When It Comes To Bear Encounters, Keep In Mind This Former Navy SEAL’s Life-Saving Tips

Being approached by a bear in the wilderness is no laughing matter. But what does a person do to ensure they don’t make matters worse? Thankfully, former Navy SEAL Clint Emerson has a few life-saving tips to make sure a face-to-face encounter doesn’t turn into something severe, so keep reading!

All Wild Animals Aren’t Created Equal

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Friso Gentsch/picture alliance via Getty Images
Friso Gentsch/picture alliance via Getty Images

Whether a person is hiking, camping, or just going for a regular walk through their neighborhood, seeing an animal out in the wild and in their natural habitat is an exhilarating experience.

The thing is, not all animals are harmless. In fact, there are some, such as bears, that can do a world of damage.

Bears Have A Few “Attack Tells”

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Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Like any animal, a bear will attack if they feel as though they are in danger or are being threatened. Thankfully, they’re also likely to do a few things to signal their attack.

To signal their strike, a bear will lower its head, reposition its ears, pad its paws, and growl at its target.

Former Navy SEAL Clint Emerson Knows A Thing Or Two

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Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The thing is, bears are typically unsure about humans at first. But if they feel as though a person is a threat, all bets are off. That’s where Clint Emerson comes into play.

As a former Navy SEAL, Emerson has a few tricks up his sleeve when it comes to being face to face with a bear.

America Has Three Types Of Bears

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Ron Reznick/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Ron Reznick/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Throughout the United States, people are likely to run into three different types of bears — black, brown, and polar. While the last one is only found in select cold areas, the other two are no strangers to being spotted in the wild.

But just because more than one person has seen a bear close-up doesn’t mean it isn’t terrifying.

Adult Black Bears Can Weigh Up To 551 Pounds

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Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Black bears aren’t small by any means. An adult male can weigh between 126 and 551 pounds and grow to be six feet in length. And while females are a little bit smaller, they can still weigh between 90 and 375 pounds!

Even with their very intimidating size, these animals are largely vegetarian, favoring nuts and fruit.

Emerson Wrote A Survival Book, Touching On Bears

Emerson has a few things to say about black bears, though. In his 2016 book, 100 Deadly Skills: Survival Edition, the former Navy SEAL dives into the dangers of bear encounters.

Specifically, he explains what a person should do if they find themself face to face with a black, brown, or polar bear.

Black Bears Are Less Likely To Attack

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Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Writing about black bears, Emerson said, “If you run into a black bear on a mountain trail, be grateful for your good fortune. Compared to polar bears and brown bears, black bears are much less likely to attack.”

That being said, it’s important to remember that they will attack if they think a person poses a threat.

Brown Bears Are A Bit More Erratic

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Arto Hakola/Getty Images
Arto Hakola/Getty Images

Where brown bears tend not to attack unless provoked, black bears are a bit more erratic in face-to-face interactions with humans. First off, they’re not vegetarian. Both species of brown bears, the “brown bears” and grizzly bears, are omnivores, enjoying both meat and plant life.

And if that wasn’t enough to make them a bit scarier, they’re also huge.

“Brown Bears” Weigh Up To 1,300 Pounds

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Ruaridh Connellan/BarcroftImages / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Ruaridh Connellan/BarcroftImages / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

“Brown Bears” are considered large bears. And it’s no wonder, as they can weigh up to a staggering 1,300 pounds. Grizzly bears, on the other hand, are a bit smaller and only weigh up to 700.

But what a grizzly lacks in weight they make up for in size. Standing on their hind legs, they reach over six feet tall.

Their Claws Can Reach Up To 3.9 Inches Long

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Karol Serewis/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Karol Serewis/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Not only are both these species of brown bears massive, but they have other defining features that make them an animal most people would prefer not to see in the wild.

Both browns and grizzlies have very large and curved claws, sometimes reaching to be 3.9 inches along the curve.

A Brown Bear Won’t Attack Unless Provoked

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Gerlach / Barcroft Media via Getty Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Gerlach / Barcroft Media via Getty Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Even with their imposing form and super long claws, brown bears, both browns and grizzlies, tend to keep to themselves and won’t attack unless provoked. That being said, they are known to be more aggressive then their vegetarian counterpart, the black bear.

But both of those bears have nothing on the polar bear.

Polar Bears Can Weigh Up To 1,500 Pounds

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Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Unlike the black and brown bears, polar bears are found in the Arctic Circle, so the northern-most part of Alaska. To keep warm, this massive 1,500-pound creature hunts for its meals.

