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Boreal Emergency Preparedness Portal

If you encounter a bear. Stop. Do not panic. Remain calm.

Jul 01, 2018 01:18PM ● By Editor
Photo from Mother Nature Network

If you encounter a black bear

Stop. Do not panic. Remain calm.

Quickly assess the situation and try to determine which type of an encounter this might be – sighting, surprise or close encounter.

When bears are caught off guard, they are stressed, and usually just want to flee. Generally, the noisier the bear is, the less dangerous it is, provided you don't approach the bear. The noise is meant to ‘scare’ you off and acts as a warning signal.

If you see a black bear:

  • do not try to get closer to the bear for a better look or picture
  • make sure the bear has a clear escape route — don’t corner a bear
  • always watch the bear and slowly back away until the bear is out of sight
  • get inside, if you are near a building or vehicle
  • leave the area, if you are berry-picking, hiking, camping, jogging or cycling
  • if you are with others, stay together and act as a group
  • if the bear does not get closer to you, slowly back away, talking to the bear in a quiet, monotone voice

Bear warning signs

Black bear attacks are extremely rare. A black bear may attack if it:

  • feels threatened - if it perceives you to be a threat to it, its cubs or it may be defending food - this is a defensive bear that wants more space between you and it
  • is a predatory bear - usually occur in rural or remote areas. Predatory bears approach silently, and may continue to approach regardless of your attempts to deter them by yelling or throwing rocks

There are warning signals threatened or predatory bears give to let you know you are too close:

  • Stands on its hind legs - a bear usually stands to get a better look at you or ‘catch your scent’.  This is not aggressive behaviour.
  • Acts defensively - if a bear feels threatened by your presence, it may try to get you to back off and leave it alone.  To do this, it may:
    • salivate excessively, exhale loudly, or make huffing, moaning, clacking and popping sounds with its mouth, teeth and jaws
    • lower its head with its ears drawn back while facing you
    • charge forward, and/or swat the ground with its paws (known as a ‘bluff’ charge)

Do not:

  • scream
  • turn your back on the bear
  • run
  • kneel down
  • make direct eye contact
  • climb a tree
  • retreat into water or try and swim — a bear can do these things much better than you


  • wave your arms to make yourself look bigger and yell at the bear to go away
  • throw objects
  • blow a whistle or an air horn
  • make noise to try and persuade the bear to leave
  • prepare to use bear pepper spray

If the bear keeps advancing toward you

  • Stand your ground
  • Use your bear pepper spray (if the bear is close) or anything else you can find or use to threaten or distract the bear
  • Fight back as if your life depends on it

If the bear attacks

  • use your pepper spray
  • fight back with everything you have — in a predatory attack, your life is at risk
  • do  not  play dead except in the rare instance when you are sure a mother bear is attacking you in defense of cubs and your initial attempts to deter the bear have been unsuccessful (especially true for children or small-bodied adults)

After the bear leaves

  • tell others about bear activity in the area
  • if the bear was eating from a non-natural food source (like garbage or bird food), remove or secure the item that attracted the bear

Lethal force (dispatch a bear)

It’s best to prevent encounters with bears before doing anything else.
But if you’ve exhausted all alternatives you have the right to protect your personal property and yourself. Any action you take must be:

  • carried out using the most humane means possible
  • done in a safe manner
  • in accordance with any applicable laws (e.g., discharging a firearm by-laws)

You do not need a hunting licence to use lethal force. But if you kill a black bear and do not intend to keep it, you must report it immediately to your local Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry office.

If you kill a black bear and want to keep the dead animal for personal use, you must register for a Notice of Possession with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Killing a bear in self-defence must be an action of last resort.

Updated: June 11, 2018
Published: May 16, 2016

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