How to Survive a Bear Attack

Pssssst. Hey, you. Over here. No! Over here. Shhhhhhhh. Quiet, goddammit. They’ll hear us. They can smell us. They’re probably stalking us right now. We gotta move. Leave the kids. They’ll only slow us down. On second thought, get the kids. They’ll get eaten first. This is survival of the fittest. These are deadly animals. And this is how to survive an attack. 

The Bear

The worst part about a bear encounter is anything you do to escape, the bear can do better. He can outclimb you, outswim you, and should you try to run, the bear tops out at 40 mph, which at a short distance is fast enough to catch and kill American Pharoah.

With 4 inch claws and a bite force 10x that of our own, all bears are equipped to kill. But 100 years of bear attack data reveals not all bears kill for the same reasons.

In fact, the strategy that will save your life during a grizzly attack will make you an easy meal for a hungry black bear. Therefore, the first step to surviving any bear encounter is to quickly and accurately identify the bear.

Identifying North American Bears: The Grizzly vs the Black Bear

Surprisingly, you can’t use fur color to differentiate a black bear from a grizzly (also known as a brown bear). A grizzly’s coat ranges from light tan to dark brown, while black bears can be black, brown, tan, cinnamon, or gray. The two species can look so similar that the state of Montana requires hunters to pass a bear identification course before obtaining a license.

There are, however, physical differences between the two species. The infographic below provides everything you need to effectively identify a bear. I just used it to ace the shit out of Montana’s bear ID test.

Identifying North American Bears

General Preparation and Precaution

Before we get into species specific survival, here are 5 tips that, if followed, should virtually eliminate any threat of a bear encounter, regardless of species.

Pack bear spray. Stephen Herrero, author of Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance discovered that of a documented 40 bear encounters where bear spray was administered, only three resulted in human injury, and none resulted in death. Also, know how to use the spray beforehand. You don’t wanna be popping your bear spray cherry with a 500 pound grizzly at your throat.

Travel in numbers. Of all fatal black bear attacks in North America over the last 100 years, 91% occurred in groups of 1 or 2 people. The more people in your party, the more intimidating you are to a hungry bear.

Leave food at home. In just under 40% of fatal attacks, human food or garbage likely attracted the bear. The presence of food is also likely to make the bear more aggressive.

Make noise. The last thing you want is to startle a bear. Noise warns the bear of your presence and is the best bet against spooking him into a defensive attack.

Avoid the bear. If you see the bear before he sees you, don’t continue being noisy and just leave. However, if he does see you and doesn’t run in the opposite direction, that is when you should ID the bear and plan your next move based on the species you’ve identified.

The Grizzly Bear

Why do grizzlies kill? Well, a century’s worth of fatal grizzly bear attack data reveals the following:

  • In half of the documented attacks the victim was a hiker.
  • 83% of these attacks were classified as a sudden encounter, where the victim was unaware of the bear until within 55 yards.
  • Over half of the attacks classified as sudden encounters ended in less than two minutes, and no attack was longer than ten.
  • During sudden encounter attacks, victims who ‘played dead’ fared much better than those who fought back. People who played dead received minor injuries 75% of the time. Those who fought back received serious injuries 80% of the time.
  • Grizzly bear mothers were responsible for 74% of these attacks.

This information leads researchers to believe that grizzly attacks are usually defensive. Rarely do you see a grizzly actively hunting campers or hikers. The attacks are short and end as soon as the bear feels she has neutralized the threat. So if you find yourself face to face with a grizzly, take the following steps to prove you’re non-threatening.

1. If Encountered, Back Away, Remain Non-Threatening

Calmly back away, and avoid eye contact. Talk softly to identify yourself as a human, and pray the bear doesn’t charge.

2. If Charged, Don’t Run, Equip Bear Spray

Never run from a bear as it will ignite her predatory instinct and trigger a chase, one which will end poorly for you. If the bear continues to approach, wait until she gets within 20 feet, target her eyes, and unleash your bear spray. And while dousing a bear in pepper spray isn’t exactly non-threatening behavior, data shows bear spray is incredibly effective.

