As breakup gets closer and we all start to thaw out, it’s time to start thinking about how to enjoy the outdoors with our furry companions again. Bears will be starting to move around again soon, and with that comes an added element of danger for the everyday angler.
There are many things to consider when entering bear country, and a big one is understanding the bear populations in the area you’ll be visiting. Bears are intelligent animals that have different behaviors based on their life histories. Because of this, bears in the Mat-Su area will respond differently to humans in their surroundings than bears in the Katmai national park area. Always be sure to familiarize yourself with the bear populations of the areas you’ll be spending time in prior to heading out.
Some important things to remember in bear country:
- All bears are individuals and should be treated as such, even if you’ve encountered bears before. Respect their distance at all times.
- Keep your distance! Never approach bears and always make noise when you’re out so that they can avoid you before you happen upon them. This can be with a bear bell, by speaking loudly while hiking and fishing, or both.
- Travel in groups when possible. Bears are much more unlikely to approach a group of anglers than they are a single angler.
- Be alert and look for signs of bear activity, especially in areas with spawning salmon. This can include fresh scat, tracks, or claw marks in nearby trees. Listen for moving brush, and be especially mindful of the potential for sleeping bears on riverbank areas. If you’re making noise they’re likely to be gone before you find them.
- If you hook a fish and a bear sees you or approaches you with that fish on, break it off and remove yourself from the area.
- Carry bear spray and/or a firearm. These are worst-case scenario options, but should you need either one they are invaluable. Most importantly, familiarity with either option is critical. Know how to aim the spray and take wind into consideration. Be familiar with the safety mechanism on your firearm and always be a responsible gun owner.
- Remember that wildlife will choose the path of least resistance; bears, moose, and other animals often use man made trails to move through their habitat.
- If a bear responds to your presence then you are likely too close. Maintain a distance of at least 50 yards to ensure adequate protection.
- Never shout at a bear if it’s unaware of your presence, as this may startle the bear and incite it to charge.
- Watch for stress behaviors; yawning, huffing, jaw popping, and laying ears back are all signs of stress. Ears that are straight up and pointing forward generally indicate curiosity or dominance.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of precautions to take in bear country. Please refer to the links below for more information depending on your destination within Alaska.
Southwestern Alaska/Bristol Bay/Katmai National Park:
Southeastern Alaska/Juneau Area:
Southcentral Alaska/Anchorage Area:
Interior Alaska/Fairbanks/Denali National Park:
Northern central Alaska/Gates of the Arctic National Park
Northern Alaska/North Slope
All images courtesy of the author, Alex Bradberry