Why do bears attack?

Bear attacks are rare.  However, you should be prepared and remember you are entering the bear's environment.  Just like you in your own home, a bear is protective of its space, food sources, and offspring (cubs).  However, the bear is wild and its protective instincts can be deadly.  Most attacks are defense attacks during a surprise encounter with people.  In a split second, a seemingly docile bear can charge at speeds in excess of 30 m.p.h. to attack and stop a perceived threat.  That's why it is so important to stay at least 100 yards (a football/soccer field) from bears.  


Knowing what to do in the event of a bear attack is crucial.  Every bear encounter is different, but the following can help you survive if an attack happens. 


The likelihood of an attack drops the further away you stay.


Please watch this video to learn how to

survive a bear attack.



To learn more about bears and bear safety, visit YNP's Bear Safety Page.


How to react to a charging bear.


  • If a bear charges you after a surprise encounter, stay still and stand your ground. Most of the time, if you do this, the bear is likely to break off the charge or veer away. This is called a bluff charge. If you run it is likely to trigger a chase response from the bear.


  • If you are charged by a bear and have bear pepper spray, this is the time to use it. Start spraying the charging bear when it is about 40 feet away.


  • If the bear continues to charge, it is important, not to drop to the ground and "play dead" too early. Wait until the bear makes contact or the nano-second just before the bear makes contact. Remember, by standing your ground, the bear is likely to break off the charge or veer away.


  • If the bear makes contact, this is the point where you become passive and "play dead."

    • Drop to the ground; keep your pack on to protect your back. Lie on your stomach, face down and clasp your hands over the back of your neck with your elbows protecting the sides of your face.

    • Remain still and stay silent to convince the bear that you are not a threat to it or its cubs.


  • After the bear leaves, wait several minutes before moving.

    • Listen and look around cautiously before you get up to make certain the bear is no longer nearby.

    • If the bear is gone, get up and walk (don't run) out of the area. Remember, the sow grizzly needs time to gather up her cubs which may have climbed trees or hidden in nearby brush.

    • If you get up too soon, before the sow has had time to gather up her cubs and leave, she may attack again.


  • During a surprise encounter where the bear is reacting defensively, you should not fight back. Fighting back will only prolong the attack and will likely result in more serious injuries.


  • Since 1970, in Yellowstone National Park, those that played dead when attacked by a bear during a surprise encounter received only minor injuries 75% of the time. However, those that fought back during surprise encounters received very severe injuries 80% of the time.


  • If a bear has not reacted aggressively, and has not initiated a charge or otherwise acted defensively, you should back away. Never drop to the ground and "play dead" with a bear that has not been aggressive or defensive.






How to react to a curious or predatory bear.

  • Being submissive or "playing dead" with a curious bear could cause the bear to become predatory.


  • A defensive bear will charge almost immediately during a surprise encounter, and will charge with its head low and ears laid back. A curious or predatory bear will persistently approach with its head up and ears erect.


  • When approached by a curious or predatory bear you should be aggressive and fight back.


                                                                                                                        Credit: National Park Service

bear spray rental in Yellowstone National Park