Experience of the natural world can sometimes seem frightening. To too many of us the natural world is a foreign place. The more time you spend in nature the easier it becomes to "see". Largely it is our own minds that make it intimidating and unfamiliar. While I believe there is no need for fear or anxiety I would add that anyone intelligent who has encountered a grizzly bear within a few hundred yards or a mad mother moose in the wild would hopefully agree that it can be dangerous. I encounter many bears in my trekking and have only had to act adversely with two story here. Bears in the wilderness do not like being around people, they are much less accustomed to humans than those on the fringes of cities (or in cities) or the ones who spend a lot of time around people, like a bear who lives near Going to the Sun Road. If the wild bears ever catch my scent or hear me, the gig is up and I probably won't see that bear again that day. It is my belief that bears take it personally if you "stalk" them, i.e. following them when they leave because of you is a bad idea. When they move off because of you that is the first phase of an encounter, it should also be the last. If you pursue a bear(or other animals) it is harassment at best, deadly at worst. If you do not want to see a bear (I realize not everyone shares my appreciation or inspiration) the best advice I can give is talk incessantly (many people do this anyway ;) or sing (yodel?), the human voice to bears is like garlic to vampires. Bells are generally not a good idea, they could sound like a marmot (tasty morsels for bears) or something else that encourages curiosity.
The more time you spend out in it the smaller it seems. I have seen that bears (and other animals) know what trails are used by humans a lot, and when. They use them more at certain times, early in the morning or later in the evening. If you are going to leave the trail you must pay extra attention, I have had many great experiences that if I had not been aware of my surroundings could have turned out very badly indeed. A lot of times when we start to get tired, on the way out after a long hike or when we are hungry, we stop paying as much attention to our environment. This seems to be the cause of many bad situations for people. The animals themselves really do a lot to help out unaware people. In Glacier Park I once spotted a grizzly with a cub from about four miles away with my swarovski scope; they were traversing a mountain side, the bears stopped, went straight up the mountain about 30 or 40 yards, and sat on the uphill side of some bushes. Less than 2 minutes passed before I saw a pair of hikers walking on the same path the bears were just using. The hikers walked right passed the waiting bears without a pause. After the humans had passed the bears came back down onto the trail.
If they seem to ignore you;
Do they know you're there? If you are confident they do and they continue on with whatever they were doing you have the absolute best opportunity for wildlife viewing/photography. Don't get complacent though, there are always "personal bubbles" that can be breached, turning an incredible experience into a terrible one. Just because a bear is grazing now doesn't mean he is in a good mood or not capable of changing his mind. Be respectful of our great planet, its inhabitants, and your life will be better.
NOW lets say the animal knows you're there and does not ignore you. A few rare case examples;
If an animal that absolutely does not see you as food (moose for instance) is approaching you, speak to him, if he knows you're a human and keeps coming, GET OUT OF HIS WAY. Unlike bears, if a moose or an elk is coming after you they are not bluffing. If you get knocked down, stay down (no personal experience here just you tube videos and common sense) protect your head and vitals. If you start getting up after being knocked down the "threat" has not been eliminated. Bear spray may be useful in some of these situations but I have found that you will be given plenty of time to retreat.
You're hiking along and come over a hill or around a corner and there is a grizzly sow with cubs. She spots you at about the same time you see her and charges. Don't run, step back slowly or stand your ground while waiving your arms slowly and speaking calmly (just one arm works too while you unholstering your bear spray with the other). This is likely a bluff charge, and provided you remain non threatening and the bear hears that you are calm and backing up (and not a male bear) she will collect her kids and put some distance between you. If a defensive bear (bear with cubs or a surprised bear) makes contact with you, go down and stay down until you are sure they are gone. These types of situations can be avoided by paying close attention to your surroundings (terrain, track and scat freshness) and making noise when you can't see.
A bear notices you, perhaps at fairly close range, lets say 75 meters and begins to approach. It is important to make sure he knows your a human; speak in a calm voice and wave your arms slowly above your head. If he knows your a human and keeps coming anyway ready your deterrent and speak more firmly or even shout suddenly. If the bear approaches close enough for the bear spray use it. Never run! Bears can run faster than any person UP or DOWN mountains. If you suspect it is a predatory situation you need to be as aggressive and mean as possible; yell with anger and wave your arms fervently. Remaining calm and confident is discouraging to an attacker. If a predatory bear comes into contact with you fight for your life. I spend many, many hours looking for and viewing bears, I have never had to use my bear spray, I have only taken it out of the holster twice. Once with a black bear and once with a grizzly. Both appeared to be seriously considering me, how I acted determined the outcome of these situations. In both cases it was critical to remain cool and calm, I was rewarded with priceless memories.
1.)Does the animal know I'm here and that I'm a human?
2.)Is the animal acting defensively because she has young, is protecting precious territory, of is afraid?
3.)Does the animal eat meat?
The posture and behavior of this sow sent a clear, easy to read message; don't go any closer.
kCopyright . Jesse Lee Varnado. All rights reserved.