News of bear attacks are infrequent, but these events do occur. In June 2018 a camper sustained injuries from a bear “trampling over his tent” pitched in the Red Feather Lakes area of Colorado. “The bear was jumping up and down on the tent,” said the Colorado Parks spokesperson. Thankfully, the man’s injuries were not fatal and the other three people in the tent were unharmed.
So what do you do if a bear attacks your tent?
If a bear approaches or attacks your tent, it is suggested that you attempt to scare it off by yelling and banging available objects. If the bear proceeds to attack your tent, you should first try to calmly escape to a safe location. If that is not possible, you must take defensive measures. If you can, before a bear attacks try to seem large and make and talk in a monotone voice as you slowly back away. If a grizzly bear is attacking you, curl into a ball with your fingers interlocking behind your neck or if it is a black bear fight back.
In this guide, we will go over the following concerning a bear tent attack scenario:
- What to do during the attack
- What to do after the attack
- How to prevent an attack
Data on bear attacks is somewhat lacking. In 2005, the CDC found that there were two deaths in the United States over the period of one year caused by a bear. This may not seem like a large number, but it is important to know how to respond to and prevent a bear attack if you find yourself in a dangerous situation.
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What to Do During the Attack
The media is great at sensationalizing bear attacks. Outdoor stores will provide many products to ward off bears and protect yourself. But in most cases, bears tend to stay away from humans. Astonishingly, the most useful tool turns out to be your mind.
On the off chance that you encounter an aggressive, or hungry, or defensive mama bear, you must be prepared to defend yourself. Learning and committing to memory these steps will help you to react effectively.
First, determine the species of bear based on its physical characteristics and actions. This may prove difficult if you are inside the tent, especially if it is dark. Try to glean any information you can from the animal’s shadow, outline, or mannerisms. In most cases, the two types of bears you will encounter are Black bears or Grizzly bears/Brown bears.
Polar bear attacks occur almost never. It is also not very likely that you will be tent camping in an area with a large polar bear population. For the purposes of this article, we will largely focus only on Grizzly bears and Black bears.
Brown bears or Grizzly bears are tan while black bears are… well black. Grizzlies are also much larger than black bears, standing at 6.5 feet compared to the black bears 5 feet. Grizzly bears can weigh a hefty 350-800 pounds, heavier than the 110-400 pound black bear.
Brown bears or Grizzly bears are more aggressive. Rather than herding her cubs to safety during a threat, a Grizzly bear will go on the defense. Because of their solitary nature, Grizzly bears prefer not to interact with humans.
Contrary to popular belief Grizzly bears can climb trees, albeit rather slowly. Grizzly bears are also known to charge in the face of perceived danger. A bear that is standing on its hind legs is usually only smelling the air and surveying the scene.
Black bears, unlike their brown cousins, tend to be more tolerant of a human presence. They are generally skittish, running away when threatened. Black bears are excellent climbers, often seeking safety up a tree. However, their shy personality trait does not negate the fact that they are very strong animals.
Almost all bears are curious and constantly seeking food. This may lead them straight to the front door of your tent.
Make an Escape Plan
In May 2018, a juvenile black bear climbed a tree and approached a young boy who was sitting in his tree stand. Miraculously, the boy remained still and the bear eventually left without harming the teen. Just as in a tree stand, in an enclosed tent, you do not have a great many escape routes.
If a bear is attacking your tent while you are inside, your priority is to “peacefully” flee. If you can locate the exit, or one becomes available because of a tear, you should move to a safe location. If the bear is attacking you in your tent, it means it probably views you as prey.
Your tent is not a sturdy or safe place to stay during a bear attack. If inside, consider yourself a prepackaged snack for the bear.
The key here is to find a close and safe location quickly but calmly. Outright running from a bear is a bad idea. Not only will it encourage the bear to chase you, but you will also be quickly overtaken.
A Grizzly bear can run at speeds up to 40mph. Hopefully, your vehicle is parked nearby. If you can, with reasonable speed, make it to your car from your tent you should attempt this.
