your safety in grizzly bear territory
This is information for people traveling with the De Anza Outdoor Club about safety in areas frequented by grizzly bears. It is not everything you should know and it can’t be updated as fast or as well as park service information, so please do use the links at/near the end of this page to go to park videos.
Bear attacks and other animal attacks are not common, but there are no guarantees of your safety.
Wild animals try to stay away from people. They become aggressive if:
- they are protecting their cubs/fawns, etc.
- you surprise them
- the bear has become used to people and food rewards from people
- your dog provokes them
- you try to get close to them for a photo, pose next to them for a photo, try to run by them, pet them, feed them, etc.
- you see a bear, get nervous and run. Running can elicit an attack from a non-aggressive bear.
- you somehow are not careful enough and a bear gets your food — and — you try to get it back.
Each trip member should be certain to
read current info when they enter any park we travel to
consult with rangers before hikes, runs and bike rides
talk loudly, sing, shout, clap hands or otherwise make noise on the trail (‘bear bells’ do not work)
never hike, run or bike alone (it is best to do in groups of minimum three and trail running is discouraged)
stay away from dead animals as bears may attack to defend their food
watch for, read and obey warning signs
store food properly according to current methods.
Each trip member is required to attend a ranger program on safe bear spray use before they go hiking, biking, kayaking or even walking away from developed areas. (These programs are offered every day at at least one Grand Teton National Park visitor center.) And you can watch a Yellowstone bear spray video.
Bear spray is cheaper in town than in the park (usually under $60) and the club owns some bear spray, but with a large group some people will need to buy their own.
Do not spray bear spray on your tent, clothes, etc. Glacier Park warns: “It” (bear spray) “is not intended to act as a repellent. Pre-sprayed objects may actually attract bears.” . . . And yes, there was a woman in Yellowstone National Park who required (and got) medical help when she doused herself with bear spray.
Park rules say do not approach wildlife, stay 100 yards from bears or wolves and 25 yards from other wildlife including nesting birds. If you have an accidental, surprise or inadvertent closer encounter with wildlife you must remove yourself to those distances.
To visualize 100 yards, picture the length of a football field.
To visualize 25 yards, picture four car lengths, six kayak lengths or the width of an Olympic-sized pool like ours at the college.
NEVER ignore trail closures.
Grizzlies are no longer rare in the Grand Tetons and can be found anywhere in the park. In Yellowstone there are 280 to 610 of them. You are more likely in Yellowstone to be hurt by a bison than a grizzly. Read before a bison charges below.
We will probably not see any grizzlies on our trips, but we should be careful nevertheless. They run faster than you. (Bears can run over 30 miles per hour, or 44 feet per second, seven times faster than the fastest human.) Grand Tetons biking has details about rare fatal encounters between bikers and grizzlies.
Rules for people at bear jams in Grand Teton park changed in 2011, after grizzly 610 twice charged people while they were standing on their car roof. Read about safety at wildlife jams
The Grand Teton park newspaper said in summer of 2010/11/12/13/14/15/16 (summer 2013 they removed some of the text, but the main points are still the same):
Make Noise in Bear Country
Grizzly and black bears live in the park and parkway. Some of the most popular trails travel through prime bear habitat. Bears will usually move out of the way if they hear people approaching, so make noise. Don’t surprise bears! Calling out and clapping your hands at regular intervals are the best ways to make your presence known. Bear bells are not sufficient. Be particularly careful when vegetation or terrain limits line of sight. The use or portable audio devices is strongly discouraged…
Hike in groups
If possible, hike in groups of three or more people. Typically, larger groups of people make more noise and appear more formidable to bears. Keep your group together and make sure your children close at all times. Avoid hiking when bears are active, especially early in the morning, late in the day or when it is dark. Trail running is strongly discouraged; you may startle a bear.
Never Approach a Bear
All bears are wild and dangerous. Each bear will react differently and their behavior cannot be predicted.
Individual bears have their own personal space requirements that vary depending on their mood. Each bear will react differently and their behavior cannot be predicted. All bears are wild and dangerous and should be respected equally.
2016: Never leave your backpack unattended!
Never allow a bear to get human food.
If approached by a bear while eating, put food away and retreat to a safe distance.
The park newspaper said in summer of 2011/12/13/14/15/16:
If You Encounter a Bear
Do not run; bears can easily outrun you. Running may cause an otherwise non-aggressive bear to attack.
If the bear is unaware of you or if the bear is aware of you but has not acted aggressively, slowly back away.
Do not drop your pack! This teaches bears how to obtain human food often resulting in the death of a bear.
Do not climb trees. All black bears, all grizzly cubs and some adult grizzlies can climb trees.
