How to behave
if you see a bear

Bear Safety Tips

Bear Encounters

Black Bears Rarely Become Aggressive

Black bears rarely become aggressive when encountered. However, it’s best to avoid bear encounters, and to know what to do if an encounter happens (keep reading).

“Know what to do when you see a bear. NEVER run from a bear. Don’t approach a bear – just quietly move away and leave the area. However, if a black bear does approach you, make yourself look big, make loud noises, clap your hands, and continue to back away.”

Jaime Sajecki, Black Bear Project Leader
Virginia Department of Game and Inland. Fisheries

If you encounter a black bear…

…In a building, by a dumpster, or around the corner

  • Give the bear a clear escape route (do not corner it).
  • Leave any doors open as you back away from the bear.
  • Do not lock the bear in a room.

…In your backyard

  • From a safe distance, make loud noises, shout, or bang pots and pans together to scare away the bear.
  • When the bear leaves, remove potential attractants such as garbage, bird seed, or pet food.
  • Ask neighbors to remove attractants.
  • Check your yard for bears before letting out your dog.
bear raiding bird feeder
in the wood icon

…In the woods

  • If you see a bear before it notices you: stand still, don’t approach and enjoy the moment. Then move away quietly in the opposite direction.
  • If you encounter a bear that’s aware of you: don’t run; running may trigger a chase response. Back away slowly in the opposite direction and wait for the bear to leave.
Keep reading to find out what to do if a bear approaches, follows or charges you. Watch Staying Safe in Bear Country (see below) for an in-depth look at bear behavior and detailed information on how to respond to different types of interactions and encounters with both black bears and grizzly bears.

Carry Bear Spray & Know How To Use It

Keep bear spray accessible; it’s proven to be the easiest and most effective way to deter a bear that threatens you. It doesn’t work like bug repellent, so never spray your tent, campsite or belongings. Learn more about bear spray.

backpacker heading into the woods

If a black bear becomes aggressive and…

…Approaches you

  • Stand your ground.
  • Back away only when the bear stops its approach.
  • Make yourself look bigger by raising your arms and jacket, and/or standing on a rock or stump.
  • Yell “Hey bear” loudly.
  • Get your bear spray out of the holster and into your hand. Remove the safety latch.

…Follows You

  • Stand your ground.
  • Try to appear large by holding up your arms and jacket, and/or standing on a rock or stump.
  • Back away only when the bear stops its approach.
  • Intimidate the black bear by making yourself look bigger and making noise (wave arms, shout, clap, bang stick).
  • Stay together.

…Continues to Follow You

  • Stand your ground and stay together.
  • Intimidate the black bear by making yourself look bigger and making noise (wave arms, shout, clap, bang stick).
  • Prepare to fight or use bear spray.
bear too close in the woods
bear charges you (icon)

… Charges you

  • Stand your ground.
  • Remain calm.
  • If you have bear spray, spray it directly at the bear.

… Makes contact with you

  • FIGHT BACK with anything at hand (knife, sticks, rocks, binoculars, backpack or by kicking).
  • DO NOT play dead.

Video: Staying Safe in Bear Country

This video developed by the International Association for Bear Research and Management features important information and advice from leading black bear and grizzly bear experts. See how taking basic safety precautions will help you minimize the chances of having an encounter with a bear.

Learn how the circumstances and the bear’s behavior are the keys to choosing how to respond if you do have an encounter with a black bear or a grizzly bear.

Take Special Precautions to Avoid Bear Encounters

when hiking, walking with your dog, camping or fishing in bear country

Black bears come in many colors, from brown, cinnamon, tan or blonde to black.
The American black bear is a species that lives in most states and across Canada.

 Top photo: Steve Uffman