It is not advised that you turn your back on a bear. You should slowly move away from the animal while keeping it in your line of sight. Create as much distance between the bear and you as possible, preferably to a reinforced enclosure.
If the bear has the element of surprise and is considered being at close range, you can try to distract it to get away. Find a non-food item within your tent, like a shoe or a glove. “Drop it on the ground in front of you and slowly back away, speak in a soft monotone, and avoid eye contact” recommends the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Please be aware, fighting a bear is the absolute last resort! Always try to use methods to get away without a fight if at all possible!
Defend Yourself or Fight A Bear?
If you are without a vehicle and alone (aside from the bear) in the wilderness, your next best option is to defend yourself. Sadly, in 2017 a teen descending a mountain in Anchorage, Alaska was killed by a bear that had been chasing him. You cannot outrun a bear, but you can try to deter it or fight back.
If the bear charges you while you are awake and visible in your tent, remain in a standing position. Sometimes bears, especially Grizzlies, will perform a “bluff charge” and upon seeing your rigidity veer off at the last moment.
This is especially true for black bears and occasionally Grizzlies when you look big and act surprisingly. Try to make yourself appear larger with a sleeping bag or other objects. If you have pots or pans at your disposal, bang them while yelling to startle the animal hoping they will run off.
If the bear shows no sign of slowing or being afraid, prepare for physical contact. For a Grizzly Bear, play dead. Drop to the ground, curl up into a ball and protect your stomach, head, and neck. If you can reach a backpack or other sturdy item, leave it on your body like a protective layer.
Alternatively, the National Park Service recommends “Lay ﬂat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over,”. Do not move until the bear has left the area.
Grizzly bears will interpret you fighting back as aggression. Physically attacking a Grizzly bear will probably increase the intensity of the mauling.
Black bears, however, do not respond well to humans playing dead in the cannonball position. You should try to scare them off and physically defend yourself. Focusing your blows on the bear’s snout and face is an excellent deterrent.
Bear attacks at night on tented campers are very rare. When they do occur, it is suspected that the bear is starving and assumes that you are food hiding within the tent. At night, when a bear attack is unprovoked, you should fight back and make it clear that you are not prey.
Brown or Grizzly bear.
Use Weapons or Tools
In Winnipeg, a man encountered a polar bear. The encounter is odd enough, but then the man proceeded to “ward off” the bear with his cellphone. He claims that after being swatted and bitten he “thrust his cellphone into the raging bear’s face, distracting it long enough for him to escape”.
Though bizarre, this illustrates an important point. You should have tools available to you in your tent that could be used for protection or as weapons.
The ultimate weapon is considered to be a highly potent bear spray. If you are venturing into bear country, bring bear spray with you. You should also read the instructions and familiarize yourself with how to use it before an attack occurs.
Bear spray is extremely irritating to bears. It should decrease the length and intensity of the attack when properly used. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states “Professional wildlife biologists who work in the field depend on bear spray and trust it as an effective tool to prevent injury to both people and bears”.
The optimum tool or weapon is not a firearm; this is a myth. In a large percentage of cases, firing a weapon at the bear only heightened the bear’s aggression. You will most likely only wound the bear and make it angry. Additionally, even bears who were fatally wounded had sufficient time to cause serious damage to the person who fired the gun.
If you have a heavy or large object within your tent, it can become a weapon to dissuade a Black bear. Things such as a heavy flashlight or lamp, a cast-iron skillet, or even a baseball bat will inflict more damage than a kick or punch.
When a bear surprises you, or you surprise a bear, attempt to make a calm getaway. If this is not possible, then you should try to scare the bear by creating a large profile and loud noises. If the bear makes physical contact either play dead (Grizzlies) or fight back (Black Bears). Weapons, such as bear spray, not firearms, can come in handy.
This is a great video and very in-depth. You should definately watch it.
