, eyes, and snout.

NOTE:If you are planning on doing some hiking, camping or exploring while in Yellowstone I highly recommend stopping by Bear Aware - Bear Spray Rentals located in Canyon Village.  

Using Your Bear Spray Properly

  • How to carry: Always keep your bear spray by your side like a weapon or strapped to your chest as some devices now allow or even carried in your hand. Don’t keep it in a backpack, back pocket or anyplace you cannot reach it immediately. You may need it in a split-second time.

  • Preparing to spray: When indicated, remove your bear spray canister and hold firmly with one hand. With the other hand, put your index finger through the hole and make a fisted hand. With your thumb, pull or slide back to remove the safety guard.

  • Spraying: Do not spray unless the bear is charging. If charging, stand your ground, and when the bear is within 30 to 40 feet away (9 to 12 meters, depending on canister size), give a quick one to two second spray (holding with both hands) to create a mist or cloud barrier for the bear to run into. (Note: If you startle a bear at closer range, which is why most bear charges occur, you may need to spray as soon as possible.) The bear spray dilates the capillaries of the eyes causing temporary blindness, induces choking, coughing, and nausea, and causes the mucus membranes to swell, preventing all but life support breathing. This is intended to overwhelm the bear and cause it to leave the area.

  • If the bear continues to charge: Continue to spray in 2 second bursts, aiming at or just below the bear’s face, until the bear changes direction. Note: It is recommended to spray in bursts as a continuous spray can empty the canister in 6, 8 or 10 seconds depending on canister size. And, If it is raining or windy, you should wait until the bear is closer than 30 to 40 feet to begin discharging the spray as both conditions can reduce the effectiveness of the spray.

  • After discharging the spray: Leave the area promptly after use, keeping your spray ready, as the effect of the spray will eventually wear off.

Important: It is recommended that every person in your hiking group that has the capacity to carry and properly use bear spray should carry at least one canister of spray with them.

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