Do you remember the first time you ever saw a bear in the wild? Were you scared? (If you’ve never seen a bear in the wild, would you be scared if you did?)
I was quite scared the first time I ever saw a bear, near the trailhead parking in Yosemite Valley. I’ve spent most of the 18 years since then working with bears in Yosemite and have now seen bears hundreds of times. These days, it takes a lot for a bear to scare me. I’m that comfortable around black bears (in Yosemite, at least).
Bears are the same way. They are born afraid of people. Nearly all of them, even in Yosemite, seem to remain deathly afraid of us, even when they’re big, dominant males. But, if they regularly spend time around people, they slowly get more comfortable around us–just like I got comfortable with bears by working with them so much. This is how bears get into trouble. Once they’re comfortable around people, our abundant, high-calorie food is all that more tempting (and obtainable) to them.
And this is why it’s critically important to scare black bears when they approach people or are in developed areas. (This is true in the national parks of the Sierra Nevada–it isn’t true everywhere, so always heed local instructions.) Bears learn quickly when people are afraid of them, and even more quickly when they get food out of the encounter.
So, how do you scare a bear away? Yell as loudly as possible at it (we usually say “go away bear!” or “get out of here, bear!”) Obviously, it doesn’t really matter what you say, but if you’re yelling something like that at a bear, you’re more likely to mean it. And this is the trick. You have to mean it! You could make all the noise in the world, but if the bear doesn’t think you mean it, it’ll probably ignore you. You can see an example of yelling without meaning it not working very well in this video.
Video by Zack/UTubeLightBulb via Youtube.
It turns out, in my experience, that bears like this one are very good at reading human body language. (I also wonder if, with their superb sense of smell, they can smell fear… or lack thereof.) Confident people yelling at a bear always results in the bear leaving more quickly than when un-confident people are yelling. I’ve frequently shown up at the scene of a bear in a campsite because I could hear lots of people making lots of noise with no effect, but then I, with my lone voice, scared the bear away in a second.
So, to scare a bear away, you want to yell, in your loudest possible voice, “GO AWAY BEAR!” and keep repeating it until the bear leaves. Use your voice aggressively and be mad at the bear, and mean it. Forget the car alarms, pots and pans, clapping, whistles, or whatever else. These don’t work. Yell at the bear like you’re the boss and you’re demanding it to leave, and it will (almost always).
PS: In Yosemite, we tell people not to chase bears because doing so without training can be dangerous. However, walking toward or running just a few steps toward a bear (while already yelling at it) can be helpful if you’re careful and are sure the bear has an escape route.