I shouldn't have to tell you about the dangers you face when you head into the wild. From getting lost to taking a fall, one area that gets a surprising amount of press is animal attacks. Of course, with less than three people a year even killed by bears, it's still a very real risk, especially if you're hiking and camping in remote areas with lots of animal activity.
But it's not just bears. When you're camping you risk coming across everything from mountain lions to alligators, not to mention the fearsomely aggressive moose.
The good news though, is there's a few things you can do to keep yourself safe when you're in bear country. Follow these tips and make sure you're not on the wrong side of an animal attack.
Leave your pets at home
As much as I like taking my two dogs with me when I'm hiking in the wild, there are certain areas it's best to leave them at home. Your dogs will bark and aggravate a bear, and while you can train your dogs to bay and intimidate larger prey, most dogs won't have this instinct.
They will run in and attack, and against a larger bear, I can tell you this. It won't end well. And if they do happen to escape, they'll most likely be scared and afraid, running straight back into your arms with the bear in hot pursuit. Bears have a chase instinct, and will charge your pets.
Don't feed the bears
There's a reason for all the signs warning against feeding wild animals. People like to bait them to come close for a selfie or to get a better look, which only seeks to condition the bears to expect food when humans are around. If you disappoint them, that's when they get frustrated, and you've got an angry bear to deal with.
Don't give the bears any reason to approach your camp, and for god's sake, don't feed them. This is training them that human camps are a food source, and that's not good for anyone. Especially if they've got cubs. It's not worth it for a picture, especially if the mother bear suddenly decides her cubs are in danger. She will attack you.
Destroy all food scents
Bears have an uncanny sense of smell, and will track the scent of a fresh kill right back to your camp. It's your responsibility to ensure all of your food supplies are sealed in bear-proof containers, and strung up in the trees to keep them out of reach.
The same goes for your clothes and cooking. Setup a separate camp for cleaning your kills, cooking and eating your meals, and make sure that you've cleaned your hands, cooking gear and your dishes, and any blood that may have gotten on your clothes off before you return back to your camp to sleep. Sleeping in clothes you've been cooking in is a big mistake, as the bears will smell the food, and you will get mauled when they come to investigate.
Don't risk it alone
Hiking alone though an area where you've got large populations of bears isn't a good idea. You want another pair of eyes and ears keeping watch, and if there's two of you (or more) you'll make twice as much noise as you're hiking. Which is important. Bears usually attack when they're startled, so the noisier you are the better.
And if you do happen to startle one, stick together. Appearing larger and more threatening than you are may spook a black bear and scare it off. Or if you do get attacked, at least you've got a friend there to help administer first aid. Just don't try and intimidate a grizzly, they'll see it as a challenge and you will lose. You're better off playing dead until the grizzly loses interest.
Arm yourself with the right weapons
Being able to defend yourself is paramount, and you won't catch me in the woods with bears around without at least my 12-guage shotgun. The noise is often enough to scare a bear off, and if I do happen to get charged the stopping power should be plenty to give me the advantage.
I've also got a canister of pepper spray I carry with me (I'd much rather use this first if I have a choice), to distress and deter whatever bear I come across. Many products offer a range of several feet, which is usually more than enough to get a good spray in and scare them off.
Be as noisy as possible
"Ho bear" is a call you should be making at regular intervals when you're hiking in bear country, as you want to be as noisy as possible. Startled bears get angry, and that's when they attack. Because their eyesight is much worse than ours, if you surprise a bear, they are most likely to attack first.
You want to make as much commotion and noise as you can, to reduce the chances a bear doesn't hear you coming. Being noisy is often enough for the bears to get a look at you and move away, before a confrontation even occurs.
Sacrifice your pack
If you do happen to surprise a bear and backing away is no longer an option, you may be able to escape if you sacrifice your pack. Bears are hungry creatures, and they really just want to secure their next meal. If you've got food in your pack, drop it and then back away.
The bear will smell it (if it's not too heavily wrapped), and will start going to town on your pack to get it out. Losing your kit hurts, but much less than having your backpack mauled off your body if the bear catches up to you while you're escaping. Sacrifice your pack, and slowly back away.
Staying safe when you're hiking through bear country requires a little common sense, the ability to act noisily as you trek through the woods, and ensuring every possible scent of food is destroyed (or at least not brought back to your camp). That's how you'll keep the bears away, and that's how you'll stay safe. Happy trails!