Getting to know bears

I recently picked up the book “Bears without fears” from author Kevin Van Tighem from my local library. While I am used to hiking in black bear territory and I have read countless articles on what to do in case of a bear encounter, I wanted to learn more about these animals in the hope of understanding their behavior better (and therefore being able to be less disturbing to them).

The book by Kevin Van Tighem mainly talks about North-American brown and black bears, with a short chapter on polar bears (and also prizzlies/grolars – the brown/polar bear mix). I recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about the habitat and habits of bears. There is also some advice on what to do in case of a bear encounter.

Main things I have learned from the book and/or other articles discussing bears
1. Bear spray has proven to be a better defense than a gun in bear territory.
2. Black bears climb trees. Brown bears usually don’t.
3. Size is not a good indicator to differentiate a brown and a black bear and neither is color. A big male black bear can be bigger than a brown bear. A grizzly can also be bigger than a polar bear. Physiognomy is the best way to distinguish between the two. Both species come in a wide range of colors.
4. Polar bears are actually the same species as brown bear since the two are able to reproduce.
5. A bear’s main activity is feeding. Feeding = survival. Survival = Getting as fat as possible in the hope of surviving the winter. Therefore, don’t get in between a bear and its food source.
6. Bears are omnivorous. The typical diet of brown and black bears only has around 5-15% meat. Polar bears typically eat 90-95% meat.
7. Polar bears do not hibernate.

Sign warning about bears in Jiri-san national park, South Korea
Sign warning about bears in Jiri-san national park, South Korea

Bear spray notes
As I am preparing my trip Hudson to Ungava trip where I am planning to take bear spray with me for the first time, I have taken the following notes:
– You can’t fly with it in a commercial plane.
– You should get familiar on how to use it, many good videos are available on youtube, such as the one below.
– If conditions are windy if will reduce the efficiency of your bear spray.
– It only sprays for 6-9 seconds depending on the quantity and brand, use it wisely.