Visiting Yellowstone or Glacier National Park areas?  If you plan to hike, camp, hunt, or bike in or near the backcountry, don't forget your bear spray.  Bear spray can help both you and wildlife stay safe.  Click here for a list of retailers who rent bear spray.

Staying Safe in Grizzly Country

Photo courtesy USGS/Tom Smith

Grizzly bears can be dangerous.  Considering their size, strength, and sometimes aggressive nature, it is remarkable that they don’t hurt or kill people more often than they do. 


Take responsibility for your own safety in grizzly country.  Be prepared.


Your Best Safety Tool?  Look under your hat.

The most important tool for staying safe is situational awareness -- or, as one expert puts it "knowing what is going on around you."  


Pay attention to where you are – can you see very far?  Is there terrain or vegetation that could hide a bear from your view?  We find that many people have an unrealistic ‘search image’ -- they assume that grizzlies are huge, and therefore easy to see. 

Being aware of wind direction is key, too.  If the wind is in your face as you walk, that means your scent is being carried away from any bears that may be ahead of you.  In our experience, grizzlies that can catch your scent will typically leave once they know what you are.

Stay alert for fresh bear sign as well.  Tracks may not always be obvious – look also for scat, rub trees, or fresh digging (excavating roots, insects, or rodents).  Bears will often tear apart logs or flip rocks seeking food, too.

One of the most dangerous situations to walk into is a grizzly that has claimed an animal carcass.  The bear’s inclination will be to defend this food source.  Look and listen for scavenger birds like ravens and magpies.   You may be able to smell a carcass from some distance if the wind is right.  If you do detect a carcass, take a wide detour around it, or turn around if there is no option to detour.

Bears tend to be most active at dusk and dawn, but that doesn’t mean you can’t encounter one in midday.  Bears often sleep during the day in thick timber.  Move carefully, and stop frequently to listen, when travelling through such places.

Bear Pepper Spray

Bear Pepper Spray is a highly effective, easily used deterrent against aggressive bears and other animals.  PURCHASE ONLY BEAR SPRAY THAT IS CLEARLY LABELLED AS A BEAR DETERRENT.  Bear spray manufacturers must be registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency – look for the EPA registration number on the label to ensure you are in fact getting bear spray.

To use bear spray:

Remove safety clip

Aim slightly down and towards the approaching bear.  Adjust angle for wind direction.

Spray a brief shot when the bear is roughly 30 feet away.

Spray again if the bear continues to approach.

Once the animal has retreated or is busy cleaning itself, leave the area as quickly as possible, but do not run.  Alternately, go to an area of safety, such as a car. 


Bear pepper spray should be used as a deterrent only in an aggressive or attacking confrontation with a bear.

Bear pepper spray is only effective when used as an airborne deterrent sprayed as a cloud at an aggressive animal.  It should not be applied to people, tents, packs, other equipment or surrounding area as a repellent.

Many aggressive encounters with grizzlies happen very quickly.  Some are probably too instantaneous for a person to be able to react with either bear spray or a firearm.  To give yourself a margin of safety, carry your bear spray in a consistent and accessible place on your person (or on your saddle if you are horseback and prefer it not be on your person). 

Practice reaching for the spray until it becomes second nature to reach for it.