One of the most iconic and intimidating animals on the North American continent is the grizzly bear. Highly photogenic, and a regular fixture in many of our national parks, these immense bears are often the reason why tourists flock to these locations.
Plenty of humorous internet videos involving these bears rating campsites and accepting handouts from cars has only intensified public interest in.
But, despite their charm, these animals are huge. Are grizzly bears dangerous?
Yes, grizzly bears are extremely dangerous. They can weigh 900 pounds or more, have immense strength, long claws and a tremendously powerful bite. Although attacks on humans are rare, when they do occur they regularly result in death.
Most bears typically shy away from encounters with people, but confrontations are far from unheard of.
Thanks to irresponsible tourists feeding bears and leaving food unsecured at campgrounds, many grizzly bears have begun to associate people with nutrition. This will rarely end well.
You can learn more about dealing with the threat posed by grizzly bears in the rest of this article.
Understanding Grizzly Bear Behavior
First and foremost, grizzly bears in the wild typically want to avoid people at all costs. Cautious, almost shy, unusual sights, sounds and smells will often send bears heading in the other direction.
But grizzly bears are highly motivated by food. These immense omnivores have tremendous calorie requirements, particularly when they are trying to fatten up ahead of winter hibernation.
Bears may be drawn to the smell of cooking, food left out, fresh animal kills and more.
When that happens, they might get aggressive. Bears can also become aggressive over territory, during mating season and if they are surprised with their cubs.
Are Grizzly Bears Aggressive Toward Humans?
Grizzly bears (and all brown bears in general) are rarely predisposed to be aggressive towards humans.
Encounters in the wild, except those outlined above, usually result in the bear heading in the opposite direction as soon as they detect the presence of a person.
However, a bear that is defending its personal territory, defending food, starving or is feeling protective over its young will become extremely aggressive and is likely to attack.
In such cases, human beings are an extreme danger, particularly if they don’t have a loaded gun close at hand.
Have Grizzly Bears Ever Attacked Humans?
Oh, yes. Although grizzly bears do not attack people with the same frequency popular media would have you believe, historical and modern day attacks do nonetheless occur, and have occurred for a very long time anytime people find themselves in bear country.
Make no mistake. These are immense and ferocious predators, and this is not an animal to treat with anything other than total respect. Complacency or foolishness can get you killed.
How Do Grizzly Bears Attack?
When grizzly bears decide to attack it is typically precipitated by a charge. Sometimes this charge is a mock or false charge, one where the bear will stop or break off before making contact.
If this is not the case, the bear will claw, bite and smash the interloper until it is convinced that it is no longer a threat- that usually means dead.
A mauling from such an immense animal invariably results in hideous injuries, ranging from fractures and sizable lacerations to amputation, penetrating injuries and more.
People that do survive are usually in too sorry of a state to attempt to help themselves survive, and lacking timely intervention or rescue are probably not long for the world.
The victims of many grizzly bear attacks are found in an unrecognizable state, either completely dismembered or so savagely mauled that dental records or other forms of ID must be used.
Do Grizzly Bears Eat People?
Grizzly bears may eat people, though they are not thought of as a typical man-eating species.
This is not to say they have never eaten people, they have, but when they do attack it is usually for reasons other than the procurement of nourishment from human flesh.
A grizzly bear might kill a person over territory or protection of young, and then eat them or eat part of them. But it is just as likely in most cases to kill the intruder and leave them.
But in the end, you can never rule out the chance that a grizzly bear might attack you with the intention of eating you, particularly in the case of old or injured bears that are having difficulty catching other sources of animal protein.
Are Grizzly Bears Territorial?
Somewhat. Grizzly bears are surprisingly not that territorial compared to some other animals, and might be highly tolerant of other bears and certain animals being in their home range, which can be quite vast.
However, study does suggest that grizzly bears have a smaller personal zone of habitation inside their home territory which they will be dramatically less tolerant of intrusion.
This counts for other bears, certainly and presumably people also.
In any case, if you know you are in bear country and particularly in an area where a bear or any bears have been sighted, you’ll want to be on your guard.
How Strong are Grizzly Bears?
Extremely. although precise scientific data is difficult to come by in regards to their strength, the best analysis from experts in the field seems to suggest that grizzly bears are anywhere from Two and a half to five times stronger than a fit adult male human.
They can easily dig through soil, even rocky soil, at a rapid rate and can strip entire sheaves of bark from trees in seconds.
Plenty of videos exist showing grizzly bears working over the corpse of other large animals, like elk, moose and caribou, and they dismantle them with frightening efficiency.
Suffice to say, grizzly bears are extremely strong and an extreme threat if you are locked in combat with one.
What Should You Do if You See a Grizzly Bear?
The very best thing you can do if you see a grizzly bear is just to keep your distance, and preferably as much distance as possible.
Bears have excellent senses, particularly their sense of smell, but even so it is not impossible for a bear to be surprised by a human. When this occurs, violence is more likely.
To prevent such an unhappy surprise on the bear’s part you should make plenty of noise as you traverse bear country. Talk at a normal volume, sing songs, whistle, wear a bell on your belt.
Anything that will help the bear detect you well before you get close will help to ensure that you do not encounter a bear close quarters.
And, for the love of all that is holy, do not approach a bear under any circumstances. They look fuzzy, they may look cute, and those inquisitive brown eyes are downright charming but these animals can literally rip your limbs off.
What Should You Do if Attacked by a Grizzly Bear?
If for whatever reason you cannot avoid a grizzly bear or you encounter one at close range and the bear starts to huff, growl, stands up on its hind legs or displays any other aggressive behavior, you’ll need to take action.
If the bear is not approaching and has not charged, keep still, don’t make direct eye contact and try to back away slowly and smoothly. Do not run, as this will provoke the bear to chase you.
If the bear charges, spray it with bear spray if you have it. If you have a firearm, now is the time to use it. Lacking either of these two options, try to get away.
If the bear catches you, and it probably will, you need to curl up into a ball as tightly as you can, try to protect your neck and head and play dead.
Typically grizzly bears do not kill people for food, and once it is convinced you are no longer a threat it should leave you alone.
Don’t be too quick to get up though, as grizzly bears are known to keep an eye on recent kills to make sure the job is done.
However, if the attack does not stop soon you’ll need to fight back with everything you can muster.
Do Grizzly Bears Carry Diseases People Can Catch?
Yes, although transmission from bears to humans is extremely rare. Most notably, grizzly bears can often be host to and transmit canine distemper and CCV, along with a variety of parasites and of course many species of ticks, fleas and so forth.
But assuming you’re not coming into close contact with a bear, the corpse of a bear or any freshly taken parts or hides from a slain bear you have little to worry about.
One thing to keep in mind is that bear meat must be cooked extremely well done in order to kill off various pathogens prior to eating, particularly bacteria.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.