What to do if you encounter a bear

Black bears are abundant in the Missoula Five Valleys area and are encountered frequently within urban settings along Missoula’s wildlands interface. Residents living within the Missoula Bear Buffer Zone should expect black bear activity and become aware that grizzlies are becoming more common. While recreating in the Missoula Bear Buffer Zone and Missoula’s outlying areas, carrying bear spray is recommended. If you encounter a bear while hiking or if a bear visits your home, stay calm, do not approach the bear, and report the incident to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Missoula Bears Facebook page or file a report at Missoula Bears.org.

If you encounter a bear, the bear’s behavior, rather than its species, should determine how you respond. In any bear encounter, your behavior matters.

If a bear is not actively engaged with you (looking away, ignoring you, running away or retreating):

  • Give the bear space by backing away slowly from the bear and going in the opposite direction of the bear.

If a bear shows agitated/defensive behavior (huffing, jaws clacking, head swaying back and forth, bellowing, swatting the ground, and excessively salivating at the mouth):

  • Stand your ground, prepare your bear spray, and speak in a calm manner, until the bear retreats.

If a bear charges or appears ready to charge:

  • Stand your ground.
  • If it charges, use your bear spray, when the bear comes within 30-60 feet.
  • If the bear is going to touch you, go face down on the ground, cover your neck and head as much as possible, and deploy your bear spray in the bear’s face. If you do not have bear spray, play dead if it is a grizzly bear, fight back if it is a black bear.

If a bear follows you, or slowly, purposefully or methodically approaches you:

  • Stand your ground.
  • Get aggressive: wave your arms and shout vigorously.
  • Get spray out and ready.
  • Fight back if it makes contact.

If a bear enters or reaches into your tent:

  • Use your bear spray.
  • Fight back.
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