If a Bear Approaches or Charges You
Do not run! Most bear attacks result from surprise encounters when the bear is defending their young or defending a food source, such as a carcass. Some bears will bluff their way out of a situation by charging, then veering off or stopping abruptly. Bear experts generally recommend standing still until the bear stops and then slowly backing away.
If a bear attacks, lie on the ground completely flat on your stomach. Spread your legs slightly and clasp your hands over the back of your neck. Do not move until you are certain the bear has left the area.
In rare cases, bears have attacked at night or after stalking people. These are predatory attacks and the bear views you as food. If you are attacked at night or if you feel you have been stalked and attacked as prey, fight back. Do whatever it takes to let the bear know you are not easy prey.
If You Carry Bear Spray
Bear spray has been shown to be extremely effective in deterring bear attacks.
Use only bear spray. Personal self defense pepper spray is not effective.
Keep the canister immediately available, not in your pack.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, know how to use the spray, and be aware of its limitations, including the expiration date.
Bear spray is not a repellent! Do not spray it on people, tents or backpacks.
Under no circumstances should bear spray create a false sense of security or serve as a substitute for standard
safety precautions in bear country.
Park visitor centers can demonstrate proper use of bear spray and recycle it. Come visit for more information.
Besides the above info in the park newspaper, a 2012 – 2016 webpage also said:
Leave the safety clip on the trigger unless you are ready to spray an aggressive bear. The spray may accidentally discharge otherwise.
Bear spray can be adversely affected by wind, rain, cold temperatures and age.
Do not store your bear spray in a vehicle. It may explode.
Read all of that page at: https://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/bear_spray.htm
See also the Yellowstone park videos
Bear Pepper Spray Video Transcript
What do Grizzly bears sound like? Griz vocalizations (“Grizzly bears sometimes vocalize when agitated or nervous. These sounds of huffing, jaw-popping (heard at :35 and :57 seconds in), and low growls are warnings that you’re too close.”) :
photo below courtesy of NPS:
When a bear stands in the movies it is often growling and about to charge, but this is not usual behavior.
Bears are nearsighted. When a real bear in the wilds stands, it often is trying to better smell what it thinks it sees, or see what it thinks it smells.
Photos and notes about how to tell the difference between a grizzly and a black bear are at: Rocky Mountain mammal size comparisons
See also: animal sign comparisons (how to use tracks and scat to distinguish species) grizzly:
Please do not handle scat. Wolf scat, for example, can transmit tapeworm eggs to humans.
Food and Bears
Proper food and garbage storage is important to the safety and well-being of both bears and humans. Leaving food where bears can get it is not only illegal, but extremely dangerous for both bears and people. Bears are always searching for food and have an acute sense of smell. If you leave food out unattended, you are inviting a bear to your camp. A bear that eats human food or garbage – even once – may become conditioned to human food and garbage, or reliant on this easy source of food. These bears often become increasingly aggressive and may damage property, threaten, injure, even kill people in their attempts to obtain food. If a bear becomes conditioned to human food and garbage, it will likely have to be destroyed to protect human safety.
Food storage regulations in the Tetons and Yellowstone (and Glacier) are not as stringent as those we are used to in Yosemite, but do include the use of bear-proof lockers in campsites and trailheads.
Food, garbage, and all items used for storing, preparing, or eating food must be properly stored whenever they are not being transported, prepared or eaten, both day and night.
Check the material given you when you enter the park or ask a Ranger for the most current rules on food storage.
Most Outdoor Club regular travelers to Yosemite would be more likely to follow the Yosemite rules of no food, toiletries or food-like items in cars even if the parks in grizzly bear areas say that it is still okay to store items hidden in a closed, locked vehicle with windows rolled up. We don’t want to be the model when the first Grand Teton grizzly or black bear figures out how to open car doors like Yosemite black bears do regularly. See bears for details, including things that don’t smell like food but look like a food container to a bear who sees it through your vehicle window.
Glacier National Park also noted, in the section on if you surprise a bear, “Use peripheral vision. Bears may interpret direct eye contact as threatening.”
Please, no trail running in Grand Teton National park: “Trail running is strongly discouraged; you may startle a bear.” Glacier National Park: “Trail running is discouraged as there have been an increasing number of injuries and fatalities due to runners surprising bears at close range.”
Don’t bike or jog/run by yourself, it is safer to bike in groups since there are very large, potentially dangerous and unpredictable animals potentially everywhere.
Data suggest that rates of sudden encounters with bears are much higher among cyclists than hikers.Grand Tetons biking includes statistics about cyclist encounters with grizzly bears.
