Bears and outdoor recreation

Outdoor recreation bear safety tips for anglers, campers, hikers and mountain bikers.

Bear safety for anglers, campers, hikers and mountain bikers

How can I stay safe when hiking in bear country?

  • Carry bear spray and a noise maker. Before leaving home read the instructions. Carry the bear spray in a belt holster or somewhere where you can access it immediately. Do not carry the bear spray inside your backpack.
  • Watch for fresh bear signs. If the signs look like they were made recently, quickly and calmly leave the area. Signs of bear activity include:

    • Diggings
    • Droppings
    • Fresh carcasses
    • Tracks
    • Overturned rocks
    • Scratched logs
    • Torn-up ant hills
  • Avoid areas with typical bear food sources. These include berry patches, grain fields, garbage pits, beehives and anywhere you can see an animal carcass.
  • Go with friends. Bears are less likely to approach people in groups. Check each other's position often and remember that the larger the group, the less likely a bear will hang around.
  • Watch for crows, ravens, magpies or jays. These birds often indicate the presence of an animal carcass that may also attract a bear.
  • Be alert when in wildlife travel corridors. Rivers and streams, trails and access routes, are common travel corridors for wildlife, including bears. Be cautious when you are in these areas.
  • Make sure someone knows your plans. Before your trip, leave names, trip plans and date of return with friends or family.
  • Make noise. Talk loudly, sing or let out occasional warning shouts. This will alert bears to your approach so you are less likely to cause a surprise encounter. Remember that other sounds, such as flowing rivers and streams and strong winds, can drown out the noise you make. Be extra noisy at these times.
  • If you hike with a dog, keep it on a leash. Your dog should be leashed and under control at all times. An unleashed dog can lead an irritated bear back to you and your friends.
  • Avoid being out at dusk, night or dawn. Although bear encounters can happen at any time of day, bears are most active at dusk, night and dawn.
  • Keep young children close to you. Children can be particularly at risk because they are small and make erratic movements.

How can I stay safe while mountain biking?

  • Avoid bear habitat during times of increased bear activity. If possible, avoid mountain biking in bear habitat during early spring when bears emerge from dens, mid-August when berries ripen and late fall when bears are preparing for hibernation.
  • In bear habitat, avoid trails with thick bush, tight corners and hills. In areas of limited visibility, mountain bikers can startle bears. Bikes move quickly and quietly and may not give bears enough time to avoid unwanted encounters. Cycle on established trails with clear lines of site.
  • Be extra cautious in bear habitat. Carry bear spray and ensure it is easily accessible. Bike with friends and make frequent stops to make noise. Be extremely cautious when approaching blind corners, thick bush or the crest of a hill.

How can I keep bears away from my campsite?

  • Choose your campsite wisely. Camp away from wildlife trails, tree cover, water bodies, shrubs and berry patches.
  • Leave space. Place tents, trailers, vehicles and horses with enough room between them so curious bears have enough room to escape.
  • Use airtight containers. Store anything that can attract a bear, such as food, toiletries, or pet food, in 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. Remember to use your flashlight.
  • Keep your horses and your dogs nearby. Agitated animals may alert you to the presence of a bear. Keep horses and dogs where you are able to hear their warnings.
  • Use electric fencing. Use portable electric fencing to secure your animals and your camp.
  • Use dried foods if possible. Dried foods have less odour than fresh or canned foods.
  • Always store food out of reach of bears. The best practice is to store food in airtight containers away from sleeping areas. Use bear-resistant storage lockers when available or the trunk of your car. Never store food in the tent or tent-trailer where you are sleeping.
  • If bear-resistant storage lockers are not available, 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.
  • Never cook or eat in or near your tent. Cook a distance away and downwind from your sleeping area. Wash cooking equipment immediately and dispose of dishwater at least 100 metres (328 feet) downwind from the campsite.
  • Keep your campsite clean.

How can I stay safe when fishing?

  • Clean fish at designated cleaning stations. If no station is available, dispose of fish waste in proper garbage containers.
  • Fish with friends. Make lots of noise and keep an eye on each other.
  • Be extra attentive in travel corridors. Remember that bears use lakeshores, rivers and creeks as travel routes and feeding sites. Be alert and make as much noise as you can when fishing and moving about in these areas.
  • Be cautious when seeking off-trail sites. Off-trail sites place you at greater risk of surprising a bear. Avoid going off-trail in bear habitat. If you do go off-trail, be extra cautious when walking through shrubs and trees along shorelines, carry your bear spray and make lots of noise.
  • Seal fish in plastic bags and wash your hands.

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 enjoying the outdoors.

What should I do when I see a bear on the roadside?

  • Do not stop. Many are thrilled to see a bear in nature. However, stopping to get a closer look or take a picture only serves to habituate the bear to humans. Bears that become habituated to humans become bolder in their search for food and may begin to frequent campsites, garbage bins and backyards. When you see a bear on the roadside, keep driving.

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. Never run.
  • 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 quiet and alert. Even if you think you are a safe distance away from the bear, remain quiet, alert and calm. Continue watching for the bear until you reach your destination.

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

  • Do not run. Stay calm. Stay with your group and keep children close. Assess the situation.
  • 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 out. Leave the area the way that you came. Keep your eye on the bear without staring at it aggressively.
  • Watch for a place to hide. As you back away, seek out a place of safety, such as a car or building.
  • Speak to the bear in a soft, low voice. Let the bear know that you are human and not a prey animal.
  • Use your noisemaker and prepare to defend yourself with bear spray.
  • If you encounter a bear at close range when you're on your bike:
    • step off your bike and walk slowly away:
    • keep your bike between you and the bear:
    • do not try to outrun or out-cycle the bear; and
    • leave the area the way you came if you spot a bear from a distance.

What is a defensive encounter?

A defensive encounter occurs when the bear is feeling stressed or threatened. The bear may have been surprised by your sudden appearance or feel that 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; and
  • Making a bluff charge

What should I do in a defensive encounter?

  • Do not run. Stay calm, make no sudden movements and do not act in a threatening manner.
  • Speak to the bear in a soft, low voice. Speaking calmly to the bear lets it know that you are not a prey animal and helps to keep you calm and focused.
  • Keep the group together. Gather children in close and do not let anyone leave the group.
  • Prepare to use your bear spray.
  • 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 and stand on a rock or a tree stump to 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.
  • Pick up rocks or sticks to use as weapons. Aim at the bear's eyes, face and nose.
  • If the bear makes contact, fight back as forcefully as you can.

Related Information

Alberta BearSmart Brochures

YouTube Videos

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