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Do You Need To Worry About Bears In Winter?

by | Jun 16, 2022 | TALES FROM THE TRAILS, TIPS & TRICKS | 0 comments

When hiking during the summertime people are often on alert for any potential encounters with the local wildlife, which in some places means bears.

Hiking in bear country during the summer means that each hiker needs to follow certain safety precautions to keep everyone on the trail safe, such as storing food in bear canisters and carrying bear spray. 

The real question is do you need to worry about encountering a bear on your hiking route during the winter months? Are they hibernating or is an encounter likely?

The likelihood of a bear encounter in the wintertime is usually quite low but depends on a number of factors, such as where you are, the time of the year, and the type of bear that is local to the area. 

In some places, bears are awake and active all year round and so it is important to do your research and know what bear activity is like in the area you are planning on hiking.

In this guide, we answer some common hiking myths related to bears and the wintertime and also offer some useful tips on how to stay safe and what to do if you find yourself face to face with a bear in the winter months. 

Do Bears Actually Hibernate?

Bears spend winters in dens, which are usually located in caves or hollow trees. They sleep for up to 14 hours each day. During the summer months, however, they often travel long distances to find food which is why most bear sightings and encounters happen during the summer months.

Although bears tend to avoid people, they sometimes come across hikers and campers during winter hibernation. As a result of this, hikers should be careful about leaving food behind. Bears may mistake it for their own food and eat it.

If you hike in a national park, you should know that you cannot feed wild animals. Doing so is illegal. If you see a hiker feeding a bear, tell them to stop immediately.

Bears are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and meat. Although they prefer berries and nuts, they will eat almost any type of vegetation. In fact, they even eat garbage!

If bears get used to humans feeding them they will begin to look for humans which can be very dangerous and lead to a rise in bear attacks in areas where hikers often feed wild animals. 

How Long Do Bears Hibernate For?

How Long Do Bears Hibernate For

Bears typically hibernate from November through March. However, some individuals hibernate year-round. Bears normally wake up around April and begin looking for food. This is when they will begin eating insects, small rodents, fish, frogs, birds, eggs, and carrion.

Bears are social creatures. When they hibernate together, they form “bachelor groups.” These groups consist of one male and several females. The males stay awake throughout the winter while the females sleep.

When spring arrives, the bachelor group breaks apart. Each female will give birth to cubs. Cubs are born blind and helpless. Their mother nurses them until they are old enough to leave the den.

Can Bears Attack In The Wintertime?

While most bears would be hibernating during the winter months, depending on the time of year and where you are hiking there may be active bears which could result in an attack. 

Attacks in the winter time are extremely rare but ultimately yes, bears can attack people in winter. Most attacks occur after dark. Bears become more aggressive because they are hungry after waking from their deep slumber.

If you are hiking during the winter time bear attacks are less likely to cause you harm than the cool elements around you. Cold weather can bring a lot of risks in the great outdoors and so it is important that you are properly prepared for these possible situations.

In the winter month’s bear dens are often covered in snow and so you may not even realize you are walking past a den. These dens are often in cavities, caves, hollow trees, and brush piles.

Most bear attacks happen as a result of bears being encountered suddenly, frightening both the bear and the human. 

If you encounter a bear in winter, stand still and slowly back away. But if the bear doesn’t move, then back away slowly. If the bear continues to follow you, but stop moving if possible. Make sure your bear spray is ready to be used. *You can’t outrun a bear*

At the end of the typical hibernation season, it is important to be extremely vigilant as bears awaken from their slumber and will be more irritable and hungry. 

Common Bear Dangers

Bears can be very dangerous predators. They kill many types of wildlife, including humans.

Because of this, you need to take precautions when hiking in bear country. 

First, never feed bears.

Second, do not approach a sleeping bear or a mama bear with her cubs.

Third, make sure your campsite has no food left behind. If you’re hiking for the day and plan to return to your campsite, store your food in a bear canister, not your car. Bears have been known to tear apart a car to get to the food. BearVault makes small to large bear proof canisters to store your food for any length of trip.

Fourth, keep children in sight at all times and away from bears.

Finally, carry bear spray with you at all times.

Why Bear Attacks Happen  

Bears are territorial animals. They defend their territory against other bears and other species.

This means that if a bear sees another animal near his home, he will try to chase it away. He will use his paws to knock the animal down.

Sometimes, though, the animal he chases turns out to be a human. If this happens, the bear will probably charge.

This is why you must always wear bear-resistant clothing such as a hat, gloves, and boots. Also, don’t go into bear country without carrying bear spray.

What You Should Do In An Encounter With A Bear

What You Should Do In An Encounter With A Bear

If you find yourself face-to-face with a bear, try not to run. Instead, stand still and make yourself appear as big as possible. Try yelling loudly and waving your arms.

If you see a bear it is important that you stay calm and quietly back away if you have not been spotted by the bear yet. Try to get as far away from the bear as possible.

If the bear follows you, then stop moving. *You can’t outrun a bear*. Never turn your back on a bear. Instead, face the bear and yell loudly, continuing to make yourself seem large by extending your arms and waving them. Certainly, make sure your bear spray is ready to spray.

Don’t allow the bear gets too close, Use bear spray to deter the bear. Spray in sweeping motions. If a grizzly bear decides to attack you, curl up in a fetal position and play dead. However, playing dead doesn’t work with black bears.

If a black bear attacks you, use rocks, sticks, punch and kick it, aiming for its eyes.

Finally, if the bear becomes violent, then fight back. Fight for your life.

If you encounter a bear while hiking or camping in an area with lots of wildlife, there is usually no need to worry. Most bears are afraid of humans and will try to avoid them at all costs.

If you see a bear near your campsite, just leave it alone. It probably won’t hurt you, but it could cause problems for your neighbors if you trigger it.

However, if you have children, keep them close to you at all times. Never let them approach a bear. If you must go outside, then make sure your kids are safe before you venture into the woods.

Should Hikers Carry Bear Spray In The Winter?

In the colder months often aerosol can disappear instantly or the spray nozzle can freeze over in extremely cold temperatures. As a result hikers often wonder if bear spray is as effective in the winter months as it is in the summer months. 

Bear spray does work in cold weather, however, the spray range will be impacted by the cold weather. When carrying bear spray try to keep it close to your body so that your natural body heat helps to keep the bear spray warm, which will benefit its efficiency if you do have an encounter with a bear. 

You can also use bear spray as a deterrent for other attacking wildlife, such as elk and cougars. Bear spray cannot be brought onto aircraft and so a top tip used by serious hikers is to call hotels in the local area and ask to buy leftover bottles of bear spray as a way to cut back on waste and get what they need for cheaper. 

Final Thoughts

The winter months can be dangerous for hikers as well as bears. If you hike in bear country make sure you carry bear spray and know how to use it.

Also, make sure you are aware of any potential dangers before heading out into the wilderness. Do not underestimate the power of a hungry bear.

The great outdoors is a beautiful place but both it and its local inhabitants should be respected to help you and other hikers to stay safe.

If you are concerned about the safety of a hiking trail during the winter months, speak with the locals as they often hold a wealth of knowledge and may have great tips to help you.

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