Despite this summer’s news accounts of bear attacks, such occurrences are rare: Most bears are wary of humans. According to Yellowstone National Park bear expert Kerry Gunther, the odds of a negative encounter with a bear are very low—only about one in 3 million visitors to Yellowstone each year. But the animals can be dangerous if you surprise them.
Always take precautions to avoid a run-in: Stay on marked trails in groups of three or more and make ample noise by talking loudly, playing a radio, or tying a bell to your pack or clothes. Bring along bear spray, too; the potent pepper spray is designed to deter bears. When camping in bear territory, Gunther says, store all food in bear-proof containers hung at least 10 feet off the ground and at least 100 feet from your campsite. Do all of your cooking in the same location.
If you do find yourself within about 25 feet of a bear, deploy a cloud of bear spray toward its face, “back away slowly and, if the bear charges, stand your ground because most of the time they will back off,” says Gunther. “If a bear makes contact, drop to the ground and play dead.” Guidelines from Yellowstone National Park suggest fighting back only if a predatory bear attacks with a silent approach and erect ears. Never make direct eye contact, scream, or run away.