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Black Bears and fighting back
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Jeff Antig

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Black Bears and fighting back on 01/26/2009 01:06:52 MST Print View

Okay, I've always wondered this and haven't found the answer. The area that I hike in is filled with a lot of people that are very ignorant about bears. They are the type that goes hiking for 2 days a season, throw food wrappers on the ground, and leave their food out at night.

I've been thinking, if a Black Bear gets courageous and I somehow get into a nasty situation with it (it's attacking me; on top, pawing/clawing etc.) should I just "defend" myself by using my fists etc., or should I actually pull out my knife (4" blade) and stab it? I have no idea whether that will make it go off or trigger something in the bear to make it attack more furiously. What would you do?

Sorry for the gloomy topic and I have no intentions on hurting any bear, just curious.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Black Bears and fighting back on 01/26/2009 05:46:05 MST Print View

It's doubtful you could get to a knife once the attack has begun and you are caught unawares. In that case, I'd go for the nose and eyes since you are supposed to fight back for black bears.

If I already had a knife in my hand, I'd be inclined to stab in the neck. You must fight for your life with whatever you have. A man was able to kill a cougar this way.

I have never seen info recommending to NOT use a knife (argument might be that anything less than lethal might trigger a more aggressive attack).

Edited by jshann on 01/26/2009 07:14:45 MST.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Black Bears and fighting back on 01/26/2009 06:15:08 MST Print View

The simple answer is to fight back. Black bears are not used to having prey fight them so they'll generally move on to something less defensive. I imagine stabbing one with a dainty knife would just irritate it.

Edited by simplespirit on 01/26/2009 11:47:08 MST.

Luke Ochsenbein
(LukeOchsen) - F

Locale: Ozarks
Re: Black bears on 01/26/2009 10:17:59 MST Print View

A 4 inch blade will do more damage than your fists ever could. If you are worried then a can of bear mace seems like a good option since you don't have to be in a bear hug to use it.

I have thought about this alot and since I don't carry bear mace in black bear territory my first mode of defence would be my trekking pole. I would think a hard jab with the metal point might just be enough to make the bear reconsider its attack (Lots of force over small area). Maybe I'm an idiot. Any thoughts?

Of course this is assuming you saw the bear coming . . .

Edited by LukeOchsen on 01/26/2009 10:24:33 MST.

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Black Bears and fighting back on 01/26/2009 11:43:30 MST Print View

Black bears don't consider people to be food.

The likely hood of being attacked by a black bear is small. If the bear already had your food, let him have it and slowly back away. If the bear is just "casing the joint", I've found rocks to be a great way to discourage it. And then move on. If there is a nosy bear in the area, go somewhere else.

Every bear I've seen in the wilderness (three in 42 years of wilderness travel) has run away at full speed. Wild bears (those not accustomed to raiding people for food) don't like people at all. If you see a bear cub, leave the area at once. In any case DO NOT RUN.

Edit: I was wrong about not fighting back during a Black Bear attack. I've never been attacked or personally threatened in any way by a Black Bear. If I were, and throwing rocks did not discourage the bear, I would fight as best I could.

Other than "park" bears, the only aggressive black bears I've had experience with was in the mid '70s, on the South Fork of the Trinity River, in the northern part of the Yolla Bolly - Middle Eel Wilderness. At that time, though they didn't tell us, the Park Service was relocating problem bears to that area. There was a high concentration of bears acclimated to people as a food source. The company I was working for had survey crews there for two summers. Our crews killed around seven bears over two summers. These bears would rush into a camp of as many as 25 people and begin to tear things up and take food. By the second week on that job everyone went armed with large caliber rifles. One bear even chased one of the camp "packers" bringing in supplies on a trail bike.

Edited by redleader on 01/26/2009 16:25:27 MST.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Black Bears and fighting back on 01/26/2009 11:53:35 MST Print View

"If attacked, you'd do best to assume the fetal position and wrap your arms behind your neck to protect your neck and spine."

