Discover How to Survive a Black Bear Attack

Written by Crystal
Published: January 31, 2023
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The great outdoors can be a relaxing experience — until you come across a black bear. These formidable creatures are fast, agile, and powerful. They can run at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, and their forepaws are strong and sharp. With one swipe, they can cause serious injury or even death.

When faced with a potentially deadly situation, will you know what to do? Read on for tips to survive a black bear attack.

Reports of Black Bear Attacks

Black Bear Showing Teeth

Black bear attacks happen, but they’re generally rare.

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©Jim Cumming/

Are black bears dangerous? Yes and no. Black bear attacks happen, but they’re not common. North America has around one fatal black bear attack every year.

Black bears should be respected, not feared. Most of the time, these animals just want to be left alone. Other times they’re curious and want to see what you’re doing. If a black bear does attack, it may be because it feels threatened or scared.

Nevertheless, there are bizarre stories of black bears acting out of character. Like when a black bear thought it could try eating a boy scout!

Black Bear Attacks Boyscout Troop

While camping in a New York park, 12-year-old Henry Ayers and his boy scout troop were startled by a bear entering their campsite. The bear began pulling on Henry’s sleeping bag. Thankfully the boy scout knew what to do and fought back, kicking and screaming until the bear ran away.

Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, and the bear soon ran away. But officials later had to capture and euthanize the black bear due to its aggressiveness.

Black Bear Charges Through Window

When a Wisconsin couple saw a black bear in their yard eating from their bird feeder, they spoke up. But opening a window and yelling at it to go away didn’t go as planned. The hungry animal charged through the window and into their house, injuring both the husband and wife.

The couple fought bravely against the wild animal. They began stabbing the bear with a kitchen knife until, finally, the husband reached his firearm and shot it. The man and woman had serious injuries, including several bear bites. But they lived to tell their story thanks to their bravery.

Preventing Bear Attacks: Stay Safe on Hikes

A sleuth, or group, of three American black bears (Ursus americanus), a mother bear and two of her cubs, sit in a rocky field.

Black bear mothers can be more protective when with cubs.

©Derek R. Audette/

While encounters with bears can be exhilarating, it is important to remember to stay safe when viewing wildlife. Here are a few tips for preventing a bear attack:

  • Always carry bear spray and noise makers, such as whistles.
  • Steer clear of any carcasses that could attract bears.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings, especially at night or early in the morning when bears are most active.

It’s also a good idea to have a hiking buddy or to hike in a group. If you must hike alone, make plenty of noise because bears typically avoid loud noises. Remember, black bears aren’t typically aggressive but attack if they feel threatened.

What to Do if You See a Bear in the Wild

The best thing to do upon seeing a bear is to observe it from afar. Enjoy the experience, but do so at a distance.

Stay still and avoid abrupt movements if you are close to the bear. Instead, let the bear continue about on its way.

Don’t Feed Bears

Always respect their space and never approach them or attempt to pet or feed them. Feeding bears could cause the bear to become aggressive and result in an attack. Remember that bears are wild animals and can be unpredictable. Just because a bear seems cute and curious, one moment doesn’t mean it won’t attack the next.

What to Do When Black Bear Approaches You

If a bear is approaching you, the most important thing to do is remain calm. Do not run! Bears can outrun humans, and running may provoke them even more. Instead, talk calmly in a low voice and back away slowly while avoiding eye contact with the bear.

Use Noisemakers and Bear Spray

Is the bear still approaching? Then it’s time to make some noise. If you have loud noisemakers on hand, use them to scare the bear away. You can also try shouting, and if the bear is still coming towards you, use bear spray. This will distract the bear and give you enough time to safely back away or move to a safe location.

Stand Your Ground

If the bear continues to approach you, stand your ground and make yourself look as big and intimidating as possible. Wave your arms around or raise an umbrella or jacket over your head to appear larger. Don’t turn your back on it or bend to pick up rocks or sticks. Keep your body facing towards the bear, maintain eye contact, and speak in a firm voice.

