Dr. Tom Smith talks to a group in Bozeman, Montana about safety in bear country
Dr. Tom Smith talks to a group in Bozeman, Montana about safety in bear country

Last week we went to a talk about bear safety by Dr. Tom Smith. Dr. Smith is the expert in human/bear conflicts—grizzly, black, and polar. He is also a friend and someone my husband and I work within our roles at Polar Bears International (PBI).

The talk was sponsored by PBI and we mainly went to support Tom and his work. I thought I was pretty well versed on what to do when encountering a grizzly bear. Turns out, didn’t know as much as I thought I did.

Grizzly tracks on the Bechler river trail in yellowstone
Grizzly tracks on the Bechler River trail in Yellowstone

I have never run into a grizzly on the trail. We’ve seen them from the car or road, and I’ve followed their tracks. I’ve had my fair share of black bear encounters, but while they can be just as dangerous, they don’t seem as scary. And I’ve been lucky to see lots of polar bears in the wild…from the safety of a Tundra Buggy.

I think we haven’t run into grizzlies because we are so “bear-aware.” We make noise when entering areas that would be hard to spot bears, we hang our food and keep a clean camp.

Here are Tom’s rules, after years of research on what works and what doesn’t, for hiking in bear country.

1.     Never enter bear country without a deterrent.

2.     Make noise appropriately.

3.     If you confront a bear, do the following simultaneously:

a.     Stop and stand your ground

b.     Ready your deterrent

c.     Call out to others and group up side-by-side

d.     Let the bear make the next move. If it crosses a predetermined distance, use your bear spray.

You’ll notice he didn’t say to put your hands in the air (how will you ready your deterrent?) or to back away (wait until the bear leaves to retreat).

The best part about these rules is that they are simple and easy to follow.

Happy hiking!