Riding in Bear Country

By: Forest Dramis

Real footage of Canadian mountain biker mauled by bear. Always remember to carry your bear spray...Don't let this be you!

Once, bear encounters like this were extremely rare. But with more and more mountain bikers on the trails and in the backcountry, it is only inevitable that mtb/bear encounters are on the rise. It is incumbent on all of us to be good stewards of our riding areas, and as we approach fall, this means being bear wise and always carrying bear spray. The Cache Area, Game Creek Teton Pass and Munger Mountain are all areas we like to ride. They also happen to be places bears like to live.

Sometimes carrying bear spray can feel like a pain, sometimes we forget it and sometimes we just feel like we don't need it. Remember, carrying bear spray not only protects you, it protects the bear. Many bears are killed or relocated from our area every year because of encounters with humans. Keep yourself and bears safe by always carrying bear spray. 

To encourage riders to always carry bear spray, JHCycling and the Jackson Hole WIldlife Foundation have partnered in producing bear spray holders and informative water bottles. We will be giving these away at various events throughout the fall. Follow us on Facebook and sign up for the newsletter to learn where to get yours FREE!


The most important thing about carrying bear spray:



Avoid Bear Encounters

The best bear encounter you can have is no bear encounter! When possible, ride in groups. Groups are naturally louder and you're much less likely to surprise a bear when traveling in a group. If riding alone, make noise. Ring your bell often, yell, "Hey bear!", sing a song. Make yourself known. Surprise encounters are generally the most dangerous. In most situation bears will avoid humans.  If you encounter a bear in the field and it does not avoid you, you need to determine if the bear is exhibiting predatory or aggressive/defensive behavior. 

Bear Encounters

In most situations, bears act defensively to protect their personal space, a food source, or their offspring. A defensive bear often displays stress behaviors such as moaning, woofing, jaw popping, or paw swatting. Remember, the bear is acting aggressively to defend something and if you are not perceived as a threat, the bear should leave the area.        
What to do if you encounter an aggressive/defensive bear at close range

  • Try to remain calm, slowly back out of the area, and have a defense ready. 
  • Never run away from the bear.
  • Do not challenge the bear with any aggressive body language or direct eye contact.
  • If the bear begins to approach, stand your ground and use bear spray if available.
  • If a bear makes contact or is about to make contact, drop and cover by lying flat on your stomach and inter-lacing your fingers and placing them on the back of your neck. Do not fight back.
  • Once the bear feels the threat is neutralized it will stop attacking.

Unlike defensive bear attacks, a bear that is acting in a predatory manner is NOT defending anything. Predatory behavior is often recognized when a bear appears to be intensely interested in you or deliberately approaches you without displaying any stress behaviors. In a predatory bear attack, you should fight back by any means necessary, do NOT drop and cover!
What to do if the bear is acting predatory

  • Do not back away from the bear but instead stand your ground.
  • Act aggressively towards the bear.
  • Make yourself look as big as possible by holding your arms out and using your coat and standing on a log or rock.
  • Yell at the bear in a loud firm voice.
  • Use branches and rocks to deter the bear.
  • Use bear spray or a weapon to protect yourself.