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Recommendations for Human – Black Bear Encounters
Developed by the Northeast Black Bear Technical Committee

Black bears are large, strong wild animals that should be treated with respect.  Seeing a black bear can be an exciting, and for some people, a nerve wracking event.  Bears should always be appreciated from a distance to ensure the safety of humans and bears.  These recommendations are meant to be general and cover the basic types of human-bear interactions that can occur. Encounters vary greatly, and all situations are different. 

In general, when you encounter a black bear you should:

  • Remain calm.
  • Ensure the bear has an escape route.
  • Back away when possible.
  • If attacked in a building or tent, immediately fight back. 
  • DON'T run from a bear.
  • DON'T climb trees to escape a bear.
  • DON'T feed bears.

A word about bear spray:  Bear spray (pepper spray specifically made as a bear deterrent) can be an effective tool if you encounter an aggressive bear.  In order for bear spray to be effective, you must be trained and practiced in its safe use.   Be aware of local laws and regulations that may restrict the carrying or use of bear spray.

You Encounter a Bear While in a Natural Setting:

The bear is unaware of your presence:

    Your Action:
  • Quietly back away from the bear and leave the area. 
  • DO NOT approach the bear.
The bear is aware of your presence and is uninterested:
    Your Action:
  • Quietly back away from the bear and leave the area. 
  • DO NOT approach the bear.
The bear is curious:
    Bear Behavior
  • The bear continues to look in your direction, smells the air, or slowly approaches. 
    Your Action:
  • Talk in a calm voice while slowly backing away from the bear.
  • DO NOT approach the bear.

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The bear is defensive:
    Bear Behavior
  • The bear makes vocalizations which can include huffing and jaw popping.
  • The bear retreats up a tree.
  • The bear swats at the ground or tree.
  • The bear lowers its head with ears flattened, and sways back and forth.
    Your Action:
  • Begin repeating "Hey bear" in a calm voice.
  • Back away and leave the area. 
The bear continues to be defensive or becomes aggressive:
    Bear Behavior
  • The bear approaches you.
  • The bear begins to follow you.
  • The bear charges.
    Your Action:

  • Make yourself look bigger by putting your arms above your head. Continue to repeat "Hey bear" in a calm voice. Back away and leave the area.
  • If it continues to follow you, stand your ground, make yourself look bigger, shout at the bear, threaten the bear with whatever is at hand (bang a stick on the ground, clap your hands), and prepare to use bear pepper spray if it is available.  Back away and leave the area.
  • If charged, stand your ground, talk to the bear in a calm voice and use bear pepper spray when available.  If the bear makes contact with you, fight back using anything you have (e.g. stick, binoculars, etc.)!

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You Encounter a Bear in Your Backyard:

Encountering a bear in a backyard is a common occurrence in some areas because bears are often attracted to bird feeders, trash, pet food, etc.

    Your Action:

  • Make loud noises (for example shouting or banging pots and pans) to deter the bear from the area. 
  • Do not approach the bear. 
  • After the bear leaves, be sure to keep trash in a secure container or locked out building, bring in bird feeders and pet food and remove any other potential attractants. 

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You Surprise a Bear (e.g., in a garbage can, around a corner, in your home, etc.):

    Your Action:

  • Back away slowly while repeating "Hey bear" in a calm voice.  Leave the area.
  • Give the bear a clear escape route and do not corner it.  If in your house or an outbuilding, do not lock the bear in a room.  Instead, leave doors open as you exit the house.
  • Do not approach the bear or try to make contact with the bear. 

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Your Dog is Attacked by a Bear:

    Your Action:

  • DO NOT attempt to separate the bear and your dog.
  • Make loud noises such as shouting and clapping.
  • If available, spray the bear with a hose while remaining at a safe distance.
  • Once the bear retreats, retrieve your dog, slowly back away and leave the area.

If you have questions about these recommendations, please contact our bear biologist at

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