Menu Close

Day Hikers: Are You Making These Bear Safety Mistakes?

Bella, a Grizzly Bear at the Montana Grizzly Experience in Bozeman, Montana. The large brown bear is sitting on a large rock. A mountainous landscape is in the background.
Bella at the Montana Grizzly Experience.

Do you know all you need to know to hike bear country without becoming a Grizzly’s meal? Chris and I thought we did. Then, we went to the Montana Grizzly Encounter in Bozeman. As we admired beautiful Bella, a rescued Grizzly bear, we listened to a Keeper Talk and learned that we’ve been ringing dinner bells and packing appetizers to make an easy and complete meal of ourselves for bears. 

When we started hiking in North Vancouver, home to a significant black bear population, we wore bear bells, packed protein bars just in case we got lost and needed sustenance, and carried bear spray zipped inside the backpack Chris carried – safe and secure. During the Keeper Talk at the Montana Grizzly Encounter, we learned the bear bells we wore to deter bears were more likely to call the bears to dinner, our protein bars smelled like a nice appetizer to them, and that we’d have no time to get to the bear spray when we needed it. 

How to Stay Safe While Hiking in Bear Country

Lucky for us (and you), bears typically don’t want to be around us any more than we want to be around them. In case you encounter a bear on the trail, it’s best to be prepared and stay calm. Here are nine things we learned (and reviewed) at the Montana Grizzly Encounter Keeper Talk:

1. “Brown, get down. Black attack.”

If you see a brown bear, aka a Grizzly, lie down and play dead. If you find yourself face-to-face with a black bear, stay on your feet, make yourself big, get loud if it comes toward you, and if necessary, attack it with all you’ve got.

2. Brown Bear, Get Down, Face Down.

If you encounter a Grizzly bear and it becomes necessary to get down, lay face down on the ground. If you have a backpack, keep it on your back. Why? Grizzly bears need a lot of calories, so they spend them with care by going for the easiest bite possible. If they bite your backpack, you’re still alive. Isn’t that nice? If, like me, you don’t carry a backpack when you hike, make sure your butt is your next highest point. A bite to the butt will hurt, but chances are you’ll live. 

3. Scream on the inside.

If a Grizzly bites you, resist the urge to scream. The bear will want to make the sound stop, so they’ll go after the source of the screaming – your head and neck.

4. Black Bear, Attack. Yes, Attack.

Make yourself big and get loud if a black bear approaches you. If it gets aggressive, fight with all you’ve got. Throw things directly at it. Grab whatever you can and hit the bear with it. 

5. Carry bear spray.

Keep your bear spray in a holster at your side or in your hand. Do not store it zipped up in your backpack like we did. Bear spray is for spraying at the bear. DO NOT spray it on yourself. You’ll end up in the Emergency Room.

6. Store food right. Even on a day hike.

Just because a snack is in a wrapper doesn’t mean it can’t be smelled by a bear! For a list of food containers approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, click here.

7. Talk. A lot.

Ditch the bear bells and talk a lot – with your hiking companions or with yourself. Sing if you want. Bears are not interested in what you have to say. Bells spark their curiosity and call them to you.

8. Walk. Don't Run.

Do not run away from a bear. If possible, slowly back away from the bear. Most bears really aren’t all that into you.

9. Don't make eye contact with a bear.

Making eye contact in the animal kingdom is a sign of aggression, a provocation. Don’t do it. Just don’t. 

Montana Grizzly Encounter

If you’re in the Bozeman area, we recommend stopping by the Montana Grizzly Encounter. It’s a wildlife rescue service that provides a humane sanctuary for rescued Grizzlies. During your visit, you can admire a gorgeous Grizzly up close and in its natural habitat as you learn how to stay safe if you come across one in the wild. While I hope the tips we’ve provided help you, it can be more impactful to hear them in person from someone who works around bears on a regular basis. After all, we read the contradicting advice about bear bells but thought they were better than nothing until we listened to the Keeper Talk.  

When we went, we saw Bella, a Grizzly Bear rescued in Alaska when she was just a baby bear cub. Bella was found alone in a tree. Days went by without her mother returning. “…a concerned family reached out to Alaska Fish and Game, determining that Bella had been orphaned.Left on her own, she wouldn’t have survived. Chris asked a woman working in the gift shop about Bella. The woman hypothesized that Bella’s mom sent her up a tree in order to keep her safe, then became injured fighting off whatever danger had arrived. She made it clear that it was just a guess. No one knows what happened to Bella’s mom.

Want to visit the Montana Grizzly Encounter?

Tickets can be purchased online or in person. As I write this, rates vary from $11.50 to $13.50 per person. Admission for children 4 years old and under is free. Hours vary by season. For current rates and hours, click here

Looking for more travel inspiration?

Connect with us on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest for more travel and food inspiration. 

Fuel our creativity with coffee! It helps us create free content to inspire your future travels and more!

Keep up with our adventures and latest travel tips by subscribing to My Travel Journal by Melissa.