7 Ways to Not Get Murdered By a Bear

Feature image via Shutterstock

You are a glorious human person with above-average intelligence, and therefore you recognize that the major threat humanity faces at this moment in time — and, in fact, all moments of time and space in every dimension — is bears. I have been on high alert for bears my entire life. Afraid that I would happen upon a protective mother bear and her cubs while walking gaily through the north Georgia mountains where I grew up, yes. But also afraid that a bear would break into my house, climb up the stairs, choose my bedroom, open the door, let himself inside, and eat me in my sleep.

I can’t explain it. No one I know has ever been mauled by a bear. I’ve never even seen a live bear in real life, except for the polar ones at the zoo. The only exposure I had to bears in my formative years were the uncommonly patient Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear that let Goldilocks rifle through their shit and destroy half their possessions without repercussion. And the Berenstain Bears, who taught me to clean my room, tell the truth, be thankful for what I had, and be chill when your parents bring home a new baby.

It’s like I know bears can be one way.


Hey, girl. Wanna cuddle and watch Netflix?

But I also know they can be a whole other way.


Hey, girl. I’m a godless killing machine.

The worst thing about being afraid of bears is that the advice everyone gives you for surviving an “encounter” with them is awful. Google it and here’s what the experts will tell you:

1. Relax, bro. Bears can climb trees, swim across oceans, run 100 miles per hour, and smell your fear, so whatever you do, don’t panic!

2. Black bears and brown bears and lady bears and dude bears have totally different ways and reasons for killing you, so figure out which one you’re dealing with and calmly assess the situation you’ve wandered into.

3. Right, and after you have calmly determined its species, motives, paternal leanings, gender, and favorite color, make your move.

4. If it’s a black bear, your move is to (and I quote) “Stand tall and look it directly in the eye. Yell at the bear and firmly tell it to leave: ‘Get out of here, bear!'”

5. But if it’s a grizzly bear and you do that, you’re what’s for lunch. If it’s a grizzly bear, go on ahead and lay your ass down on the ground and curl up in a ball and play dead/take a nap. “Keep your legs and elbows wide so the [600-pound] bear [with the strength of 10 Godzillas] can’t flip you over.”

6. Walk away alive and happy.

This is an actual quote from a book called Among the Bears: “It’s the escalation of fear that leads to bad decisions. There have been a number of bear attacks that I’ve read about that could have been avoided if the situation hadn’t been misread.” Like, if a bear kills you and your family, you can be sure it’s because you got scared like a dumb little baby and didn’t take the time to get to know how it was feeling before it started swatting its tire-sized paws at your tender flesh.

I don’t know. Maybe this is good advice. But it’s certainly not followable advice. If, like me, you are not a fearless half-robot with the capacity to read mammal minds, you need to be able to rely on something besides your quick wit and bravery to stay alive when it comes to bears. And so here are some gadgets the internet tells me will keep the bears at bay.

1. A Water Gun

The internet says to spray the bear in the face. Hopefully before he opens his mouth to rip off your arm and eat your Super Soaker CPS 2000 like it’s a communion cracker.

2. A Bear Bell

I think it is because bears hate happiness and magic; therefore, they hate Santa Claus, and these bells remind them of reindeer so they stay away.

3. A Whistle

Be careful with this one, though. Just from my own past experience in wanting to murder, whistles remind me of Flo Rida’s “Blow My Whistle” which reminds me of The Warblers which reminds me of Glee. Do bears have rage blackout PTSD from that show too? Probably.

4. A Slingshot

You can even buy these pellets that smell like coyote piss, lady deers in heat, corn, or cedar; so while you’re relaxing and sizing up your bear and learning what its favorite movie is, you can calmly pull the pellets out of your backpack along with your slingshot and load them and keep your hand steady and shoot them with perfect aim at the ground and trees near your bear. DON’T SHOOT THE BEAR. That just makes them angry. (Angrier.)

5. An “Unwelcome” Mat

No, I am for real. The top Google result for “surviving bear attack” is this website that tells you to use an “unwelcome mat.” So I guess order a rug that says “GO AWAY!” and take that into the woods with you and unfurl it when you see any bears.

6. Bear Spray

More effective than a literal gun, apparently. Although: “The studies have also come under further scrutiny in light of the cluster of attacks last summer … and an unusual spate of deaths in and around Yellowstone … and due to declining food sources, bears were altering their behavior and increasingly looking at humans as dinner.”

7. Solar Nite Eyes

If you are not fully satisfied — for example, if a pack of bears carries your wife and children off into the night because they weren’t afraid of some blinking red lights — you can get a full refund.

In other words, goodbye forever if you see a bear. I mean, unless you remember to lay down sweetly and quietly in such a way that a bear can’t flip you over. So, like I said, goodbye forever. I loved you.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


  1. Heather, this speaks to me on a level I can’t describe. I recently came back from a camping trip in upstate New York. I love camping, I do. But. Bears.

  2. wait but the advice to get big and loud is totally doable for me heather why are you hating on my survival skills

  3. My #1 reoccuring dream is that there’s a bear trying to get inside the house to kill me and in the dream it’s almost always whatever girl I’m sharing my bed with who forgets to lock the door, like a big dummy, because we all know (dream) bears can unlock doors. Bears are why all my relationships fail is what I’m saying.

