I Should Punch a Bear Where?

Picture by Thomas Picard


Bears are wild animals. Not every bear will act as all bears usually do. However, getting used to regular behaviors is very helpful to guide thinking in an encounter. Most informational places all agreed on similar behaviors. If it is on the internet enough times that means it is correct, right? 😉 And so I present, the Laws of Bears

Laws of Bears


  • Do NOT run/make fast movements
  • Do NOT make animal noises
  • Do NOT distract the bear by giving it any food or belongings
  • Do NOT make eye contact
  • Do NOT climb a tree to get away
  • Carry bear spray

With those few laws lets go into the specify and whys.

How to use Bear Spray

Compared to a gun, bear spray is very user friendly. Since it shoots in a burst its hard to miss. Aiming at a charging bear with a gun can be more difficult. There is considerable research to show that bear spray is more effective than guns. However, it is not fool proof. In my research I found a lot of people saying things that lead me to believe using bear spray is not intuitive. Below is a storyline of how to use it.

  • Unholster the can
  • Remove the safety
  • Point the can down slightly down towards the ground (they come at a lower angle)
  • Confirm that that bear is not bluffing
  • When the bear is within 25-30 feet pull the trigger
  • Keep spraying until the bear is deterred
  • Be prepared to fight or play dead (depends on bear type, keep reading for specifics)
  • Bear spray does not repel bears so save the spray for bears. Do not spray your tent, clothes, etc.


Types of bears

The adjectives brown and black in the name Brown bear and Black bear are mostly useless. Black bears can be brown and Brown bears can be black. It takes some clues to be able to determine which one is which, and therefore to tell you how to react.


Black bears

Photo by Lonnie Bradley
  • Flat black
  • Generally smaller (not always)
  • Face is a straight triangular type profile
  • Paw prints have a circular top arc
  • Great tree climbers


Brown bears

Photo by Brad Harrison
  • Muscle bunch on back (on top of front legs)
  • Generally bigger (not always)
  • Face is dished, there is an obvious corner where the snout starts
  • Paw prints on a straight line


Great.. Now what?

Bear encounters seem to fall in five categories

  1. Accidently surprised
  2. Bluff charge
  3. Aggressive charge
  4. Predatory/Curious
  5. Unrealistic aggression


Accidently surprised

Sometimes you surprise the bear, and sometimes the bear surprises you. If you accidently surprise a bear follow the laws of bears above. Never run.  Never make eye contact. Make calm confident conversation. Slowly back away. Running triggers a chasing response. Their food runs from them. If you run, you must be food. 

If the bear the has not noticed you, back away. Do not surprise the bear on purpose by making loud noises right next to it.

If the bear surprised you, still keep calm. Never run, never make eye contact, grab pets or children, pack up all food, and slowly back away. Just don’t freak out. Be cool.


Bluff charge

It is most common for a bear to do bluff charge. The bear will run full force at you, but at what feels like the last minute they veer off to the side. 25-30 feet is when bear spray starts being effective. Don’t waste your spray on a bluff. Bluff charges are meant to be scary. The bear is trying to scare off the threat. If I was a threat, that would definitely scare me off!!


Aggressive charge

The bear is not bluffing. It is coming for you! If this happens calmly take out the bear spray from the easy to access location it was stored in. Remove the safety clip of the spray and stand your ground. Once the bear is within the effective deterring distance (read the instructions on the container) spray, and keep spraying.

Hopefully the bear is deterred and goes on its way. If not, then it is a good thing we identified what type of bear it is.

Black bear- If the bear is a Black bear then it is time to fight, and make sure to aim for the snout! Don’t go easy! Use weapons and, if necessary, punch or kick the bear. Use anything nearby like sticks, rocks, bear spray, etc.

Brown bear- Play dead. This type of bear is more defensive, but definitely aggressive. They are defending themselves (or their children) against you. Lay tummy down on the ground with your feet apart. Keep your pack on your back as extra protection. Do not get up until the bear is definitely gone. Getting up too early restarts the threat to the bear. Ideally, the bear leaves at this point. If the bear keeps attacking, switch tactics and go full throttle. Aim for the snout!


Predatory bears

Predatory is defined as curious or stalking. If a bear stands up on its hind legs it is most likely curious. For now. At anytime the bear can become aggressive. Ideally there is a car or building to escape to if a bear starts stalking or appears curious to you. If there is not, follow the laws of bears at the top of the article. Never run. Pull out the bear spray calmly. Talk soothingly and slowly walk away. If the bear that was stalking attacks, fight back no matter what type of bear it is. If it was stalking it saw you as prey.


Unrealistically aggressive

Bears that are acclimated to human food become unrealistically aggressive. Normal tactics do not work for these bears. In my previous post I mentioned a story about a young 11 year old boy who was dragged out of his tent by a bear. Once found, rangers tested that bear by producing fire crackers. The bear was not intimidated at all by those firecrackers. If a bear is unrealistically aggressive fight immediately. An example of unrealistic aggression is if the bear attacks you while you are in your tent sleeping


Extra Resources:

NPS: https://www.nps.gov/articles/hiking-in-bear-country.htm

NPS: https://www.nps.gov/articles/bearfindsme.htm

NPS: https://www.nps.gov/articles/bearattacks.htm

NPS: https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/bearspray.htm


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