By Shawn O’Brate

Staff Writer

Last weekend’s grizzly bear attack just outside Yellowstone Park near the Montana-Idaho border was a stark reminder of the dangers posed by bears in the region, and the need to consider safety measures when venturing into the wilderness. The victim, 48-year old ultramarathon runner Amie Adamson, was attacked during a jog near Buttermilk Trail west of West Yellowstone and officials say she was not found to be in possession of bear spray.

To ensure you’re well prepared for a bear encounter, experts offer some advice about being safe off – and on – the beaten path.

Firstly, before ever going on a hike or trek of any kind, be sure to have some sort of protection. According to Brian DeBolt, the Wyoming Game & Fish large carnivore conflict coordinator, everybody should carry protection. 

“If you choose to take a firearm that’s fantastic. People have successfully deterred a bear with a firearm but I think you’d be foolish to not carry bear spray, because it’s applicable in almost every situation, whereas a firearm has limitations,” DeBolt said. 

DeBolt, who frequents Dubois quite often for his job and in his free time, explained: “There’s an extremely high density of grizzly bears in the Dubois area,” and “bears can be active any time of year” despite many people believing bears hibernate for months at a time. 

In Dubois, as well as other towns and on land around Fremont County, you can find two types of bears – black bears (Ursus americanus) and brown bears (Ursus arctos) – with the brown bear often known as its subspecies, the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis). The grizzly bear is known for being “more aggressive” than black bears, yet we see more fatalities with black bears because they are more often in a “predacious situation,” according to DeBolt. 

“Black bears get to the point where they become overly aggressive towards people because … they’re looking at people as food whereas grizzlies, even though they attack more often and are more aggressive, usually attack because they’re defensive in nature,” DeBolt explained. 

No matter whether you see a black bear or a grizzly bear, the reaction should be the same according to DeBolt. “Get your bear spray out and try to remain calm as you back out of there.”

John Gookin, a retired NOLS instructor and author, co-wrote a book with former NOLS instructor Tom Reed documenting everything there is to know about bears and bear country. In their book “Bear Essentials: Hiking and Camping in Bear Country” they explain that, when approached by a bear, it is best to quietly leave the area or let the bear move away on its own. 

If the bear is aware of your presence, have your bear spray or firearm ready and willing to fire. If you are more than 100 meters away and the bear is aware of you, try to talk loudly and calmly while moving upwind so it can smell you. 

“Do not move toward the bear. Do not turn your back or kneel down in front of the bear. Turn sideways or back up and walk away slowly,” Gookin and Reed explain. “If you are in a group of four or more, stay together.”

In the rare event that a bear attacks you, it depends on the nature of the bear what you should do. No matter if it’s a grizzly or a black bear, discharge your bear spray in short blasts in the direction of the bear’s face. When discharging your bear mace, be sure to gauge the wind speed and direction so you don’t accidentally mace yourself during the moment. 

Playing dead has long been mentioned as a way to have bears lose interest in you, but that’s not entirely true. There are times to put it in effect – if a bear knocks you to the ground, do not curl into a ball, like many people think. Instead, lie face down with your legs apart. This makes it harder for bears to flip you over and attack your face. 

Many times a mother bear will only be attacking in defense due to their desire to protect their cubs, which you could come across alone on hikes. If you were to come upon a bear cub, whether alone or with their siblings, the reaction should be quick, according to DeBolt. 

“Distance is your friend,” DeBolt explained. “Always leave bear cubs alone. Get out of there, get your bear spray out, keep eyes in the back of your head … if you don’t know the situation or where the mom is you’ve got to be ready.”

Finally, one of the easiest ways to avoid bear attacks is an obvious one: SECURE YOUR FOOD. More importantly, it’s not just human food that bears can smell from miles away, they can also smell your pet food. All food needs to be locked in bear-resistant containers and while you are not using pots, pans or other food dishes they should be hung up at least 100 yards away from your tent. 

Also, all food waste and other trash that can attract a bear should be thrown away in bear-resistant trash cans that are placed all over local parks, camping grounds and across all national parks. 

So, while you’re hiking, camping or vacationing around Dubois, Yellowstone National Park or anywhere in the wild around Wyoming, remember these key points. Doing so may not only save your life, it could save others lives as well.