Most animal attacks are caused by people getting too close to these WILD animals, see also the bears, elk, moose or bison section of: fatal, near fatal or close call incidents/accidents in camping, backpacking, climbing and mountaineering
Camping solutions for women has tips for and answers typical questions from first-time women campers, including the question: Can menstruating women camp or backpack around bears? YES.
Bears has links to general info about bears, then practicalities of camping and backpacking around bears, (food storage, what to do if you see a bear) mostly geared towards De Anza College Outdoor Club trips around black bears in California.
Grand Tetons is the main page about the De Anza Outdoor Club trips to Grand Teton National Park.
see also Grand Tetons trip pages index
A total of eight wolf packs were believed to have used parts of the Teton Valley in 2006, five packs in 2008. 243 wolves were counted in Wyoming in 2013, 53 using Grand Teton park. You don’t need to be afraid if you are lucky enough to hear wolves howling or see wolves. In Rocky Mountain Natural History, by Daniel Mathews, we read: “wolves don’t hurt people. I’m not saying never ever not even once, but it’s so rare, we could have fun listing housepets and house hold objects that pose more danger. Um, pit bulls, bobby pins…”
From a Yellowstone study:
“apparently unusual actions or warning activities by bison just before they charged. Bison ‘false-charged’ in only one case, stamped feet in one case, and snorted in another case. In two cases, the bison shook its head before charging. Rolling on the ground (wallowing) immediately preceded two charges. In three cases, bison butted trees just before they charged toward humans. Tail-raising is commonly considered a sign that bison are agitated. We found that snorting, head shaking, foot-stomping, tree-thrashing, or wallowing may also be warning signals that a bison is about to charge.”
“Despite their size and seemingly slow moving habits, bison are surprisingly agile and can be quick to react.”
(Bison can run three times faster than humans can sprint. Don’t count on a bison giving warning. Stay a minimum 75 feet (or more) away from all large animals so you won’t contribute to further studies.)
These are incident reports mostly from the National Park Service Daily report.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Yellowstone National Park (ID,MT,WY)
Woman Injured In Encounter With Bison
A 43-year-old woman from Mississippi received minor injuries Tuesday when she turned her back on a bison to get a photo with it near the Fairy Falls trailhead. She was the fifth person injured after approaching bison this season.
The woman and her daughter were by the trailhead sign when they decided to take a picture with a bison that was approximately six yards away from them near the trail. When they turned their backs to the bison to take the picture, someone warned that they were too close. They heard the bison’s footsteps moving toward them and started to run, but the bison caught the mother on the right side, lifted her up and tossed her with its head. The woman’s father covered her with his body to protect her and the bison moved about three yards away. The family drove to the Old Faithful Clinic, where the woman was treated and released with minor injuries.
“The family said they read the warnings in both the park literature and the signage, but saw other people close to the bison, so they thought it would be OK,” said Old Faithful District Ranger Colleen Rawlings. “People need to recognize that Yellowstone wildlife is wild, even though they seem docile. This woman was lucky that her injuries were not more severe.”
The park has again reminded visitors that wildlife should not be approached, regardless of how tame or calm they appear. When an animal is near a trail, boardwalk, parking lot, or in a developed area, visitors must give it a wide berth and not approach it closer than the required minimum distances – 25 yards away from all large animals (bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, and coyotes) and at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves.
Bison can run three times faster than humans can sprint and are unpredictable and dangerous. Visitors are advised to give the animals enough space and alter their plans to avoid interacting with an animal in close proximity.
[Submitted by Public Affairs Office]
June 2, 2015
A 62-ear-old man Australian man sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries after an encounter with a bison . . . several people were crowding a bison that was lying on the grass near an asphalt path, when the man approached the bison while taking pictures with an electronic notepad. He got to within 3 to 5 feet of the bison when it charged him, tossing him into the air several times.
from the National Park Service Morning Report, Thursday, June 25, 2009
Yellowstone National Park
Woman Injured By Bison
A 50-year-old woman from Spain was butted and tossed in the air by a bull bison at Canyon yesterday morning. The woman and her husband were using a pay phone in the Canyon lodging area with their backs to the road. According to witnesses, two bull bison walked down the road, passing within 20 feet of the couple. One of the bison left the road, walked up behind the woman and butted her into the air. The couple, who were facing away from the road, did not see the bison coming. The injured woman was transported to the Canyon Lodge front desk by visitors, then taken by ambulance to the Lake Clinic, where she was released with only minor injuries. Visitors are urged to be aware of their surroundings and to be very cautious around wildlife, as they are unpredictable. Extremely serious injuries or death can result from approaching wild animals too closely or allowing wild animals to approach you even if they appear docile. Park regulations require that a minimum distance of 100 yards be maintained from bears and wolves, and 25 yards from all other animals. [Submitted by Public Affairs]
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK NEWS RELEASE
Boy Injured By Yellowstone Bison June 27, 2008
A 12-year-old Pennsylvania boy was flipped in the air by a bison near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone this morning.
