Think Twice Before Playing Dead If You See A Bear. Here's Why

Bear attacks may be extremely rare, but they do happen. Male brown bears can weigh up to 1,200 lbs, and have deadly paws and teeth that have evolved to tear through flesh easily. Reasonably, people who spend a significant amount of time outdoors in bear territory often think about what to do if they find themselves being attacked by a bear. One of the most common pieces of advice is that you should play dead — but is that a good idea?

When we are in the wild, we are in the bears' home, not ours. The best way to avoid bear attacks is to give these wild animals space and respect — but if things go wrong, and you do find yourself face to face with an angry bear, it's important to be aware of your options.

The truth is, playing dead may be a good strategy in some situations and a dangerous mistake in other situations. Before lying down in front of an angry bear, it's a good idea to make sure you really understand what is going on.

What kind of bear is it?

There are several different types of bears in the world, and in some regions there may be more than one kind of local bear. Different types of bears are more likely to react to certain situations in different ways. As described by the National Parks Service, the advice to play dead during a bear attack only applies to grizzly (brown) bears. Fighting back against a grizzly bear is a bad idea. Instead, experts advise that if the bear is already attacking you, you should do your best to prove that you aren't a threat by lying still and staying as quiet as possible. Often, these bears attack to protect their babies, and if you stay still, they may be convinced that you won't hurt the cubs.

On the other hand, if you are attacked by a black bear, you should try to fight back. The best option for this is to use bear spray, but if you don't have any, you will have to improvise and fight the attacking bear with your fists. However, you should be absolutely sure that the bear is attacking you before blindly trying to fight it.

Is the bear actually attacking?

The advice to play dead to deter the attack of a brown bear only applies if the bear is already actually physically attacking you. As described by the USDA, in most situations there is no reason to just lie down on the ground when you see a grizzly bear. If you have accidentally caused a brown bear to see you as a threat to itself or its cubs, and it attacks you, playing dead may be a good option. If the bear hasn't actually physically touched you yet, you should not lie down. At best it is a waste of time and at worst it could trigger a predatory instinct in the bear and make them view you as prey.

Just because a bear is visible or stands up on its hind legs does not mean that it plans to hurt you. Even if the bear has run at you, that doesn't necessarily mean it is going to hurt you. Bluff charges, or when a bear runs at you while trying to look large and intimidating, are common. If this happens, you should back away, wave your arms, and speak calmly to the bear.

Other advice about avoiding bear attacks

Other than playing dead, there is a lot of advice about how to avoid being attacked by a bear. Some of it can be helpful, some of it is useless, and some of it is actually dangerous.

Sometimes, people will suggest climbing a tree to get away from an angry bear, but unfortunately, this strategy doesn't make sense. Even if a bear might be less likely to climb a tree to come after you, they are more than capable of it. Black bears in particular enjoy being in trees, and both black and brown bears often send their cubs up trees to be safe. Some also recommend running downhill to escape a charging bear, but both black and brown bears are faster than the fastest Olympic sprinters. If it comes down to running from the bear, it won't matter if you run uphill or downhill.

A good piece of advice to follow is to carry bear spray whenever you are planning to be in an area populated by bears. If a bear charges you, your best option is to deploy a cloud of bear spray between you. It irritates the bear without doing lethal damage, keeping both you and the bear safe.

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