To keep big and warm in the cold arctic climate, polar bears tend to go after seals and other marine animals.

Humans Are Looked At As A Source Of Food

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Kirill KukhmarTASS via Getty Images
Kirill KukhmarTASS via Getty Images

As one can imagine, the polar bear doesn’t come into human contact nearly as much as a black or brown bear.

Because of this, where a brown and black bear might leave a person alone, a polar bear is very likely to attack, looking at them as a food source and nothing more.

Polar Bears Will Hunt And Track Humans

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Steven Kazlowski / Barcroft Media / Getty Images
Steven Kazlowski / Barcroft Media / Getty Images

Emerson wrote about polar bears in his book, discussing their relationship with humans. He wrote, “Polar bears are always hungry. And unlike black and brown bears, polar bears will actively track and hunt down humans across their arctic terrain.”

“Their massive height and heft make them formidable opponents…”[Polar bears are] capable of disemboweling prey with a single swipe of their claws,”

Attacks Aren’t Common, But Encounters Are Increasing

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Andre and Anita Gilden / Barcrof via Getty Images
Andre and Anita Gilden / Barcrof via Getty Images

With three species of bears roaming the United States, it’s important to understand what to do if contact is made. Luckily, attacks aren’t frequent, with only eight bear-related fatalities happening in Yellowstone from 1872 to 2016.

But interactions are becoming more frequent with conservationists trying to grow bear populations and save their habitats.

Bear Numbers Are Steadily Increasing

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Johannes Simon/Getty Images
Johannes Simon/Getty Images

In his book 100 Deadly Skills: Survival Edition, Emerson discussed the rising frequency of bear sightings. He said, “Human-bear interactions have become increasingly frequent, as various regulations and conservation efforts have swelled the bear population across North America. Black bear sightings [are] particularly on the rise.”

And while it’s amazing that conservation efforts are working to protect these creatures, people need to know how to protect themselves.

People Are More Like To Get Injured By Mundane Tasks

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James Devaney/WireImage
James Devaney/WireImage

The good news is that attacks are very rare. In his book, Emerson wrote, “Fortunately, bear attacks are very rare in general. You have a one in 2.1 million chance of being mauled, which means that almost any routine daily activity has a greater chance of killing you.”

If that number doesn’t put a person’s mind at ease, he also wrote about ways to avoid bears.

Avoid Noisy Streams

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Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

While Emerson explains that “activities such as bow-hunting for elk in the mountains of Montana or backpacking in the Yellowstone range will significantly increase your risk of a lethal attack,” there are ways to avoid “bear country.”

For example, staying away from noisy streams where bears like to hunt is a great way to stay safe.

There Is Safety In Numbers

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Kitera Dent/unsplash
Kitera Dent/unsplash

In addition to staying away from noisy bodies of water, also remember that there is safety in numbers! While hiking alone can be relaxing, it’s a better idea to travel with some friends in bear country and make a lot of noise.

This is because silence will make a bear think a person is sneaking into their territory, prompting them to attack.

Food = Bears

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Myles Tan/unsplash
Myles Tan/unsplash

For those who love to camp, keep in mind that food attracts not only humans but bears, too. It’s important to put food away at the end of the day, storing it in a bear locker.

Emerson touches on this point in his book, explaining how it’s a crucial strategy for keeping bears away.

There Are A Few Ways To Safely Store Food

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MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images

In his book, Emerson discusses cleaning up food while camping, writing, “Bears have a formidable sense of smell. So when you’re stopped for the night, follow the common-sense strategies of double-bagging and hanging your food.”

“Place food, cookware, and utensils at least 100 feet from your tent, and never set up camp near bear scat or tracks.”

Keep In Mind Scented Products And Clothes

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BERND WUESTNECK/DPA/AFP via Getty Images
BERND WUESTNECK/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

Food isn’t the only thing people need to be conscious of before going to sleep in the wilderness. Clothing and any scented products are also things to keep in mind.

According to Emerson, “Store any scented products (toothpaste, soap) with food and cooking supplies. Do not sleep in the same clothing you cooked in, as food scents may remain on [the] fibers.”

Emerson Recommends Bear Spray

How to Use Bear Spray - Banff National Park 0-5 screenshot
Parks Canada/YouTube
Parks Canada/YouTube

Knowing how to secure food, clothing, and other scented items is very important. But when it comes to carrying a form of protection, Emerson highly recommends bear spray. Made of red pepper oil, if the spray is used correctly, it will deter an aggressive bear from attacking.