3. If Attacked, Protect Vital Organs, Play Dead

You only want to play dead when an attack is inevitable. So once the bear makes contact, it’s time to hit the ground. Protect your vital organs. Lie on your stomach, and cover your head and neck with your arms. If you have a pack, put it between you and the bear.

4. If Still Alive, Wait, Escape

To avoid a second attack, ensure the bear is out of sight before getting up and heading for help.

The Black Bear

While life saving during a grizzly encounter, playing dead for a black bear will make you an easy lunch. Unlike grizzlies, black bears don’t attack to neutralize threats. Surprisingly agile and expert-level tree climbers, they simply escape anything they deem threatening. So what drives a black bear to kill?

  • Data shows of the 63 black bear attacks documented in North America since 1990, male bears were responsible for 92%.
  • In 88%, the killer was acting as a predator (non-defensive).
  • Victims were often discovered partially consumed.
  • Attacks most often occurred in the months before hibernation.

Based on this data, researchers believe they have a clear picture of the black bear’s motive: he’s hungry. So should you come face to face with a black bear, show him that you are not a free lunch.

1. If Encountered, Stand Tall, Talk Mad Shit

Intimidate the bear. Wave your arms. Yell, scream, hoot, holler, and chuck rocks. Show this dumbass bear that you are not to be messed with, not today.

2. If Charged, Stand Ground, Equip Bear Spray

Don’t back down. If he plans to eat you, make him work for it. Ready your bear spray and administer it if he gets close.

3. If Attacked, Fight for Your Life

Punch and kick with everything you have. Target his eyes and snout. Use a weapon if you can.

Recap

We covered a lot of information here, so as a quick recap here are 3 things to remember anytime you go stomping through bear country.

  1. Know your bear territories. Before you head out, know the bears you might encounter.
  2. Pack and prepare. Pack bear spray, leave food at home, travel with a group, and do your best to avoid sudden encounters.
  3. Know your bears. Bear attack data tells us different bears want different things. The grizzly wants to eliminate threats. The black bear wants a meal. And Smokey Bear? He just wants you to prevent forest fires. Be safe out there.

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Sources:

Bear Attack Statistics

Bear attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance by  Dr. Stephen Herrero

The Journal of Wildlife Management

nps.gov

How to Survive a Dog Attack

Pssssst. Hey, you. Over here. No! Over here. Shhhhhhhh. Quiet, goddammit. They’ll hear us. They can smell us. They’re probably stalking us right now. We gotta move. Leave the kids. They’ll only slow us down. On second thought, get the kids. They’ll get eaten first. This is survival of the fittest. These are deadly animals. And this is how to survive an attack. 

The Dog

Dog Kill Stats

I’ll start by saying that this is a dog friendly blog. The contributors here own dogs, love dogs, and believe most dogs are very good boys. But some dogs are NOT good boys. In fact, dogs kill more people per year than any other mammal. And take it from me, someone who just spent 3 hours watching dog attacks on sketchy websites, you do not want to fuck with an aggressive dog.

Attacks are fast and vicious. With 30 mph speed and a devastating bite force, dogs can tear flesh from bone as quickly as you can pull rib meat off a baby back. Autopsies of victims often reveal deliberate damage to the head and neck, which means man’s best friend is also an instinctual killer. They’re determined, too, reportedly breaking down doors and outmuscling several people at once to continue an assault. If you want to protect yourself, your kids, and your own dog from becoming a victim, step 1 is knowing how to identify a dangerous dog.

1. Know How to Identify an Aggressive Dog

There are two types of canine aggression: defensive aggression and dominance aggression. Assessing and identifying which type of aggression the dog is displaying will dictate your next move.

