What to do if you encounter an animal on the trail

Photo Credit: Whitney Palmer

Last week, we hosted our first Hiking 101 Workshop with Kristine Krynitzki of Hikes Near Vancouver.

The workshop covered everything from what to wear to how to choose a trail, but one of the most popular questions was: what do I do if I encounter an animal on the trail?

We’ve rounded up some tips from Kristine and other trusted sources below on dealing with animal encounters.

PS. We’re hosting a repeat of the workshop on Tuesday, October 1, 2019. Register here. Open to all genders!

general tips

  • Remember: animals don’t want to hurt you. Most encounters with bears rarely lead to aggressive behaviour and attacks are even rarer.

  • Prevent animal encounters: hike in large groups and make noise (especially when hiking in thick brush and near loud water sources)

  • Protect yourself: carry bear spray or bear bangers (do not use the pen-style bear bangers, but the gun-style)

If you see a black bear

  • Remember: black bears aren’t just black. They can also be black, blue-back, dark brown, brown, cinnamon, and white. We cover how to distinguish a black bear from a grizzly bear below.

  • Remain calm and ready your bear spray or other deterrent. If you are in a large group, stay together. You will appear larger and more intimidating to the bear.

  • If you see a bear in the distance respect its need for personal space. Do not approach it and consider turning around and leaving the way you came. If you must continue, take a detour and give the bear a wide berth.

  • If you encounter a bear on the trail or in your campsite, stop what you’re doing and think about the situation. Identify yourself by speaking in a calm tone. Back away slowly, preferably in the direction you came. Walk, don’t run, and keep your eye on the bear so you can see how it will react. Most likely, the bear will flee.

If you are dealing with an aggressive or defensive bear, BearSmart.com suggests:

  • Try to appear non-threatening by remaining still and calm. Ready your bear spray by removing the safety lock. Speak in an appeasing voice and back away, increasing your distance from the bear. Leave the area immediately.

  • If the bear is about to make contact, use your bear spray. Do not play dead and do not act aggressively. Get as far away from the food cache as possible.

  • If the bear is behaving defensively or intent on making contact, use your bear spray: Point the nozzle just above the bear’s head so that the spray falls into the bears eyes, nose and throat. When it is 20 to 30 feet away, give it a long blast. That should be enough to discourage it and send it in the other direction.

  • For more information on how to use bear spray click here.


how to distinguish a grizzly bear from a black bear

  • Grizzly bears can range in colour from black to blond. On average, they are significantly larger than black bears.

  • Grizzlies have a pronounced shoulder hump, concave facial profile, smaller ears, and much larger claws than black bears. Black bears have a flatter, “Roman-noise” profile, larger ears, no visible shoulder hump, and smaller claws.

if you see a grizzly bear

  • See tips above on dealing with black bear encounters; however, if your encounter was a surprise or involves a mother grizzly bear with cubs, and the bear makes physical contact please see tips below.

  • In this situation here is what BearSmart.com suggests: fall to the ground and “play dead.” Roll over onto your stomach and cover your neck and the back of your head with your hands. Keep your legs and elbows wide so the bear can’t flip you over. When the attack stops, remain still and wait for the bear to leave. Do NOT get up until you are absolutely certain the bear is no longer in the area – even if you have to wait 30 minutes or longer.

For more information on bear encounters visit BearSmart.com.


if you see a cougar

  • Per Wild Safe BC:

    • If you encounter a cougar, keep calm. Make yourself look as large as possible and back away slowly, keeping the cougar in view, and allowing a clear exit for the cougar. Pick up children and small pets immediately. Never run or turn your back - sudden movements may provoke an attack.

    • If you notice that a cougar that is watching you, maintain eye contact with the cougar and speak to it in a loud firm voice. Reinforce the fact that you are a human and not an easy target. Back out of the area and seek assistance or shelter.

    • If a cougar shows aggression, or begins following you, respond aggressively in all cases as cougars see you as a meal: keep eye contact, yell and make loud noises. Pick up nearby sticks, rocks, or whatever you have at hand to quickly to use as a weapon if necessary - crouch down as little as possible when picking things up off the ground. If the cougar attacks, fight back, focusing on its facial and eye area. Use rocks, sticks, bear spray, or personal belongings as weapons. You are trying to convince the cougar that you are a threat, and are not prey.

  • Call the Conservation Officer Service reporting line (1-877-952-7277) to report the incident.

  • For more information visit wildsafebc.com

PS. We’re hosting a repeat of the workshop on Tuesday, October 1, 2019. Register here. Open to all genders! Learn more about dealing with animal encounters and other tips for staying safe while hiking.