When a bear attacks (bear attack stories NSFW)
Bear attacks – the stuff that nightmares are made of. If you’ve not yet seen The Revenant, you’ll understand why bear attacks can be such devastating events. While not terribly common, bear attacks can be so incredibly intense that even savvy outdoorsman can be mauled and left for dead. In this article we’ll review some intel as to where you may find bears, the degree to which each bear type may be dangerous, and tips in case you are caught in that unfortunate scenario and have to fend for your life.
Where are bears found in the wild?
Bears can be found in the wild in various parts of the world, depending on the species. Here are a few of the most common bear types:
Black bears can be found in North America, including the United States and Canada. The numbers vary when researching how many black bears live in the wild today, with as few as 250,000 but as many as 900,000 reported.
Eurasian brown bears can be found across the Northern Hemisphere in Europe and Asia, particularly in Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Romania. There are known to be about 200,000 Eurasian brown bears left today. The main difference between Eurasian brown bears and other brown bear sub-species including Grizzly or Kodiak bears is the location these bears are found.
Grizzly bears are a sub-species of brown bear that can be found in North America, particularly in Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, and sometimes Idaho. Habitat loss has drastically decreased the grizzly population and it is estimated that somewhere around 50,000 grizzly bears remain in the wild.
Polar bears can be found in the Arctic regions of North America, Russia, Norway, Greenland, and Canada. There are around 30,000 polar bears alive today, and climate change has drastically affected polar bear habitats; melted sea ice (where polar bears hunt) causing reduced prey access, increased competition with land predators, and other negative consequences.
Kodiak bears are another sub-species of brown bear but only found in the Kodiak Archipelago in Alaska. Kodiaks are bigger than Eurasian brown or grizzlies (males may weigh up to 1,500 pounds!), and given their habitat are prone to a more diverse diet including salmon and other marine animals. There are about 3,500 Kodiak bears left today.
Panda bears are sweet and cuddly but are difficult to find due to their solitary nature. This article will not cover these silly, goofy bears native to China. There are less than 2,000 giant pandas left today, having recently been classified as “vulnerable” by Chinese officials.
It’s important to note that bears are wild animals and can be dangerous. If you plan on viewing bears in the wild, it’s important to take proper safety precautions and to follow guidelines from local wildlife authorities.
Which bear types are dangerous?
All bears have the potential to be dangerous, but some are more likely to attack humans than others. Grizzly and polar bears are generally considered the most dangerous. Grizzly bears can be unpredictable and territorial and are known to attack humans who come too close. Polar bears are also known to attack humans, especially in areas where human contact is more likely, a consequence of their melting sea ice habitat.
However, it’s important to remember that any bear, regardless of species, can be dangerous if it feels threatened or provoked. It’s important to take proper safety precautions when in bear country, such as making noise to alert bears to your presence, carrying bear spray, and avoiding getting too close to bears or their cubs.
What about black bears?
Black bears can still be dangerous to humans, but they are generally considered less aggressive and dangerous than grizzly bears and polar bears. Black bears are more likely to avoid humans and will usually retreat if they sense a human nearby. They are also more likely to be found in wooded areas and are less likely to come into contact with people than grizzly and polar bears.
However, it’s important to remember that black bears are still wild animals and can be unpredictable. They can attack if they feel threatened or if they are protecting their cubs. One example of a black bear attack happened deep in the Great Smoky Mountains in 2020. A black bear reportedly attacked Patrick Madura and dragged him from his campsite to a nearby creek where the bear was found scavenging human remains. While the attack had no witnesses, human tissue was found in the bear’s droppings.
In most instances of a bear attack, bears will attack if startled or threatened. If you find yourself in black bear country, take proper precautions. Store food properly and if you do encounter a bear, make noise to alert bears of your presence. And never get too close to bears, or especially their cubs.
Are grizzly and brown bears the same?
Be even more cautious of grizzlies. Grizzly bears and brown bears are the same species, but they are commonly referred to by different names depending on where they are found. In North America, the subspecies of brown bears found in inland areas are usually referred to as grizzly bears, while the ones found along the coast are typically called coastal brown bears. Grizzly bears are also known for having shorter, more rounded ears and a distinct hump on their shoulders.
In other parts of the world, brown bears may be referred to by other names, such as the Eurasian brown bear, the European brown bear, or the Himalayan brown bear. While there may be some physical and behavioral differences between populations of brown bears in different regions, they are all members of the same species: Ursus arctos.
How to survive a bear attack
The only tip of significance is to avoid an encounter with a bear at all costs. If you happen to spot a bear in the wild, keep your distance and watch it from afar. A bear’s sight is dreadful, but its sense of smell is incredible. If you can see the bear, it is likely it’s already picked up your scent.
You can also try to be proactive in ensuring you stay out of the bear’s way by setting up tracking mechanisms within the area, if you plan to stay for long. Setting up trail cams or tracking traps can help to monitor bear activity through an area and to learn the bear’s movement patterns and habits.
