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Bear Viewing Advice

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Bear Viewing Advice

Post  WMTravellers on Mon Sep 01, 2014 7:43 pm

The majority of organised bear viewing trips we have been on have included some form of bear awareness training. A great example is Katmai National Park, where as soon as your float plane has landed at Brooks Lodge you are taken straight to formal bear awareness training before you are allowed to walk anywhere on your own.

Although there is no guarantee you will see bears on an organised bear viewing trip, with local knowledge and experience it's obvious these will give you a higher chance of finding a bear. Of course not all bear searching and viewing has to be done under experienced supervision, you can find your own bears. We call these 'chance' bear viewings... 'chance' because they are just that, there's a chance you might see one! But with a bit of pre-planning you can greatly increase those chances.

WMTravellers' 'Chance' Bear Viewing Tips

Finding a bear...

First make sure you're visiting the 'bear region' at the right time of year... make sure they are going to be awake! In colder regions bears 'hibernate', when there's no food they sleep. Do research on what they eat at what time of year, bears eat all sorts of food including sedge grass, shellfish, river fish, berries, rodents, bison, whales, seals... just about everything! For example, salmon runs don't happen all year round, so make sure you know when the runs are in relation to the area you are planning to visit.

The best times to find bears are normally dawn and dusk as this is when the bears are usually travelling between their bedding sites and food sources.  Although, bears can be sighted at any time of the day, this is when they are normally most active. For some reason, I have yet to understand, 10:30 am has proven to be a great time for chance bear viewings for us.

Speak to locals or park rangers to find out where bears have been sighted recently. Some park rangers are reluctant to give out this information as they don't want too many people to visit known bear 'hot spots' - if you get vague answers speak to other visitors and ask what they have spotted and where.

If you are in a national park, look for crowds of people with large lenses as it is likely they have spotted a bear... and even if it's not a bear it is very likely to be something exciting like a wolf, badger, golden eagle.... Don't be afraid to ask a fellow visitor if you can look through their scope (no-one has ever said no to us!)

Always carry your binos (or scope if you're fortunate enough to have one) so you can scan tree lines and valleys for brown or black dots that might be heading your way. Don't forget to look behind you too! We have had several experiences where everyone is looking on one side of the road and a bear has appeared on the other side!

Be prepared to wait... if you have been told a bear has been sighted in a particular area, wait it out. We have had some amazing chance bear sightings where others have given up and we have waited and waited and been rewarded with the bear making a reappearance.

Once you have 'found' that bear...

First rule of bear viewing is - NEVER feed a bear!!! Feeding bears will encourage them to approach humans, this is never a good thing, they need to fear humans to keep them safe from hunters.

ALWAYS stay a safe distance from the bear, if you are in a car, DON'T just stop in the road and cause a bear jam, try and find a safe place to pull over.  STAY in your car if the bear is closer than 50 metres.

NEVER try to get the bear's attention or disturb it from doing what it was doing. If the bear changes its behaviour you are probably too close, back away slowly.  NEVER run and NEVER get between a sow bear and her cubs (even in your car), she may see this as a threat to her babies and cause her to panic.

Getting pictures or video footage should never be at the cost of putting you or the bear at risk of injury! Some sightings should just stay as visual memories... know when to move on!
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WMTravellers

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Re: Bear Viewing Advice

Post  WMTravellers on Tue Sep 02, 2014 7:23 am

Please note this advice is applicable to North American Bears.

Unplanned 'chance' bear encounters...

Not all encounters with bears will necessarily be planned. If you are like us and enjoy hiking in North American National Parks there is a chance you may encounter a bear. A surprised bear can act very differently from a bear that is aware of your presence.

Our first bit of advice is avoid surprising the bear, NEVER go on silent hikes, chat, laugh and sing your way along the trail. If there is a bear up ahead on the trail it will hear and move away to avoid you. When walking through tall grasses or dense forest and you can't see the trail ahead call out to the invisible bear letting it know you are... we like to call "hello bear, we're walking along on the trail bear".

When hiking next to streams you may need to raise your voice a little more to ensure it hears you.

We have had our fair share of unplanned encounters, but for all of them we were talking (or singing) and the bears knew we were there before we had spotted them... we were the surprised ones! Wouldn't it be great if bears gave advice to their cubs on what to do when they have chance encounters with humans.  Very Happy It might go something like... "once you're bigger than them you don't need to run up a tree, just pose for a few pictures and then keep on walking".

If hiking in bear country makes you nervous consider going on group hikes, hang around the trail head and then ask fellow hikers if you can join them.

Unplanned chance encounters where you find yourself too close to the bear...


  • If possible back away slowly and take a different route, either by back tracking or by going around the bear.


  • If this is not possible or you are unexpectedly really close to the bear, stay calm and stand your ground, remember the bear is probably just as frightened of you as you are of it!


  • If you are in group stay close together, the larger you appear the less likely the bear is to approach.


  • Talk to the bear in a calm, 'comforting' tone. "Hello bear, I don't mean you any harm".



  • Back away, walking slowly, don't run as this may trigger a 'hunting' instinct (bears are like cats and dogs, if something runs from them they will likely chase it).


  • When a bear feels threatened it may swat the ground with its paws, 'pop' its jaw or even make a bluff charge towards you. Try to look non-threatening, remain calm and stay still. Keep talking to the bear and continue to slowly move away.


Before we move on to the last two points I would like to remind you bear attacks are rare, you are more likely to get struck by lightning in North America than be attacked by a bear!


  • In the unlikely event the bear makes contact with you, play dead by falling to the ground. Protect your stomach area by rolling onto it and place your hands on the back of your neck. Keep your legs and elbows in. Even when the attack is over remain in this position until you are sure the bear has moved on.


  • In the even more unlikely event the bear starts to eat you, use whatever weapon you have to hand, kick and punch the bear. Its nose is really sensitive aim your attack for it or its eyes, fight for your life!

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Re: Bear Viewing Advice

Post  Laikipia on Tue Sep 02, 2014 12:05 pm

http://i73.servimg.c WMT that's brilliant, thanks so much. I am thinking we'll have to plan a bear trip next year. It sounds wonderful and now I have all your useful tips and advice.

Lai cheers
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