Any movie you've ever seen that takes place in the woods will sooner or later have a bear in it. This bear is almost always a bloodthirsty predator looking to dine on human flesh.
None of that is true. But bears do occasionally attack, and even more rarely, eat people. The following is the best way to improve your chances of this NOT happening to you.
For most people, your issue is the black bear. Blackies are normally shy and very tolerant of humans, which is why they can live almost anywhere. They can range from 100lb juveniles up to 700lb monsters. The surprising part is the small juvenile bear is almost always the problem. Like human teens, they are young, dumb, and looking for a meal without Mama’s help for the first time. They can normally be hazed off by shouting and aggressive behavior by human adults. With one exception, that being a human habituated bear. The one who has made a living from raiding garbage cans and campsites. These are very dangerous, and can be spotted immediately by their fearless and aggressive behavior toward humans. Don’t approach and get a weapon in your hand quickly. Leave the area immediately.
Overall, black bears are benign creatures roaming the woods just looking for food. They’re fun to see and often act like playful dogs when they’re loafing around. One caveat, though. Never run away from or act intimidated by ANY bear, including blackies. It triggers their predator/chase response and will be a problem.
The legendary grizzly is the second bear found in the lower 48. Grizz range from 200lbs up to 1000lbs. Like the black bear, they are also normally shy and respectful of humans. With a few caveats. If you surprise them, encounter them with cubs, or come up on a carcass they’ve claimed, they will not retreat like blackies do.
They are more inclined to attack in these circumstances, just to give you a manners lesson that they would give to another bear. Unfortunately, our thin hides and weak bones can’t take these lessons well, and we get dead behind them.
So how do we put this knowledge to use and have a good time in the woods without fear?
First: Know where you are. Do bears live in this area, what kind and what frequency? Always watch for sign, these being tracks, scat, turned over logs and boulders. These will let you know if bears frequent your area.
If you are caught by surprise and are now actively being attacked, you’re in a world of shit. Although black bears almost never attack humans, when they do it’s to prey on you. Fight for your life. Grizzlies are almost always giving you a manners lesson, which will be worse if you fight. Roll into a ball, covering your neck and head and hope that your hiking partner is spraying him off you.
“Those who have packed far up into grizzly country know that the presence of even one grizzly on the land elevates the mountains, deepens the canyons, chills the winds, brightens the stars, darkens the forest, and quickens the pulse of all who enter it.”
-John Murray, The Great Bear: Contemporary Writings on the Grizzly