Other than running into a shady two-legged, the bear is the most dangerous large animal in the backcountry. Given much-publicized attacks by grizzly bears in recent years, I thought I would focus on them. I spoke with wildlife educator and northern-skills expert David Cronenwett, who lives in the heart of bear country in Montana where his job regularly takes him within sight of these amazing creatures.
If you run into a grizzly and they are not aware of your presence, it's best to quietly leave the area. "If you bump into one that knows you are there, turn sideways slightly and avert your stare, since bears recognize a full-frontal gaze as a threat," Cronenwett says. "Talk to the animal in an unthreatening voice and pull your pepper spray from its holster. Do not arm the can unless a charge is in progress.”
Cronenwett says that bears usually don't want to scrap. "It's a dangerous waste of energy, and most grizzlies do not recognize humans as prey. Sure there are exceptions, but most of the recent incidents have involved mothers with young and defensive actions.” The vast majority of the time, a grizzly will go the other way if given a chance.
His advice from many years on the trail: Keep your camp clean and bear box your food. Make noise when going around blind corners. Stay alert and know how to recognize bear sign (i.e. rub trees, scat, and tracks). Avoid camping near carcasses or trails (bears use them too). Make sure to carry pepper spray. "The effectiveness of pepper spray is undisputed," Cronenwett says. "Practice drawing and arming it regularly. This device isn't perfect, but it's far more effective and easier to use than firearms. Taking a snoutful of pepper spray is a powerful deterrant to a charge."