    • I HAVE THIS REOCCURRING DREAM TOO! I’m totally serious, I’ve had it ever since I can remember. Is this a common thing?

  4. I just saw this “viral” video and the screaming thing really does work, even when it is trying to attack you.


    The guy in the video, who has a lot of experience with bears, say it is about size of the bear’s target – so, lifting your arms up is good, but if you have a rifle and are trying to aim, you actually become a smaller target. Which means that totally panicking, screaming your head off and flailing your arms everywhere is a valid strategy for surviving.

  5. Super soaker from my childhood, check.
    Sleigh bell ornament from my Christmas tree, check.
    Rape whistle from my college dorm, check.
    One bag-o-pebbles from the garden & the slingshot I got for my 22nd bday, check.
    The snarky ‘welcome’ mat from my neighbors door, check.
    Flashing LED bike lights, check
    … and all my camping stuff…
    Fuck it I’ll just order a pizza and turn on Nat Geo

  6. I work in the outdoor world, which means we get to sit through conferences and lectures and videos talking about lots of creative and exciting ways you can die or become seriously injured while doing your job.
    So, yeah, we talk about bears. A video we no longer use (sadly) had some really great quotes:
    “When you see a bear, raise your arms up, slowly begin to back away maintain eye contact while calmly, confidently saying ‘Whoah bear, hey bear.”
    “If a bear begins to eat you, stay curled in a tight ball and cover the back of your neck with your forearm.”
    Yeah, if a bear begins to eat you…get comfortable with the fact that you probably just shat yourself. Let’s be real. Fortunately, bears who aren’t trying to eat you due to predation, but just because they are curious, generally decide that we taste gross after a few test bites. What a relief.
    Have fun at A-Camp!

    • I am FOR SURE adding, “Whoa bear, hey bear” to my regular repertoire of verbal phrases.

      • I’m just going to spend Saturday morning wandering around LAX shouting ‘WHOA BEAR HEY BEAR’ until I find all you beautiful people.

      • Right? And the narrator says it in such a deadpan,unaffected tone. Incredible.

  7. I was sure one of the pieces of advice was going to be:
    Don’t Shit in the Woods!

  8. Wow this is actually so relevant to my life I almost did get attacked by a bear yesterday

      • I’M OKAY I PROMISE. I was camping with my family and a bear came right up by our campfire menacing us. But luckily he wasn’t full grown so we were able to scare him off with loud noises.

  9. Bears are large, shuffle when walking, have pretty crappy eyesight and aren’t hunting you. You know what’s really scary? Mountain lions. Those badass mother fuckers will stalk you and you won’t even know it until they’re at your throat. I’d take a bear sighting anyday ( and I have, even hiking alone coming across a sow and her itty bitty cub).

    Mountain lions…sit with your back to a tree.

    • Agreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed. I’ve encountered several bears up close and usually they just want to be left alone, but mountain lions scare the everloving fuck out of me.

  10. A polar bear mauled two different people at the zoo in the city I was born in. They’re the worst.
    My family is in my home state of Alaska right now and in the past five days they have sent me rather close up photos of going on ten different bears. Grizzlies and black bears. In my experience, moose are the ones you have to watch out for. They’re homicidal. Especially the lady moose.

  11. Y’all are not giving the unwelcome mat enough credit.

    It’s just a regular welcome mat, but with nails in it.

  12. I’m currently living on (err, just off of in my boat) an island full of bears. :D

    The best thing you can do is just make lots of noise when you’re in the woods. Bears have way better hearing than eyesight, and they don’t really want to be near you either. If you do see one, make yourself large & loud while slowly leaving. But don’t show your teeth! This is a bear we’re talking about, not LadyGaga.

    Maybe y’all should create some sort of anti-bear A-camp song!!!

    Welp, I’m gonna go weep now about how I’m closer than ever (like over 3000miles closer) to the actual location of A-Camp but am still not able to attend bc $$. *wishes for constant fish on the line & crosses fingers for next year*

    • Why did you smile when you said you live on an island full of bears? Are YOU a bear?!

  13. And best way to avoid getting murdered by a bear?

    Never leave an urban environment (and avoid the zoo).

  14. The thing about bear spray is it’s only useful if the wind is in your favour. So you have to not only calmly assess the bear’s gender, temperament and general ideology, but also wet your finger and try to determine if it is downwind of you, lest you end up blinding/seasoning yourself with pepper juice.

    The thing about bear bells is… well, we call them dinner bells ’round these parts.

  15. Coming from a non-bear country to Canada, this speaks to me.
    I went kayaking here in a group, and asked if bears couldn’t just swim up to us. Everyone laughed, and I was there going,”No seriously, can bears swim up to us???”

  16. Also I have heard here that thinking to scare a bear away by lighting a firework works better if it doesn’t shoot off and land behind the bear, sending 1000lbs of terrified bear in your direction.

    Do not mix fireworks and bears, children.

  17. This is the best and most helpful thing I have ever read in my life. I chuckled out loud the whole time, thank you Heather!!

