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Boreal Emergency Preparedness Portal

What to do if you encounter a bear?

Jun 14, 2019 12:44PM ● By Editor
Photo:  Mother Nature Network

From the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources  Posted:  June 13, 2019

If you encounter a black bear

When bears are caught off guard, they are stressed, and usually just want to flee.

Stop. Do not panic. Remain calm.

Generally, the noisier the bear is, the less dangerous it is, provided you do not approach. The noise is meant to “scare” you off and acts as a warning signal.


  • Slowly back away while keeping the bear in sight and wait for it to leave.
  • If the bear does not leave, throw objects, wave your arms and make noise with a whistle or air horn.
  • Prepare to use bear spray.
  • If you are near a building or vehicle get inside as a precaution.

Do not

  • Run, climb a tree or swim — a bear can do these things much better than you
  • Kneel down
  • Make direct eye contact

Bear warning signs

Black bear attacks are extremely rare. A threatened or predatory black bear will give off warning signs to let you know you are too close. If a black bear stands on its hind legs this is not aggressive behaviour, and the bear is trying to get a better look at you or "catch your scent".

A defensive bear

A bear that feels threatened will:

  • salivate excessively and exhale loudly
  • 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).

A predatory bear

The bear will approach silently, usually in rural or remote areas, and may continue to approach regardless of your attempts to deter them by yelling or throwing rocks. If the bear attacks:

  • Use bear spray.
  • Fight back with everything you have.
  • Do not play dead unless you are sure a mother bear is attacking in defence of her cubs.

After the bear leaves

  • Report the bear encounter by calling 1-866-514-2327 (TTY705-945-7641) between April 1 and November 30.
  • Tell your neighbours about bear activity in the area.
  • If the bear was eating non-natural food (such as garbage or bird food), remove or secure the item.

When to use self defence

If you have tried everything possible to get a bear to leave your property and you are afraid for your safety, you have the right to protect yourself and your property.

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

Any action you take must be done:

  • according to applicable laws (for example, discharging a firearm by-laws)
  • safely
  • in the most humane way possible

You do not need a hunting licence to kill a bear in self-defence. If you kill a 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 bear and want to keep it, you must register for a Notice of Possession with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Bear fact:

Most bears encountering a barking dog will climb a tree or run away, but in some instances the bear may chase the dog back to its owner and react defensively against the dog or person.

photo of bear tracks in the sand

Prevent conflicts with black bears

Bears usually avoid humans, but they are attracted into urban and rural areas in order to get food.

If bears learn that they can find food where people live, they will return again and again and even try to enter buildings. Relocation and destruction are poor ways of trying to prevent conflicts with bears.

photo of a grey metal garbage bin


  • put garbage out only on the morning of garbage day, not the night before
  • put garbage in containers that have tight-fitting lids and store it in a bear-proof location such as your basement or a sturdy garage
  • spray garbage cans and lids with bleach or another strong disinfectant
  • take garbage to the dump often, if you do not have curbside pick-up
photo of a bird feeder

Bird feeders:

  • fill bird feeders only through the winter months
  • put away feeders in the spring and instead, offer birds natural alternatives (e.g. flowers, nesting boxes, fresh water)
photo of a barbecue with a red lid


  • burn off food residue and wash the grill right away
  • empty the grease trap every time you barbecue
  • remove all utensils, dishes and food after eating
photo of fruits and berries including strawberries raspberries blackberries and blueberries

Fruits and berries:

  • pick all ripe and fallen fruit from trees and shrubs on your property
  • plant non-fruit bearing trees and shrubs
image of pet food in a dish

Pet food:

  • do not leave pet food outdoors, in screened-in areas or porches

Bear fact:

Garbage is the number 1 attractant for bears. Bears will repeatedly come back to a food source. Store garbage inside until collection day.

photo of a mother and son putting a full garbage bag into the garbage bin

When out in bear country

Travel in groups of two or more, as bears primarily attack people who are alone.

Avoid bear-human interactions

Alert bears to your presence so they can avoid you. Make noise, such as singing, whistling or talking while in areas with restricted visibility or with high background noise, such as near streams and waterfalls.

While outdoors:

  • scan your surroundings and do not wear music headphones
  • watch for signs of bear activity (for example, tracks, claw marks on trees, flipped-over rocks or fresh bear droppings)
  • leash your dog, as uncontrolled, untrained dogs may actually lead a bear to you
  • pay attention, especially if you are working, gardening or berry picking
  • rise slowly if you are in a crouched position so that you don’t startle nearby bears

Be prepared

You should:

  • carry a whistle or air horn
  • learn how to use bear pepper spray and carry it somewhere that’s easy to access
  • consider carrying a long-handled axe, if you are in remote areas or deep in the forest

Bear fact:

All odours attract bears. Pack all food, including dog food, with special care. Double or triple bagged food will reduce smells. Consider choosing meals that require minimal preparation.

Watch the Bear Wise video here.

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