Do Not Play Dead

Never play dead. Contrary to popular belief, playing dead when confronted with a black bear is not recommended. Instead, you need the bear to realize you’re a threat. Scare the bear away by making noise.

Defend Yourself: What to Do if a Black Bear Attacks You

Black bear standing straight up on two back legs

If a black bear attacks, it’s better to stand your ground and fight back rather than play dead.

©Constance Mahoney/

Black bear attacks are rare, but they do happen. If a bear decides to pick a fight with you, you’ll have to defend yourself with everything you have. Go all out!

Punch, kick, and scream at the bear to show that you are a threat. Don’t back down. Use any nearby sticks or rocks to hit the bear as hard as possible. Be sure to aim for the bear’s nose, eyes, and ears, as these are sensitive.

Once the animal changes its behavior and backs away, try to get out of the area as fast as possible in order to ensure your safety. Don’t wait around to see if the bear will come back.

It may seem counterintuitive to fight back against such a powerful creature, but it makes sense with black bears. Since they’re not naturally aggressive towards people, you can scare them away. Fighting back wouldn’t be an option if you were dealing with a larger grizzly bear.

What Is Bear Spray?

Bear Spray

Bear spray is a common deterrent used by hikers.

© Schneider

Similar to pepper spray, bear spray is a chemical deterrent. It comes in a pressurized canister that acts as an effective defense if a bear charges or attacks you.

It’s important to always have your bear spray on hand and within easy reach. Store your bear spray in a belt or chest holster to quickly grab the canister. Do not store it in your backpack while hiking because you likely won’t be able to reach it quickly enough if an attack occurs.

Practice using your bear spray before setting out on your hike. This means becoming familiar with removing the safety on the trigger, pulling the canister out of its holster, and pointing it at an angle toward the bear if needed. The more familiar you are with the spray, the easier it’ll be to act quickly when you need it most.

When and How to Use Bear Spray

When a charging or attacking bear is within 60 feet of you, this is the time to use your bear spray. While black bears are typically non-aggressive animals, they can become dangerous when threatened or feel cornered—so do not hesitate to use the spray when necessary!

Spray a cloud between yourself and the black bear. Be ready to spray multiple times or empty the canister’s entire contents if necessary. Be aware that strong winds will affect both the distance and direction of the cloud, while snow, rain, and cold weather will decrease its overall range.

Bear spray has been proven to reduce mauling severity and length. But it takes time to kick in.

Prepare to fight aggressively until the spray has enough time to take effect. Fight with your fists, rocks, or any nearby weapons. When it’s a black bear, you can usually survive the attack if you defend yourself.

Final Thoughts: How to Survive a Black Bear Attack

Now you know how to survive a black bear attack. Most bears don’t want a fight. If one feels threatened and comes your way, chances are you’ll be able to scare them off before an attack happens. But if the bear isn’t backing down, prepare to stand your ground.

Remember: never run away or play dead if confronted by a black bear. Remain firm and loud while using nearby weapons or rocks to hit the bear as hard as possible. Make yourself look big and threatening to the animal. If a bear charges or attacks you, use your bear spray in its face and don’t back down until the bear has left the area.

Be prepared for an aggressive fight since this may be your only chance at survival. Out of all the bear species to fight off, black bears are your best bet. You can escape with your life if you keep calm, fight back, and use your bear spray wisely.

With these tips in mind, you can confidently set out into nature, knowing that you are ready for anything that comes your way! Happy hiking.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jim Cumming/

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About the Author

Crystal is a dedicated writer at A-Z Animals, focusing on topics related to mammals, insects, and travel. With over a decade of experience in the world of research and writing, she also fulfills the role of a skilled video and audio engineer. Residing in sunny Florida, alligators are Crystal's favorite animal.

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