How to Prevent Encounters With Bears

Never purposely feed bears (or other wildlife) or try to approach them.

Limit food sources

  • put garbage in containers that have tight-fitting lids, and put them out only on the morning of garbage day, not the night before (you can purchase specially designed bear-resistant containers, which work best)
  • take garbage to the dump often, if you do not have curbside pick-up
  • frequently wash garbage cans, recycling containers and lids with a strong-smelling disinfectant
  • 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)
  • do not leave pet food outdoors, in screened- in areas or porches
  • do not put meat, fish or fruit in composters outside (keep scraps in the freezer until garbage day)
  • pick all ripe fruit from trees and bushes and fallen fruit off the ground
  • remove grease and food residue from barbecue grills, including the grease cup underneath, after each use
  • inform cottage renters of how to avoid attracting bears to the property

Keep your eyes and ears open

  • travel in groups of 2 or more (bear attacks occur primarily on people who are alone)
  • make noise as you move through areas where visibility is restricted or where background noise is high, such as near streams and waterfalls (e.g., singing, whistling or talking will alert bears to your presence, giving them a chance to avoid you)
  • while outdoors, keep your eyes and ears open:
    • scan your surroundings to check for bears
    • do not wear music headphones
    • watch for signs of bear activity (e.g., tracks, claw marks on trees, flipped-over rocks or fresh bear droppings)
    • if you are out with a dog, leash it (uncontrolled, untrained dogs may actually lead a bear to you)
    • pay attention, especially if you are working, gardening or berry picking
    • occasionally scan your surroundings to check for bears
    • rise slowly if you are in a crouched position so that you don’t startle nearby bears

Take safety precautions

  • carry and have a readily-accessible whistle or air horn
  • learn how to use bear pepper spray and carry it readily accessible
  • consider carrying a long-handled axe, if you are in “remote areas or deep in the forest”

If you encounter a bear

Stop. Do not panic. Remain calm.

Take these steps:

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

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

If it is a close encounter:

  • yell
  • wave your arms to make yourself look bigger
  • 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 within seven metres) or anything else you can find or use to threaten or distract the bear
  • fight back as if your life depends on it

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

Bear behaviours/warning signals

When bears are caught off guard, they are stressed, and usually just want to flee. These are all warning signals bears give to let you know you are too close.

Stand on its hind legs

A bear usually stands to get a better look at you or ‘catch your scent’. This is not aggressive behaviour.

Act 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)

Make noise

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.