Living with Wildlife in Manitoba

Encountering a Black Bear

Each encounter is unique.  There is no guarantee what works in one instance will work in another.  Here is what experts recommend you do:

  • Stop, remain calm and assess the situation to try and understand what message the bear is conveying before you act.
  • Never approach or crowd a bear, even if it does not seem agitated. If you choose to do so, you should be prepared to defend yourself.
  • Never, never feed it!
  • Never run unless reaching safety is a guarantee! Fleeing may trigger a chase response. Bears can reach bursts of speed of 50 km/hr (30 m/hr) and can outrun a person going up or downhill.
  • Climbing a tree or entering water is no guarantee of safety since black bears are superior climbers and stronger swimmers.
  • Standing on its hind legs is seldom a precursor to an attack. The bear is trying to get a better look or smell at something it's uncertain of.
  • Consider taking a walking stick and carrying pepper spray attached to your belt.
  • If you are near a building or car, get inside.
  • If a bear is in a tree – leave it alone by vacating the area. When it feels safe, it will climb down and leave.
If a bear is unaware of you:
  • Move away quietly when the bear is not looking toward you. Keep your eye on the bear, but do not make direct eye contact because the gaze may be interpreted as a challenge.
If a bear is aware of you:
  • Let it know you are human. Talk to the bear in a low tone of voice and wave your arms slowly while moving away upwind, if practical, to give the bear your scent.

Approaches by black bears towards people are very rare. You should be able to recognize all types of bear behaviour and learn to react accordingly.

Bears will display three types of behaviour. These tips will help you assess the situation and stay safe.

1. Threatened (Defensive) Bear

A bear that feels threatened will often display signs of agitation and stress through vocal and/or visual cues such as huffing, popping of the jaws, pacing, swinging of the head or excessive salivation. This may escalate to slapping the ground or a tree, or to a bluff charge, stopping short of contact. The head will be lowered with ears drawn back while facing you. This behaviour is associated with defensive bears.

If a threatened bear charges

  • Stand your ground, be non-threatening.
  • Talk to the bear in a calm voice.
  • When the bear has moved off, proceed on your way.

If a threatened bear makes contact with you

  • Fall to the ground laying face down with legs slightly apart.
  • Lock your fingers behind your head/neck.
  • If the bear flips you over, roll back onto your stomach.
  • Do not struggle or cry out.
  • Do not move until you are sure the bear has left.
  • If the attack lasts more than several minutes, the bear is not attacking defensively anymore. Fight back - using a hunting knife, rocks, sticks or any other available weapon.
2. Non-threatening Bear

If a bear approaches in a non-threatening manner, it may be curious, used to people, after your food, wanting right of way, or to assert dominance.

If a non-threatening bear approaches you

  • Stop and remain calm. Talk to the bear in a firm voice. Assess the situation.
  • Do not turn and run unless reaching safety is a guarantee.
  • Group together.
  • Be ready to use a deterrent, such as bear pepper spray, a hunting knife or air horn.
  • Stand your ground until the bear leaves the area.
3. Stalking (Predatory) Bear

A stalking bear's approach will be deliberate and silent. This bear is the type you should be most concerned with. The head will be up and ears erect, displaying no signs of stress. This behaviour is associated with predatory bears.

If a stalking bear continues to follow you

  • Stop and stand your ground.
  • Make direct eye contact.
  • Act aggressively to persuade the bear you are not easy prey.
  • Shout, wave your arms, stomp your feet.
  • Elevate yourself onto a log or rock and raise your jacket to look bigger.
  • If within range, use your bear pepper spray.

If a stalking bear attacks you

  • Fight back with anything at hand. Use your walking stick, hunting knife, firearm, rocks, sticks, binoculars, car keys or even bare hands.
  • Strike for the bear's eyes or nose.
  • Kick and yell.
  • Be relentless, you are fighting for your life.

Bear Attacks Are Extremely Rare

Between 1900 and 2009, there have been 63 fatal black bear attacks in North America with stalking, predatory attacks being more frequent than threatened, defensive attacks. In spite of thousands of encounters between people and bears, there have only been three black bear-inflicted deaths in Manitoba. All have been the result of stalking, predatory attacks.