Should you get into an encounter with a bear, unlucky you. Surviving a bear attack depends on a variety of factors, including the type of bear, the behavior of the bear, and the situation in which the attack occurs. Here are some general tactics that have been proven to be helpful during a bear attack:
- Carry bear spray: Bear spray is a type of pepper spray that can help deter a bear and give you time to escape. Bear spray is not a get out of bear jail free card, but it can be useful in incapacitating a bear temporarily as you plan your escape from the bear’s domain.
- Stay calm: Do not run or make sudden movements, as this can trigger an attack. Instead, try to remain calm and avoid making direct eye contact with the bear.
- Back away slowly: If the bear is not charging and is at a distance, back away slowly and try to create space between you and the bear.
- Make noise: If the bear is getting too close or is charging, make loud noises to try to scare it off.
- Play dead: If a bear attacks you, and it is a grizzly or brown bear, curl up in a ball on your side with your hands clasped behind your neck and your knees pulled up to your chest. If it is a black bear, try to fight back with anything you have available, such as rocks, sticks, or your fists.
- Cover your neck: Covering your neck is important during a bear attack as bears will often try to bite the head and neck of their prey aiming to incapacitate their prey. By covering your neck with your hands, you can help protect this vulnerable area of your body. If you are attacked by a grizzly or brown bear and are unable to escape, curling up in a ball on your side with your hands clasped behind your neck can help protect your head and neck from bites. This position also makes it more difficult for the bear to flip you over or drag you away. It’s important to note that playing dead should only be used as a last resort during a bear attack, and it is not effective against all types of bears. If you encounter a bear, it’s best to try to avoid a confrontation by making noise to alert the bear to your presence and backing away slowly. If the bear charges, be prepared to use bear spray or defend yourself with any available objects.
Remember, it’s important to follow guidelines from local wildlife authorities and to take proper safety precautions when in bear country, such as storing food properly, making noise to alert bears to your presence, and avoiding getting too close to bears or their cubs.
Bear attack stories from the wild
There have been several famous bear survival stories over the years. Here are a few examples:
Hugh Glass: This is the same story that The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was based on. In 1833, Hugh Glass was mauled by a mother grizzly bear while scouting on a fur trapping expedition in present-day South Dakota. Glass was so badly injured in the attack that his group of trappers did not expect him to survive the night. He was said to have only been able to breathe and move his eyes. At this point Glass had somehow survived several days since the bear attack, yet he was left for dead by his companions who were also scared of being detected by hostile Native Americans. Driven by revenge, Glass managed to survive by crawling more than 200 miles across 6 weeks.
Timothy Treadwell: The excellent 2005 documentary Grizzly Man focuses on Timothy Treadwell, a bear activist who spent multiple summers living among grizzly bears in Alaska. 2003, Timothy and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were attacked and killed by a grizzly bear in Katmai National Park. The grizzly bear who attacked and ate Treadwell and his girlfriend was a 28-year old bear named “The Machine.”
Matt Dyer: In 2012, Matt Dyer was attacked in Torngat Mountains National Park in northeastern Canada. The Torngats are known to the Inuits as a sacred land, where polar bears are celebrated as gods. One night, Dyer and his camp (which was surrounded by an electrified fence to deter the bears) had gone to bed. Before bed, the group had noticed a polar bear high above camp. In the early morning, hell broke loose when the bear broke into camp and the bear snatched Dyer, dragging him while crushing his hand and skull, collapsing his lung. With the bear attempting to make off with Dyer to a secluded spot to finish the job, one of the camp members fired a flare which scared the bear, causing it to drop Dyer and run off. Maimed badly in the attack, Dyer was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Montreal to treat his wounds.
Todd Orr: In 2016, Todd Orr was attacked twice by a grizzly bear not once, but twice, while hiking in Madison Valley, Montana. Breaking his arm and sustaining multiple other injuries, Orr managed to hike several miles to his car and drive himself to the hospital. Before driving off, he famously recorded a video talking about his experience which immediately became viral. After half a year of rehab, Todd made a full recovery.
Jeremy Evans: In 2017 Jeremy Evans was attacked while scouting for sheep in the Canadian wilderness near Calgary. A bear cub ran in front of him, and he knew then that what would happen next would be life or death. An encounter that can only be heard to be believed, the attack left Evans’ appendages and eye dangling from his body, his skull crushed, and at one point breathing from his forehead, Jeremy miraculously survived. The full personal account can be found here from Backpacker magazine’s wonderful podcast called Out Alive.
Brad Josephs: Brad Josephs is a wildlife photographer who was filming a group of grizzly bears in Alaska when one of the bears charged him. Josephs used his bear spray to deter the bear and was able to escape unharmed.
Anna Huttel: In 2021, Anna Huttel was camping in Montana when she was attacked by a grizzly bear. Despite suffering injuries to her head, arms, and legs, Huttel was able to use her bear spray and a hunting knife to fight off the bear and escape to safety.
While several of these accounts include survival of a bear attack, how many stories have been lost to history because the struggle swung in the bear’s favor? Remember that bears are wild animals and are likely to be dangerous if encountered, so it’s important to take proper safety precautions when in bear country. Remember: you’re in their natural habitat, not yours, and survival for you is merely everyday life for them.