For black bears, no bear safety website that I ever saw recommends fetal position (submission). They all say fight back. Please post links that say different.

Joe Westing
(pedro87) - F
Re: Re: Black bears on 01/26/2009 12:40:41 MST Print View

From what I understand, although bear spray is extremely effective against brown/grizzly bears, it does not work very well against black bears (something about how the mace doesn't irritate their sinuses like it does on browns).

Also, I am almost 100% positive that assuming the fetal position while confronted by a black bear is NOT the right thing to do. Although black bears do not prey on humans, they are scavengers and could possibly eat you if they think you are dead. On a slightly more positive note, I have encountered numerous black bears (though never any grizzlies in my travels to Alaska, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming) and every encounter has resulted in the black bear/s scampering away at full speed. The farther into the backcountry you get, the more safe you will be.

Nia Schmald
(nschmald) - MLife
Re: Black bears on 01/26/2009 13:25:28 MST Print View

This is from General H. Norman Schwarzkopf so it must be true. :)

"# If a black bear approaches, do not run. Remain calm, continue facing the bear and slowly back away. If the bear continues to approach, try to group together and pick up small children. Try to scare the bear away by shouting and acting aggressively.
# If a black bear attacks, it is suggested to fight back using everything in your power fists, sticks, rocks, and E.P.A. registered bear pepper spray."

Luke Ochsenbein
(LukeOchsen) - F

Locale: Ozarks
Re. Bears on 01/26/2009 13:28:45 MST Print View

"From what I understand, although bear spray is extremely effective against brown/grizzly bears, it does not work very well against black bears (something about how the mace doesn't irritate their sinuses like it does on browns)."

Mind if I ask where you heard this? I'm not being argumentative, I just like reading all I can on the subject.

Bear spray is definitely not a sure thing but is better than nothing (or near nothing like a knife or a trekking pole).

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
California- Re Black Bears and fighting back. on 01/26/2009 13:32:17 MST Print View

Bear attacks are pretty rare in California- considering 30 million people and lots of bears.

Here is the CA Department of Fish & Game bear attack site:

I've always heard fight back, but don't try to wrestle your gear back from the bear.

Joe Westing
(pedro87) - F
Re: Re. Bears on 01/26/2009 14:39:06 MST Print View

Yeah, I think I was mistaken. I did a little research and the only references I could find that the bear spray wasn't as effective against black bears was from forum posters (i guess other ill informed people like me). Every other (more authoritative) reference seemed to recommend the spray for both black and brown bears.

EDIT: Actually, I think I read about bear spray not working well against black bears here on the BPL forum. Head to the page listed below and go towards the bottom.

Edited by pedro87 on 01/26/2009 14:43:36 MST.

Chris Morgan
(ChrisMorgan) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
More bear questions... on 01/26/2009 15:41:23 MST Print View

Lots of conflicting information in this thread - I would take a listen to the Yosemite bear podcast BPL put out a while back. Is it still around? I can't seem to find it.

Two more general Sierra bear questions:

1. For those of you that use a bushbuddy, do you bag/canister store your stove? I wonder if the Bushbuddy was in my pack, if a curious bear would be interested in the wood smoke smell. Do you bag your alcohol/esbit?

2. Once you've bagged your food, do you keep your pack outside your tent (if you are using one)? I would think this might be the smarter idea, as bears/mice/etc. might pick up on residual smells. My concern however is that if they do notice a smell, they walk off with the pack.


Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: More bear questions... on 01/26/2009 15:47:58 MST Print View

all smelly (non-human smell) goes into the cannister and that includes fuel - if you have the space throw in the stove, otherwise it's not included. cannister is about 150 feet from tent in a bush or depression (so it won't be rolled away). Never had an animal attempt to penetrate the cannister either.

Rest of gear goes into my tent -- one does not want marmots chewing your gear and that would be my biggest concern. I've hiked in the high sierra every summer since 2000, having done 16 days last year on the JMT, 15 days year prior on the high sierra trail. Never an animal encounter at night in camp (other than to see marmots or deer).