What to Do After A Bear Attack
A bear just attacked your tent. Now what?
Make sure the bear has actually cleared the area. If the bear has indeed left, move to a safe location; either a vehicle, a nearby RV, or a building.
Once you are safe, take stock of yourself and the other members or pets within your group. Tend to any serious or life-threatening injuries and call 911. Do not go back out to your tent as the bear may return.
Even if the bear did not attack, but only appeared to be surveying the scene, you should report it. “If you do encounter a bear, report it as soon as possible to local authorities, or the nearest forest, park, or game and fish department office” recommends the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Your report could save someone’s life.
Preventative Measures — Protect your Tent
The most resourceful tool you have when facing a bear attack is your brain. Learning about preventative measures and bear safety is exceedingly beneficial. If you plan to go camping in an area where bears live, bear-proof your tent and campsite to the best of your abilities.
Set up your tent in an open space. Dense foliage and vegetation can conceal you from a bear. This could cause the bear to stumble inadvertently upon you as it moves through the forest. Use common sense, don’t pitch your tent in a raspberry patch.
A Bear Can Smell You a Mile Away
Bears are very curious. They are attracted to odors as they could indicate a food source for them. You should try to be scent-less as much as possible when camping, not just because of bears but for all manner of wildlife and bugs.
Avoid perfume, use only fragrance-free soaps and sprays on yourself and your tent to avoid attracting bears. A popular camping item, Citronella candles, are very odorous and could draw in the animals.
We have a great article on a question we get asked often, take a look at it so you will stay informed. Can Bears Smell Through Cans?
Food Storage and Food Safety
It is wise to keep all food items, even those that are prepackaged and wrapped in bear-proof containers. These containers should be kept away from your tent. A distance of at least one hundred yards is recommended.
An alternative to an anti-bear box is a bear-hang. Place all of your food in a waterproof, scentless bag and hang it from a tree. Ten to twelve feet above the ground and four to six feet away from the trunk should be sufficient.
When setting up your tent, use the “Bear-Muda” strategy. In the shape of a triangle place your tent, your food storage location, and your cooking site 100 yards away from each other. Try to not position your tent downwind of the other two areas; this will increase your safety while sleeping.
Garbage and waste are also very attractive to bears. Burn, bury, or conceal waste as it will give off an aroma. A good stock of airtight plastic bags can be used to store garbage. Some locations have bear-proof trash cans a good deal away from the campsites at which you can dispose of your trash.
We have a great article that you should read on storing your food in bear country. How to store food in bear country.
Cleanliness is Key
Do not keep garbage, food, clothes that smell like dinner, or even toothpaste in your tent. Keep your campsite and tent exceptionally clean in an attempt to make it unattractive to bears.
You should have a change of clothes for sleeping and cooking and keep them separate. Your cooking clothes should be concealed in an airtight bag.
When you are finished with a meal clean up immediately, do not leave food remnants or residue. Even dispose of your dishwater a safe distance away from your tent.
Locked Up Tight
It would be terrifying to safely escape your tent when you are under attack only to find a bear in your car. All vehicles should be kept locked. Black bears are curious and will try to enter a car if they suspect food.
Leave Fido at Home
Your dog may be your best friend, but he will probably not be friendly to a bear. Dogs can provoke bears and lead to a greater chance of attack. If you are in bear country, leave your pooch at home.
A Bear Fence
The final optional safety measure for your tent is a bear fence. Companies have marketed these small and portable electric fences to campers. They deliver a 6000-volt shock. Setting up one around your tent is an added layer of protection.
Know of the Seasons
The last consideration for tent camping in bear territory is being aware of the seasons. There are certain times of the year, usually spring, when bears are more likely to have cubs. Momma bears with cubs will be more aggressive and territorial.
You Can Survive in Bear Country
Bears have occasionally attacked humans, although rarely. You can survive a bear attack even if you are in your tent. By keeping your cool, coming prepared, and going on the defensive, you can deter a bear from injuring you or those around you.