A mature bull bison, apparently annoyed at the close proximity of the boy, tossed him approximately 10 feet in the air. Witnesses said the boy was posing with members of his family within 1-2 feet of the animal despite repeated warnings from other visitors. The incident occurred just off the trail adjacent to the Uncle Tom’s Trail parking lot along the South Rim Drive of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
The bull’s horns did not puncture the boy. The only outward injuries he suffered were abrasions possibly received from hitting the ground after the fall.
Because the boy complained of abdominal pain, he was transported by ambulance to the Lake Clinic and then flown to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls. The name and hometown of the injured juvenile aren’t being released. His current condition is not available.
Visitors are urged to be very cautious around the park’s wildlife. Extremely serious injuries or death can result from approaching wild animals too closely even if they appear docile. Park regulations require that a minimum distance of 100 yards be maintained from bears and wolves, and 25 yards from all other animals.
from the National Park Service Morning Report Tuesday, July 16, 2002
Yellowstone NP (WY) – Visitor Gored by Bison
A bull bison gored 37-year-old Paul Jocelyn of Albertville, Minnesota, near Old Faithful Lodge on the afternoon of July 13th. Witnesses said that the bison was grazing near the boardwalk that connects the lodge with Old Faithful geyser. A group of visitors approached to within ten to fifteen feet to take pictures of the animal. Jocelyn stepped out from the group and walked around to the front of the bison to see if it would raise its head for a better picture. The bison chased Jocelyn into the trees, picked him up with his horns, and threw him three to four feet into the air. The bison then stared at Jocelyn and the other visitors for several minutes before walking off and resuming grazing. Jocelyn sustained a puncture wound to his inner right thigh and various scrapes and bruises. Rangers provided initial care; he was then taken to Old Faithful Clinic for treatment of his injuries. Criminal charges are pending against Jocelyn for harassing wildlife. No action will be taken against the bison. [Public Affairs, YELL, 7/15]
from the National Park Service Morning Report
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Yellowstone National Park (ID,MT,WY)
… on the night of October 6th. A 24-year-old Michigan man who works for the park concessioner was walking back to his dorm at Old Faithful around 11:20 p.m. when he was surprised from behind by a bison. The bison gored him in the rear and lifted him into the air, landing him face down.
He was treated for a two-and-a-half inch puncture wound and received stitches in his face at the Old Faithful Clinic. [Submitted by Office of Public Affairs]
“During the 20-year period from 1980 to 1999, bison injured more of Yellowstone’s visitors than did any other animal. During this period, bison charged and made contact with humans 79 times…bison charged but did not make contact with humans 16 times. For comparison, there were 24 bear inflicted human injuries…
Between 1963 and 1974, seven people were gored by bison, including one human fatality in the Lower Geyser Basin in 1971, when a man was killed instantly while being photographed with a bison. No bison-human incidents were reported from 1966 through 1968, or in 1970, 1973, or 1979 through 1981. We compiled a detailed summary of bison-human encounters that occurred between 1990 and 1999. In that period, 11 people were thrown into the air by bison for distances of up to 15 feet. One person was thrown against a parked car; one was thrown onto the bison’s back where he was gored a second time as the bison twisted its head; one man was thrown 15 feet into the air, did a flip, and landed in a tree. A photographer lying on the ground was trampled by a charging bison, and told the investigating ranger that the bison then ‘sat’ on him…
Thirty-four reports provided details on what people were doing just before a bison charged. In 10 cases, they had approached to pose with or to photograph bison from distances of from two to 51 feet. Six people were within 10 feet of the bison when it charged. Two people were approaching within 20 feet to have a closer view, and two others were either petting or feeding the bison when it charged. In two other cases, bison charged after sticks or stones were thrown at them. In the 35 cases where the reporting ranger attempted to estimate the distance between the bison and human when the bison charged, the average distance was 28.5 feet…
Bison-caused injuries to humans, 1990-1999
a) puncture wounds to the: thigh (7), lower back (2), buttock (2), abdomen (1),
groin area (1), leg (1), side (1), and chest (1);
b) lacerations to the: head (2), and thigh (1);
c) fractured: clavicle (1), humerus (1),and rib (1);
d) abrasion of the: arm (2), thigh (1),knees (1), and groin area (1);
e) injury to: wrist (1), pneumothorax (1), and elbow (1); and
f ) broken: elbow (1), ribs (1), arm (1).
to read the whole article, including Surprise Encounters, go to:
http://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/yellowstone-science-issues.htm and click on volumne 11 #1
The main page about our trip is Grand Tetons