PROMO Animal - Grizzly Bear on rock - USFWS

Tips for staying safe in Wyoming bear country

Eric Galatas

(Wyoming News Service) Whether you are hunting, fishing, hiking, or enjoying Wyoming's open spaces this fall, game officials have tips for staying safe while visiting the home of black bears and grizzlies.

Dan Thompson, large carnivore section supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said it is important to pay attention to signs of bear activity, especially as animals are preparing for winter hibernation.

"Right now, bears are very preoccupied trying to put on as much weight as they can before they go to sleep in the next month or two," Thompson pointed out. "And so bears are fully active, and that's why we do see the potential for interaction between people and bears."

Bear Wise Wyoming can help beginners recognize scat, tracks, diggings and other bear activity. In most situations, bears will avoid people, but if you do come across a bear in their kitchen or bedroom, the guide offers keys to determine defensive or aggressive behavior, and ways to respond so human guests and bears both live to tell the tale.

It is important to carry bear spray, and to keep it accessible for split-second use. Bears will typically defend three things in earnest: their personal space, their offspring, and their food source, but most will walk away once they determine you are not a threat.

Thompson advised if you encounter a bear, the first step is to let them know you are there.

"They know better than to mess with people," Thompson emphasized. "So just let them know who you are, talk calmly, don't be aggressive. Because if they're trying to figure out what you are, you're just letting them know what you are. And so yes, we say, 'Hey bear, hey bear,' if you're walking into an area or if you see a bear, and then slowly walk away."

If you encounter a predatory bear, one showing a great deal of interest in you and is not displaying defensive stress behaviors such as moaning and paw swatting, make yourself as big as possible and yell in a loud, firm voice. Thompson noted using a firearm if the bear charges will require pinpoint accuracy.

"If you have a bear charging, it's a split-second scenario," Thompson stressed. "The nice part about bear spray is you don't have to be as accurate, because it sprays a large mist. And so if you can deter that with bear spray, and you can both walk away, that's a good thing."