  18. This was hilarious and all the better for the fact I will probably never encounter a bear outside a zoo. Let’s be real, I live in a country where the scariest (non-human) thing you could encounter in the woods is a badger…and then I read they want to reintroduce wolves and lynxes…this is a small island. I may never leave the house again. At this point I’m just glad bears were never indigenous.

  19. Wow, this is very relevant right now! I just got back from a hike with my brother to watch the sunset on top of a mountain. As soon as we got out of our cars at the trailhead, someone else told us that he had seen a bear lumbering across the road. (We never saw the bear ourselves though.)

  20. Ok so I’m leaving for a 12 day expedition tomorrow and now I’m even more terrified than I was before

  21. My son is the back country manager of the King Conservation Area (far northern California) and spends a good portion of his work life telling people to rent or buy bear cans. No, they’re not instant bear, just add water. They’re contraptions for you to put all your edibles – toothpaste, too – into. Bears can’t open them. Way safer than trying to hang stuff in a tree or store it in a car. Bears can wreck a car trying to get at the food.

    He once took some nature educators out on a weekend hike and spent the first day telling them, “Fire safety – bear cans – fire safety – bear cans.” The first night out they were awakened by three bears (yep) trying to open the cans. Wham! Wham! Wham! Bears finally gave up and left. The next night someone else’s campfire got out of control, so they used the cans for a bucket brigade. LOL!

  22. Haley Mills (and Haley Mills) taught me that if you bang to sticks together it’ll scare off mountain lions. An old Indian guide taught them that. The more you know, campers *rainbow*

    I went to Girl Scout camp as a kid in the mountains of Colorado. We dragged our little cot mattresses into the field across from the camp and slept under the stars. I was 12. We were in the middle of nowhere. In the mountains. Of Colorado. Ignorance really is bliss because I would never EVER do that [sober] as an adult.

      • Yep! waaaaaaay back in the early 1990s. The girl I went with (she was the Girl Scout, I was the tag-along BFF) is sending her oldest daughter there for her first camp trip this summer.
        sooo long agooo

  23. It’s a really good thing I read this before taking my dog out for his bedtime potty break, because I ended up having a Mexican standoff with some raccoons by the dumpster. FYI, threatening to go get your “unwelcome” mat works on raccoons in addition to bears, apparently. Or maybe it worked because I clutched my 6 pound puppy, stood tall and told it to get away from my dog’s poop spot so I could go to bed sooner?

  24. Is there a reverse guide for Bears?

    1. Relax, bro. Humans can reach you in trees, sail across oceans, drive 100 miles per hour, and wilfully misinterpret your fear, so whatever you do, don’t panic!

    2. Old Humans and Young Humans and lady humans and dude humans have totally different ways and reasons for killing you, so figure out which one you’re dealing with and calmly assess the situation you’ve wandered into.

    3. Right, and after you have calmly determined its ethnicity , motives, paternal leanings, gender, and favorite color, make your move.

    4. If it’s a scared A-Camp T-Shirt wearing little bear, your move is to “Stand tall and look it directly in the eye. Roar at the human and firmly/politely tell it to leave: ‘Go and do the Lesbian Sex elsewhere, A Camper!’”

    5. But if it’s an full grown white, male, NRA-member human wielding a rifle and you do that, you’re what’s for lunch. If it’s a NRA human go on ahead and lay your ass down on the ground and curl up in a ball and play dead/take a nap. “Try to look as cute and harmless as possible so as to imitate your cousins Yogi and the 3 Bears and undermine the valour of the conquest if he shoots you.”

    6. Walk away alive and happy.

    • Thank you for this comment. As a bear, I have often felt that my experience has been overlooked by the human writers and commentators here who REFUSE to own up to their enormous species priviledge.

  25. This article is bear-bating of the first degree!! Is it not enough to infringe our borders, shoot our families and cruelly leave delicious treats out in difficult-to-open containers like some kind of sick joke? Get your minds out of the 16th century, people!!! This is 2015!!!!!

  26. As someone who grew up with bears chilling in her backyard, I stand by my mother’s advice of staring it down and saying “shoo bear”. Nothing gets between my mother and her gardening.

    • Oh, but beware of the babies. They’ll get you eaten for sure. Protective momma bears are terrifying.

  27. For years I carried a ‘bucket list’ of disasters I wanted to be caught up in. I have feminizing adrenal deficiencies which are ameliorated by adrenal stim. When a bear tried to get in my 250 year-old log cabin I met him at the door with a hockey stick. Both of us were equally surprised and he could not wait to get away (I am glad it was not Cam Neely!). The slashes he left on my leg were very popular at parties for months. One day a hunter told me how he had a bear in his gunsights. The bear was trying to stand and walk as a person while carrying ears of corn in his hands. the hunter told me how he realized the bear was just another person. He said he would never hunt bears again. – Tupungato.

  28. My apologies. When I submitted my comment I failed to compliment you (and some of the insightful comments) for being one of the very few treatments of this subject that cites the importance of the type of bear and a determination of it’s intentions before adopting a survival strategy. It is good that you included what most leave out. – Tupungato.

Comments are closed.