Bears and hunters

Tips and information for hunters who are hunting in bear country.

Hunting in bear territory requires extra caution.

Being quiet, using animal attractants and calls and travelling alone mean that hunters place themselves at a heightened risk of a bear encounter.

Before you leave home, make a plan for lowering the risks and for responding safely in a bear encounter.

Hunters and Bear Spray

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) has produced a short video to encourage hunters to carry bear spray. Watch it here:

For more advice on how hunters should respond in bear encounters, see the section If You Encounter a Bear below.

Hunting in Bear Territory

Bear safety information for hunters

What signs should I be looking for?

  • Fresh signs that indicate recent bear activity:
    • Overturned logs or dug-up anthills
    • Scat
    • Tracks
  • Areas where bears could be feeding:
    • Animal carcasses
    • Bee yards
    • Berry patches
    • Digging sites
    • Garbage pits
    • Grain fields
  • Ravens, magpies, crows or jays. These birds could be at a carcass or gut pile that may have also attracted a bear.
  • Be extra cautious during these times:
    • At dusk, night or dawn
    • When noise levels are high due to wind, heavy rain or running water
    • When sightlines are short because of heavy cover, bends in trails or when approaching hills

What should I remember when I'm on the hunt?

  • Carry bear spray and a noisemaker. Keep them on you and know how to use them.
  • Remember that animal calls may also attract bears. Distress or mating calls, decoys and cover scents can attract bears as well as game.
  • Be cautious when tracking a wounded animal. Bears may also be attracted to animals that are wounded. When possible, have a partner keep watch.
  • If you see a bear, leave the area. Don't risk an encounter.

What should I remember after the kill?

  • While field-dressing the carcass, be aware the scent may be attracting a bear. Make noise so nearby bears know that you are in the area.
  • Remove the carcass as quickly as possible.

What should I remember if I have to return to the carcass later?

  • Separate the carcass from the gut pile. If you can, move the carcass at least 200 m from the gut pile before you leave. Bears will often be attracted to the gut pile first.
  • Hang the carcass. The carcass should be suspended at least 3.5 metres (11.5 feet) off the ground, and 1.5 metres (5 feet) from nearby trees in an area easily seen from a distance.
  • When returning to the kill site, use caution. Approach the site from upwind, use binoculars to see if the site is clear and make as much noise as possible.
  • If you see a bear at your kill site or if the carcass has been moved or buried, do not approach. Leave the site immediately and advise Fish and Wildlife by calling 310-0000.
  • Do not drag the carcass back to camp. Doing so will leave a scent trail that a bear can follow directly to your campsite.

How can I keep bears away from my campsite?

  • Choose your campsite wisely. Camp away from wildlife trails, shrubs and berry patches.
  • Arrange your camp site safely. Place tents, trailers and vehicles with enough room between them so that curious bears have enough room to escape.
  • Use airtight containers. Store food and toiletries in secure, airtight containers and keep them at least 100 metres from your sleeping area.
  • Store garbage in plastic bags and pack it out.
  • Never abandon, bury or partially burn food scraps. Bears have an excellent sense of smell and will be driven to investigate lingering food odours. Burn food scraps completely to ashes.
  • Be cautious when moving around the camp at night. Use your flashlight.
  • Use electric fencing. Secure your camp by setting up a perimeter with an electric fence.
  • Use dried or canned foods if possible. Dried foods have less odour than fresh foods.
  • Always store food out of reach of bears. The best practice is to store food in airtight containers away from sleeping areas. Never store food in a tent or tent-trailer where you are sleeping.
  • Hang stored food from a tree. This should be done between two trees or from a tree branch:
    • at least 3.5 metres (11.5 feet) above ground,
    • at least 1.5 metres (5 feet) from nearby trees or other vertical access features, and
    • at least 100 metres (328 feet) from any tents or sleeping areas.
  • Store harvested animals at least 100 m away from your camp. If you can, hang the carcass from a tree using the same methods for hanging stored food.
  • Never cook or eat in or near your tent. Cook 100 metres (328 feet) away and downwind from your sleeping area. Wash cooking equipment immediately and dispose of dishwater at least 100 metres away from the campsite.
  • Store dirty clothes and boots away from your camp. Anything that may have blood from harvested animals or the odours left from cooking should be stored outside the camp area and never in or around your sleeping area.
  • Keep a clean campsite. Ensure you thoroughly clean your campsite, storage sites and equipment before leaving camp. Failure to clean up food scraps, garbage, spilled horse feed, pet food and pieces of hide and blood can attract bears to the site.

If you encounter a bear

All bears are individuals and so all bear encounters will be unique. Serious attacks are rare, but you must always be cautious and alert when outdoors.

What should I do if I see a bear but the bear doesn't see me?

