Things to Consider
Bear spray has been determined to be an effective deterrent that can reduce injury and potentially save your life. Like a seat belt, it should be considered essential safety equipment when travelling in wildlife country.
Hunters may be at increased risk of a bear attack since they are intentionally moving quietly and are more likely to surprise a bear. Bear spray has been found to be easier, faster and more effective than a firearm at preventing injury and death.
Mountain bikers in bear country should carry bear spray on a holster on their body and not their bike. Mountain bikers moving at a high rate of speed can potentially surprise bears on paths where sight lines are poor and become separated from their bikes. Bears may be attracted to paths where berry-producing shrubs thrive.
While trail running avoid using headphones, be vigilant and make noise by occasionally calling out and clapping your hands. Be cautious when travelling downwind or near moving water. If animals cannot smell or hear you, they may be surprised and this can lead to a defensive attack. Hike with a partner or in a group whenever possible.
5 Things you need to know
What is Bear Spray?
Bear spray contains capsaicin and other related capsaicinoids in a percentage of 1-2%. Capsaicin is found in chili peppers and can be very irritating if it comes in contact with skin, eyes or inhaled. Bear spray comes in a canister with a propellant that provides the necessary pressure to deploy the spray. To be legal in Canada, bear spray must be clearly labelled as such. Bear spray is regulated by Health Canada and Pest Control Products Act. Read the label and precautions carefully.
As the bear spray canister is under pressure, it is important to transport it safely and not leave it in a hot vehicle, replace bear spray canisters if it becomes damaged or dented. Bear spray comes with a tie wrap installed for safe transport that must be removed before heading out. Practice removing the safety clip.
A charging bear can cover 13 metres in a second.
Once discharged, the smell of bear spray may attract animals. To responsibly dispose of bear spray, empty the contents in a place away from people. Once the can is empty, contact your local solid waste management company to find out their preferred method of disposal. Do not put it in the recycling.
Avoiding an Encounter
The best encounter with a grizzly bear, black bear, wolf, coyote or cougar is the one you can avoid. Make noise, preferably with your voice, and watch for fresh signs such as scat. Before visiting a provincial or federal park, visit their websites to learn about active wildlife in the area.
Always keep pets leashed when there is potential to encounter wildlife. Predators may see your pet as a potential threat or prey.
Bears and cougars are the biggest wildlife threat in British Columbia. Sightings are fairly rare, and attacks are extremely rare, but they can happen. Below are safety guidelines and tips for preventing incidents and dealing with attacks.
Like most wildlife, bears are naturally afraid of humans. Attacks are most common in situations where:
General guidelines and precautions when in bear country:
If you spot a bear, remain calm and do not run or scream. Remain facing the bear, and slowly back away while calmly talking to it, letting it know you are a human and not prey. Also, try to avoid direct eye contact, as this may be taken as a threat. The bear may growl or charge before stopping and turning away, but never run away or scream as this may only trigger an attack. You will never outrun a bear (bears can run 66% faster the the world’s best sprinters). It is also a good idea to keep your pack on as this can act as protection in case of an attack.
You also need to determine whether it is a black bear, or grizzly, and whether an impending attack is defensive or predatory. Identifying the type of bear should be fairly easy. Black bears are smaller, and, well…black (grizzlies are light to dark brown), but telling them apart by colour isn’t always that easy. You need to be able to tell the difference between them in case of an attack.
In the case of an attack from a bear you should try to determine whether the attack is defensive or predatory. A defensive attack will be triggered if you are too close to the bear’s young, its food source, or you startled it. A predatory attack happens when the bear is looking for dinner, and those attacks are very rare.
1) If it is a black bear: Discharge your bear spray once it is within a minimum distance of 25 feet of you, and sooner if possible. Bears have extremely sensitive noses, making bear spray effective. If the bear continues to attack (or you don’t have bear spray), popular wisdom is to fight back against a black bear. Use rocks, sticks, fists, and all the adrenaline you can muster and fight back. Some advise only to fight a black bear if the attack is predatory, and to curl into a protective ball if the attack is defensive. If you choose to curl, drop to the ground, cover your neck, and get into a tight ball, staying as still as possible and not screaming.
2) If it is a grizzly bear: Similar to a black bear attacks, use bear spray if you have it. If the attack is defensive, experts agree to drop to the ground and curl into a ball, protecting your head and neck. Stay calm and don’t move, even if the bear begins to gnaw on you a little. You are very unlikely to win a battle with a grizzly so this strategy is your best bet, unless the attack is predatory. In that case your only option is to fight.
Again, predatory attacks are rare from both black and grizzly bears, but if such attack occurs, you need to fight back.
As nocturnal and stealthy animals, it is extremely rare to see cougars, but it is not unheard of. Children and pets are the most likely to be the victim of a cougar attack. To minimize the chance of attack, follow the same guidelines for bears, such as never traveling alone and making lots of noise. If you encounter a cougar you should slowly back away. Never turn and run. If the cougar advances on you, make yourself look as big as possible, pick up any children you are with, and scream loudly to try and scare it away. Try to intimidate the cougar as much as possible. If the cougar continues to approach, you should even throw sticks and rocks at it. Let it know you are not easy prey, and if it attacks, fight back with all you have.
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