Better yet, the effects of the spray won’t harm the bear in the long run.

A Bear Should Be Within 40 Feet Of The Person To Use The Spray

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Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

In his book, Emerson discussed how to properly use bear spray. He wrote, “Wave your arms around and make noise. Often this strategy will make bears stop in their tracks and run off.

“[But] if the bear charges you, this is the moment to use the bear spray… Dispense the bear spray when the bear is within 40 feet.”

If A Bear Fake Charges, Stand Still

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Jorge Sanz/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Jorge Sanz/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Before dispersing the red pepper oil spray on the animal, though, a bear might do a fake charge. In this instance, they’re testing a person, seeing if they’re actually a treat.

While scary, Emerson urges people to stand perfectly still, as the bear might walk away from the encounter and leave them alone.

There Is No Harm In Playing Dead

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MONIKA SKOLIMOWSKA/DPA/AFP via Getty Images
MONIKA SKOLIMOWSKA/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

But a bear is a wild animal, and, in some cases, they will wind up charging at a person. It might sound strange, but the best way for a person to save themselves from a potential mauling is to lie down and pretend they’re dead.

This will make it, so the bear thinks “the job is done.”

Listen To The Experts!

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JENS BUTTNER/DPA/AFP via Getty Images
JENS BUTTNER/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

Emerson wrote about playing dead in his book and how experts believe it is an effective way to get out of a sticky bear-related situation. He explained, “If the bear attacks, most experts agree that this is the moment to lie down and play dead.”

“You want to convince the bear that it has done its job and effectively minimized the perceived threat you posed.”

Lay On The Stomach With Hands Behind The Neck

bear-defense
Sierra Club
Sierra Club

But playing dead isn’t enough. There is a very specific way a person should lie on the ground in order to fully protect themselves from a potential attack.

In his book, Emerson wrote, “Lay flat on your stomach to protect your organs, crossing your hands behind your neck to guard your arteries.”

Playing Dead Works 75% Of The Time

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James Devaney/WireImage
James Devaney/WireImage

When playing dead, there is another position that is known to work, too. According to Emerson, “[You could also] curl into the fetal position, covering the back of your neck with your hands.”

As it turns out, playing dead when face-to-face with an aggressive bear has a 75% success rate.

Running Is Never A Good Option

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Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

The thing with coming face-to-face with a bear is that a person’s fight or flight instincts will kick in. And, for a majority of people, they aren’t going to fight a bear.

While running away might seem like a great option, there is no outrunning an animal that can sprint at a solid 30 miles per hour.

Walk Backwards And To The Side

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LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images
LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images

Running might seem like a good idea, but the movement will only kick-start a bear’s predatory reflexes. They will begin the chase the runner. Instead, Emerson explains that walking, not running, is the best course of action.

And not just any kind of walking but walking backward and to the side, never losing sight of the bear.

When In Doubt, Fight

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RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images
RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

In his book, Emerson says, “Never turn your back on a bear, and never try to run…Instead [of running], slowly walk away sideways, keeping an eye on the animal so that you can monitor its movements.”

Keep in mind that a bear is wild and, therefore, a wild card. When worst comes to worst, the best course of action is to fight.

Weapons Can Be Anything– A Rock, Sticks, Or Fists

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Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

According to Emerson, fighting is typically the only option left if a bear has a person pinned down. In his book, he says, “fight back with any available weapons: a knife, sticks, rocks, your fists.”

Eventually, if everything goes as planned, fighting back with weapons will, hopefully, ward off the bear.

There Are Many Methods To Keep In Mind

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Mark Wilson/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Mark Wilson/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Of course, with the wild nature of a bear, people need to be prepared for any circumstance. Whether playing dead, using bear spray, or securing food, it’s vital to know how to protect oneself and deter a bear from coming close.

That being said, Emerson does believe in one of these methods more than the others.

The Best Tool: Bear Spray

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Jessica Matthews/For The Washington Post via Getty Images
Jessica Matthews/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

In his book, Emerson explains how bear spray is the best tool in warding off a bear attack. He wrote, “Some say that playing dead is more likely to work with the [grizzly bear], claiming that the [black bears’] less frequent attacks are more likely to be offensive.”

“But all agree that pepper spray is the single best deterrent. One so effective that it has been used successfully by children under the age of ten.”