Ed note: This might be a topic that’s pretty far fetched for most of us Mama Hikers, but if you are in a place like Anchorage, this is something you have to think about even when on trails around town! So we figured we might as well post it. It will also help those of you heading out to national parks this summer where there might be bears or moose or other large animals
Okay, so we’ve heard of “bearanoia” and how unnecessary it is, but let’s be honest: when out hiking with your little ones, it’s hard not to be bear phobic if you live in a place where bear spottings are common! And what about those majestic, spindly legged moose fellows? They’re not quite as harmless as you’d think. But don’t despair! When encountering this wildlife, the very best thing you can do is be prepared and know how to stand your ground (or make a run for it!).
Let’s start by talking about bears:
Firstly, dangerous bear encounters rarely happen. From 2005 to 2012, there were 12 black bear fatalities and 12 brown bear fatalities (Journal of Wildlife Management). So, yes, fatalities happen, but when looking at encounters vs. fatalities, fatalities are very few and far between. What does this mean? That bears, like all wildlife, deserve respect. How can we be respectful of a bear’s temperament and personality?
1.) MAKE NOISE! Lot’s of it. Most bear attacks occur when a bear is surprised. Wear bells, travel in groups, talk loudly, sing. You get the picture!
2.) Bears are always looking for food, that being said, stay away from any carcass you may spot along the way. When hiking or camping, be conscientious about your food choices. Smelly foods, particularly fish, should either be avoided or eaten away from the campsite. Don’t bury your trash. Bears have an amazing sense of smell. They will still smell trash if it’s buried. Here’s a great link that shows how to store, handle, and hang food appropriately.
3.) Become familiar with stances and behavior. A standing bear is a curious bear! Bears are not malicious. They’re generally shy or inquisitive and will run away. If your reaction is immediately aggressive instead of ASSERTIVE, bears may become more aggressive themselves. You should not run from bears even though this may be your first reaction. This may make the bear think you are prey. Bears WILL run faster than you. You cannot outrun a bear. If you encounter a bear and it does not notice you, detour quietly so it continues to not notice you. If it does notice you, try to make yourself look as large as possible, speaking in a loud, deep voice. DO NOT scream or use a high pitched voice. STAND YOUR GROUND. Many times, bears “bluff charge”. These do not result in attack and result in a bear leaving once they realize you are not a threat. If they do charge and attack, begin by curling up into a ball, protecting major organs. This may discontinue the attack, however if the attack continues even after “playing dead” FIGHT BACK! If it is a black bear, it is recommended you not play dead, but fight back as a first response (nps.gov). Which leads me to tip # 4.
4.) Learn to tell the difference between black and brown bears. http://www.bearsmart.com/resources/north-american-bears/know-the-difference
5.) Protection. Guns or bear spray? Many like the comfort of a firearm. It is important to note that firearms often result in a more serious bear attack. If carrying a firearm, the caliber is important. In a handgun, nothing smaller than a .44 Magnum is advised. Likewise, nothing smaller than a 12 gauge shotgun or .30-.40 caliber rifle is recommended. If using firearms for defense, commonsense and accuracy are an absolute must. Bear spray has proven to be more effective in bear defense. Read this for a little more technical info on dealing with bears.
Now, onto moose. Significantly more simple.
Steer clear. Give them space. Seriously, it’s as simple as that. More moose related deaths occur every year than brown and black bear attacks combined. These are mostly vehicle collisions, but attacks also occur. Moose are not normally aggressive unless hungry, tired or harassed (adfg.alaska.gov). In the event a moose is charging towards you, run for solid cover. If you’re unable to do so and the moose has charged you to the ground, curl up in a ball and cover major organs. Once you’re no longer perceived as a threat, the moose will leave you alone. Another fact that warrants special attention: moose absolutely HATE dogs. Leashing is important unless you want a potentially kicked dog.
Many times trails will have wildlife reports or signs posted that may give you an idea of bear or moose activity. Always read and take caution, but don’t be crippled by fear! As long as you’re informed and prepared, an enjoyable hiking or camping experience is alway possible!
Alex lives in Eagle River and is mommy to 3 year old Harrison and 3 month old Chell. She grew up hiking in the mountains of North Carolina but since moving to Alaska last year, has fallen in love with the hiking and scenery there. She’s happiest wearing her babies, exploring new trails. Some of her family’s favorite hikes are the Gold Mint Trail, Mt. Baldy and Alpert Loop. She looks forward to meeting more hiking mamas!