A defensive aggressive dog is protective or fearful. He’s frightened and often defending something. Maybe you’ve entered his turf or he’s protecting his kibble, a prized rawhide or his family. He might be injured or sick. A defensive aggressive dog looks like he’s just been punished and will likely display the following behavior:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Standing his ground or slowly backing away
  • Putting his tail between his legs
  • Lowering his head

A dog displaying dominance aggression is not fearful and will demonstrate this with the following actions:

  • Low range barking
  • Growling, snarling or snapping
  • Moving toward you
  • Maintaining eye contact

2. If the Dog is Defensive, Calmly but Confidently Back Off

Dogs are expert people readers. They have mastered human behavior to a point where they can treat PTSD and other psychiatric disorders. So during any unfriendly interaction with a dog, it’s important to send the right message, which in this case is, “I am not a threat, and I am not prey.”

Begin by backing away from the dog but continue to face him. Never show your back and never run, as doing so could ignite his predatory instinct and provoke an attack. To avoid appearing threatening, keep your hands to your side, avoid direct eye contact and don’t show your teeth.

A defensive dog wants as little to do with you as you do with him and usually will only attack out of fear if you continue to approach. Back away, and he’ll be more than happy to let you retreat. A dominant dog, however, is a much different animal.

3. If the Dog is Dominant, Scan Your Environment

Look for either a) a safe place like a dumpster or the top of a car, or b) an object to absorb a potential bite like a stick or your ball cap.

If you find a safe place, calmy retreat towards the area. If there’s no safe place in sight and you have nothing to put between you and the dog, wrap a shirt around your non-dominant forearm and prepare for an attack.

4. If the Dog Attacks, Stay Upright, Put Something Between You and His Jaws

You have two advantages over a dog: height and weight. Use that height to keep your head and neck out of reach. In many attacks, the dog will charge and jump in an attempt to take his victim to the ground. Do your best to stay on your feet. Then get something between you and his jaws. At the very worst, give him the forearm of your non dominant hand. This will keep your good hand free to disable the dog.

5. Disable the Dog

A fight with a dog is a fight for you life, so you will need to get violent. The following techniques will inflict maximum damage and could be enough to get the dog to retreat.

Dog Pain Points

Strike his nose. A dog’s snout is made of sensitive soft tissue. So if he’s got a hold of you and you’ve managed to stay on your feet, target his snout instead of his skull.

Strike his throat. Push on his trachea to activate his gag reflex. This can often get the dog to release his bite.

Yank his balls. There’s a story about a wolf biologist who was attacked by a wolf in Colorado. Even with an intimate knowledge of the animal, he could not free himself from the bite. What finally got him loose? His assistant grabbed the wolf by the balls and yanked. Approximately 92% of fatal dog attacks involve male dogs, 94% of which aren’t neutered. There’s a good chance your attacker has balls, so if you get a shot at that coin purse, rip it right off.

Target his forelegs. A dog’s forelegs contain two slender bones, and compared to his muscle-dense neck and torso, are relatively vulnerable. Target the legs with an impact kick or by forcing them out to the sides like you’re breaking a wishbone. If you break the bone or separate the joint, you’ve effectively immobilized the dog and can now make an escape.

6. Kill the Dog

Witnesses of fatal attacks often describe the dog as ‘relentless’ or ‘possessed.’ Dogs will often continue an assault even after suffering serious injuries of their own. If you find yourself in a kill or be killed scenario, you’re best bet is to use your weight advantage to choke out the dog.

Your goal should be to get the dog on his back and your hands around his neck, keeping a safe distance between his face and yours. You can also pin the dog between the ground and your shin or forearm. Apply pressure for long enough and you’ll deprive his brain of oxygen, and he’ll lose consciousness. Apply more pressure and you will crush his windpipe.

7. Get to the Doctor

Approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur in the US each year. Nearly 1 out of 5 become infected. To prevent infection, head to the doctor immediately for an examination. On your way, call animal control to see if they can seize the dog and check for rabies. If the animal is rabid, you will need to start a series of rabies shots. The rabies virus can lay dormant for months, but once you start experiencing symptoms, it’s almost always fatal.

Newsletter

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Sources:

Aggression
Austin Dog Training

Dog Bite Statistics
cdc.gov Wonder Database
dogsbite.org
washingtonpost.com

Rabies
cdc.gov

Survival Techniques
exigentcircumstance.com
forcenecessary.com