Aren't bears great? They can be your best friend or your worst enemy depending on how you treat them! Because of this, information on what to do in the event of a bear encounter is often worryingly counter-intuitive and contradictory. So today I'm going to answer the age old question, “How do you interact with bears safely?”

After scouring the internet for information on the subject, I have accumulated what I believe to be the definitive, easy-to-follow guide on how to have fun with bears.

Before you start having fun with bears, it’s important to first know your bears. The first thing you need to do when you encounter a bear is to determine what type of bear it is, as this will influence how you should act.

CAUTION: Adopting the wrong approach to a bear can be fatal. Black and grizzly bears require very different approaches. To ensure you adopt the correct approach, make sure you know your bears by observing certain physical characteristics.

Distinguishing Black Bears vs Grizzly Bears

Black bears have black-brown fur and sharp claws, whereas grizzly bears have brown-black fur and sharper claws.

Black bear vs grizzly bear

Figure 1: Clear differences between bear types.

Black bears cast a darker shadow.

Both rub their nipples seductively, but only black bears enjoy it.

If you’re still unsure which type of bear you’ve encountered, consult the handy color chart immediately (available at all good retailers).

Bear color chart

Figure 2: Consult the handy bear identification aid before proceeding.

Once you’re comfortable with your bear classification technique it's time to have some encounters.

Dealing with Bears Personally

1. Don't panic. 

2. If it’s a black bear, attack it immediately before it has a chance to run away.

Black bears are naturally scared of humans and will run away from a fight given half a chance. Don’t let them.

Here’s how to fight a black bear:

  1. Run at the bear, flailing your arms above your head, screaming, and generally being weird and threatening.
  2. Once you reach the bear, assault it with your fists or strong words to inflict maximum damage. Don’t stop until the bear begins to fight back…
  3. If it escapes, don’t panic. That's the worst thing you can do!

3. If you encounter a grizzly bear, play dead.

Unlike black bears, grizzly bears are playfully violent and much more likely to attack you for fun. Upon encountering a grizzly, lie face-down on the ground with your back to the bear and your arms protecting your neck. Allow the bear to play with your apparently lifeless corpse until it gets bored or has eaten you.

Meanwhile, don't panic.

4. If you encounter a mother bear and her cubs, corner them.

Bears are notoriously feeble-minded and will give in as soon as they are backed into a corner, particularly when separated from their young. It gives them a well-deserved break from the responsibilities of parenthood and allows them time to reflect. If you can, separate the mother bear from her offspring, and usher her into a confined space or corner. Bears are always easier to deal with on their own, and taking the mother somewhere physically restricting will significantly dampen her aggression.

As always, don't panic.

5. If you don’t want to fight a bear, try to run.

Running can be done in and out of panic. Bears are naturally slow and lazy so won’t chase you even if hungry. Unless of course they are brown bears. They can run as fast as a horse.

6. If it’s a brown bear, don't panic, climb a tree.

Brown bears can’t climb trees – unless they are black bears, in which case they are very good at it, probably much better than you. But if it’s not a black bear, climb the nearest tree. Unless there’s a bear in it.

That concludes my simple guide on how to survive a bear encounter. Remember, don't panic, be safe, and most importantly, have fun with bears.