  • Don't attract attention. Leave the way you came without calling attention to yourself. Retreat slowly while keeping your eye on the bear.
  • If you must move forward, give the bear a wide berth. If you have no choice but to move forward, give the bear as much space as you can.
  • Stay alert. Even if you think you are a safe distance away from the bear, remain quiet and alert. Continue watching for the bear until you reach your destination.

What should I do if I see the bear and the bear sees me?

  • Look around. If you see cubs or an animal carcass, the bear will want to protect them. If you see either, back away from them.
  • Prepare to use your bear spray.
  • Back away. Leave the area the way that you came. Keep your eye on the bear without staring at it aggressively. As you back away, seek out a place of safety. Remember that both black bears and grizzly bears can climb trees, so if you do choose to climb a tree, go as high as you can.
  • Speak to the bear. Let the bear know you are human and not a prey animal.
  • Prepare to defend yourself with bear spray.

How should hunters respond in bear encounters?

Though it may seem that using a firearm will guarantee safety in a bear encounter, keep in mind the following:

  • A recent US study shows that in bear encounters only 2% of people are hurt – and then only with minor injuries - when defending themselves with bear spray.
  • To successfully deter a bear with bear spray, you need only spray a cloud of bear spray at the approaching animal. To successfully stop a bear with firearm requires a much more precise aim, a perfectly functioning firearm and an uncommonly cool head. A bear can run up to 60 km/hour. When a bear is charging in your direction at that speed you will likely not have time to load, accurately aim and discharge your firearm. A cloud of bear spray can deter the bear from making contact.
  • Bears are not always immediately felled by a bullet. A bear that does not die immediately can become increasingly aggressive, putting you at greater risk of injury.

What is a defensive encounter?

A defensive encounter occurs when the bear is feeling stressed or threatened. It may have been surprised by your sudden appearance or feels you are a threat to itself, its cubs or its food source. In such an encounter, the bear may show some of the following behaviours:

  • Vocalizing, such as blowing, huffing, "woofing", growling or snapping its jaws
  • Flicking the ears back
  • Swatting the ground
  • Swaying the head
  • Making a bluff charge

What should I do in a defensive encounter?

Hunters have an important role in preventing human-bear encounters and bear mortalities. Don't let a careless moment result in an injury to you or your party or the needless death of a bear.

  • Prepare to use your bear spray.
  • Speak to the bear. Speaking calmly to the bear reminds it that you are not a prey animal and helps to keep you calm.
  • Back away slowly without turning your back to the bear.
  • If the bear charges, do not run. Stand your ground. A bear may come very close to you when making a bluff charge, and it may make more than one bluff charge. NEVER run. Remember that bluff charges are made to communicate that you've invaded the bear's space and it wants you to move off. The majority of bluff charges are, in fact, bluffs, and do not end with the bear making contact. Shooting the bear out of fear in bluff situations may result in the needless death of a bear.
  • When the bear approaches, use your bear spray:
    • At 9 to 15 m (30 to 50 ft) fire a warning blast for ½ to 1 second, aiming the bear spray slightly downward.
    • At 6 to 9 m (20 to 30 ft) fire 1 to 2-second blasts in continuous succession, aiming slightly downward in front of the bear's head until the bear leaves.
    • At 0 to 6 m (0 to 20 ft) fire 1 to 2-second blasts in continuous succession, aiming at the head, or into the nose and mouth of the bear until the bear leaves.
    • Try to keep some bear spray in reserve. Always re-evaluate your situation.
  • After spraying the bear, back away. Keep the bear in sight as you leave the area, and stay alert. Bears may be attracted to the bear spray residue.
  • If the bear does make contact, play dead. Cover the back of your neck with your hands. Lie on your stomach with your legs anchored in the ground. If the bear rolls you over, roll back on to your stomach. Don't move until you're sure the bear has left the area.
  • Once the bear has stopped, remain quiet. Yelling at the bear may provoke it into a further attack.
  • Defensive attacks are short. If the bear has started to bite or if the attack is prolonged, it may have turned predatory (see below).

The bear sees me, is not showing signs of stress and is closing the distance. Why?

A bear that does not leave the area once it has detected you may be curious, looking for a handout, attempting to assert its dominance or be assessing you as a potential food source. In these cases, the bear is not showing signs of stress and is:

  • Staring intently
  • Circling around you to detect your scent
  • Remaining quiet
  • Approaching in a slow, hesitant manner
  • Keeping its head and its ears up

What should I do in these kinds of encounters?

  • Do not run. Prepare to fight with all means at your disposal. Do not play dead in a predatory encounter.
  • Make yourself look big and shout at the bear. Yell aggressively at the bear. Remind the bear that you are not easy prey.
  • Use your noisemaker and bear spray. Continue to use your bear spray, even when in close contact with the bear.
  • If the bear makes contact, fight back as forcefully as you can.

Related Information

Alberta BearSmart

Web Resources

For additional perspective on the effectiveness of bear spray for hunters, see:

For information on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) certified bear-resistant products, visit the IGBC website at: