Surviving encounters with bears

Posted on: January 29, 2016 | Bob Frye | Comments

Blog--Bear ricochetHow impressive are grizzly bears? According to the National Wildlife Federation, males are heavier than the females and can weigh up to 1,700 pounds. A large female will weigh up to 800 pounds.

Have you seen the movie “The Revenent” yet?

It spares no gore.

Of course, you wouldn’t expect it to. It’s the story – with some fairly big cinematic liberties taken – of Hugh Glass, a real-life mountain man who survived being horribly mauled by a grizzly bear and then abandoned by his companions in the middle of the American wilderness.

Fortunately, few of us will ever know that kind of terror.

Not everyone is so lucky. Claudia Huber was attacked by a grizzly bear in the driveway of her home in the Yukon in October 2014, in what officials called a “predatory” attack.

A tragedy, no doubt.

Her husband, Matthias Liniger, got more bad news recently.

A coroner’s report, just released in December, said that catastrophic as Huber’s injuries were, it was a bullet that ricocheted off a tree – fired by Liniger in trying to kill the bear – that ultimately killed her.

The chief coroner said Liniger did the right thing; the bear would have killed Huber otherwise.

But Liniger is understandably haunted, as he makes clear when hinting at what it’s like to see a loved one torn apart just feet away.

“It was almost already too much what happened there, what I saw, what I heard,” he told CBC News. “And now I have to somehow get over that fact, too, that a bullet killed her.”

The whole story is available here.

Pennsylvania has no grizzly bears, of course. But it does have 18,000 or so black bears, some – at upwards of 800 pounds – as big as a grizzly.

Attacks on people are almost unheard of. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, there are no known records of a free-ranging black bear killing a human in this state, and, as of 2014, there had been fewer than 25 reported injuries resulting from black bear encounters during the past 10 years.

But black bears have injured and killed people in other parts of the country. Just this past August, a hiker in West Virginia was attacked by a female bear when he walked up unexpectedly on one of her cubs. He survived.

Would you know to respond to a bear encounter?

Commission bear biologist Mark Ternent offered some suggestions a while back. Here they are again.

= Stay Calm.  If you see a bear and it hasn’t seen you, leave the area calmly. Talk to the bear while moving away to help it discover your presence. Choose a route that will not intersect with the bear if it is moving.

= Get Back. If you have surprised a bear, slowly back away while quietly talking. Face the bear, but avoid direct eye contact. Do not turn and run; rapid movement may be perceived as danger to a bear that is already feeling threatened. Avoid blocking the bear’s only escape route and try to move away from any cubs you see or hear. Do not attempt to climb a tree. A female bear can falsely interpret this as an attempt to get at her cubs, even though the cubs may be in a different tree.

= Pay Attention. If a bear is displaying signs of nervousness or discomfort with your presence, such as pacing, swinging its head, or popping its jaws, leave the area. Some bears may bluff charge to within a few feet. If this occurs, stand your ground, wave your arms wildly, and shout at the bear. Turning and running could elicit a chase and you cannot outrun a bear. Bears that appear to be stalking should be confronted and made aware of your willingness to defend by waving your arms and yelling while you continue to back away.

= Fight Back. If a bear attacks, fight back as you continue to leave the area. Bears have been driven away with rocks, sticks, binoculars, car keys, or even bare hands.

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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