Jason Shaffer
(PA_Jay) - F

Locale: on the move....
Re: Black Bears and fighting back on 01/26/2009 16:33:40 MST Print View

Sorry to piggy-back on this thread, but I never miss an opportunity to recommend this book: Backcountry Bear Basics by Dave Smith. The first 78 pages can be previewed on Google Books.

Edited by PA_Jay on 01/26/2009 16:36:51 MST.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Re: Black Bears and fighting back and pepper spray on 01/26/2009 18:45:02 MST Print View

I've always heard that 7 out of 10 black bears prefer humans seasoned with pepper spray.

: )

I've run into several black bears. Some run, but some don't. If they don't, stand your ground. Make noise. Slowly move away. So far it's worked.

If ever attacked, I believe I'd faint or my heart would fail so I doubt my ability to fight back. I heard one backpacker suggest that he would turn his alcohol squeeze bottle into a mini-flame thrower. That would perhaps work if the bear died from laughing at you.

Scott Winkleman
(sewinkleman) - F
Hiking in Bear Country on 01/26/2009 19:45:48 MST Print View

When hiking in an area know to have bears, it's wise to make sure they're alerted to your presence by wearing bells and it's a good idea to carry bear spray just in case.

It's also good to be able know if there are black bears or grizzly's in the area since grizzlys can be much more aggresive. One way to do this is by looking at their scat. Black bear scat will be dark round balls and may have remnants of berry or fish bones in it.

Grizzly scat will smell like pepper spray and have bells in it.

Note for the humor impaired: This is a joke!

Roman Ryder
(RomanLA) - F

Locale: Southwest Louisiana
I didn't see this mentioned... on 01/27/2009 14:53:36 MST Print View

If you're wearing a jacket, you can spread it out to make yourself look larger.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Black Bears and fighting back on 01/27/2009 15:05:57 MST Print View

Black Bear attacks are sooooo rare. Really I would be more worried about tripping and falling. Fight back if one were to attack but I bet you have a bigger chance of getting into a fist fight driving to the trailhead than having a bear attack you. In 10 years in the Sierra's I have seen two bears.

cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
black bear attacks vs. grizzly bear on 01/27/2009 15:33:31 MST Print View

there is an important reason why you are always supposed to fight back if attacked by a black bear: statistically, it is usually an "offensive" attack

there are 3 basic black bear "attack scenarios"
1. you confronted the bear & it reacts, either to defend itself if it feels trapped, or to retain the food you are trying to take from it
2. you have food on you or in your sleeping bag/tent and the bear is after the food
3. the bear wants to eat you

grizzly bear attacks, otoh, are almost always "defensive"

1. the classic mom/cubs situation (black bears will seldom charge or attack to guard young - they generally run - but grizzly mamma will commonly go ballistic to eliminate the threat) - btw, some people say this kind of the attack is the only kind where running might actually be a good idea if you can get enough distance from the babies with the mamma between you & them
2. you are too close to the bear's food - grizzly will often defend the area of a kill/carcass, while black bears seldom do this (this includes if the bear decides your camp food is now his/hers)
3. you surprise the bear - grizzly's reaction is often to attack to mitigate a threat, black bear pretty much always runs away if it can

above categories supposedly like 90% of grizzly-man scenarios, with approx. 10% being where the bear decides to go eat someone

so, statistically, if a black bear is attacking you unprovoked, you should fight because odds are greater that it's offensive & with grizzly, you should not, because odds are, the bear is trying to eliminate a threat (defensive)

the limiting factor is the bear's motivation: in either case, if it's an offensive attack, your only chance is to have outside help right away, or to somehow fight the bear off/discourage the bear from wanting to put the effort in to kill you

in the lower 48 states, black bear attacks are statistically uncommon, but in canada & alaska, they are the primary cause of OFFENSIVE bear attacks on humans

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Black Bears and fighting back... on 01/29/2009 01:54:44 MST Print View


Edited by skopeo on 04/27/2015 14:48:39 MDT.