Montana is known for their bears.. Whether you've been here for years or just visiting, it is important to learn the differences between black & brown bears and what to do in any situation you may encounter.
Montana is home to both black bears and grizzly bears. Although most pictures you see, look like what you'd expect, though size and color are not reliable indicators of species. Black bears can be black, like their name suggests. But, they can be several other colors too. This includes brown, cinnamon, blue-gray, blonde or even white. Although rare, it is good to know black bears come in more colors than black. Grizzly bears normally have light or dark brown coats with white-tipped hairs. which is where they get the name "grizzly".
Take a look at this photo. First glance, it looks like a grizzly, simply due to the cinnamon/brown color. But when you look at the other characteristics, you will find that this is in fact a black bear.
Black bears have a prominent rump, a straight muzzle (similar to a dog), pointed ears and dark claws.
Grizzly bears have a hump on their should, which is a key identifier. Their face is more dished than straight, with rounded ears. Their claws are long and light-colored.
Keeping a Safe Distance
In many places, like Glacier National Park, approaching, viewing or engaging in any activity intentionally within 100 yards of bears or wolves is prohibited.
"Never intentionally get close to a bear. Individual bears have their own personal space requirements, which vary depending on their mood. Each will react differently, and their behavior cannot be predicted. All bears are dangerous and should be respected." -nps.gov/glac
What to do when you encounter a bear?
Most bears will move out of the way if they hear people coming their way. You can do this by calling out or clapping at regular intervals. This way your presence is known and you avoid surprising a bear.
Hike in Groups
Don’t Run on Trails
Carry Bear Spray
It's called bear spray for a reason! Glacier Jeep Rentals provides a free can of bear spray with every jeep. Other vehicles as well, upon request. Bear spray is a great way to deter bears and it has been show to be very effective.
Be Aware of Surroundings
There are some environmental conditions that can make it hard for bears to see, hear or even smell approaching hikers. Make sure to pay attention when near streams, during windy days or even in areas with dense vegetation. Always keep an eye out for tracks or scat. Bears love eating, so when you find yourself in feeding areas like berry patches, keep a close eye out.
Secure Food and Garbage
"Never leave food, garbage, or anything used to prepare, consume, store, or transport food unattended. This includes your backpack or day pack. Secure all food and odorous items safely and pack out all garbage. Other scented items include toiletries, feminine products, sunscreen, etc." - nps.gov/glac
Make sure to store all food items in your car or bear box. Do NOT leave any food, utensils out, or any scented items. This includes chapstick, toothpaste, toothbrush.
Scavengers, like bears, are drawn to campgrounds in search of food.
Camping the Right Way
Keep you camp clean.
Store all edible items, food containers (empty or not), trash etc. in a vehicle or a bear box/locker.
Don't throw away food or garbage in pit toilets.
Keep an eye out at your campsite for signs of bears.
Click here for a further detailed explanation.
If a bear (or another animal) is heading in your direction on a trail, get out of the way and let it pass.
If moving away agitates the bear (or animal), stop. When a bear is agitated, it will sway its head, huff, and clack their teeth. If their head is lowered and their ears are laid-back, this could also show aggression. Standing on their hind legs or getting closer does not always mean they are aggressive.
It's possible they don't know you're human.. They could be too far to smell or see you properly. In this case, talk quietly, DO NOT RUN, back away slowly and only stop if it agitates the bear.
DON'T STARE INTO THEIR EYES. This can be threatening to them.
If you can, continue to back away slowly and have your bear spray at the ready.
Please Take Some Time and Watch this Bear Safety Video
Park Wildlife Biologist John Waller explains about bear behavior and how to hike and travel safer on the trails in Glacier National Park. Learn why it's not a good idea to walk quietly and how best to react to a surprise encounter with one of the park's largest and most magnificent residents.
If you have further questions, please refer to the parks website or contact a ranger in Montana for more information. There are several information centers in the area that have tons of information regarding the park and safety procedures.
Remember.... Be BEAR Aware