Grizzly Bear vs. Black Bear Encounters

Have you ever wondered if there were different types of approaches you make with different kinds of bear? Or if you know what to do with one type of bear, if you can use that same approach with  the other types of bear?


With grizzly bears and black bears, there are different approaches one can make in regards to bear encounters. Now, this isn’t set in stone. With each encounter, you have to assess the situation. Did you accidentally stumble upon a grizzly’s home? Does the bear have cubs with her? All situations are different and you may have to react in different ways, but here are the general rules.

In General – understanding bears

When you have a confrontation with a  bear, there are a couple things you need to keep in mind. Knowing these facts will help you assess the situation.

  1. Know that the bears number one sense, is their sense of smell.
  2. Know that a bears sight isn’t the best (this comes in handy).
  3. Understand that you will never out run a bear, no matter what species it is.
  4. Realize that you can not climb a tree faster than a bear.
  5. Recognize that if you do run, this will target food for a bear. A bears instinct is to go after things that run. They associate this with food. So you are only attracting yourself.
  6. Be aware that there is a such a thing called a “bluff charge.” Bears may do this to intimidate you. Never run! Most of the time they will stop before they get to you. Stand your ground!!!!

Ok, now that we know the general consensus on bears, we can go into more specifics.

Grizzly Bears

Grizzly bears are huge. You never want to pick a fight with a grizzly. Their paws and claws are so big, they will knock you right out. If a grizzly is walking toward you, (and I know this is going to sound weird, but) talk to the bear in a calm collective voice. Use the words “hey bear,” and “I’m over here bear,” and whatever else you have to say to make sure he/she knows you are around. Remember, their sight is not all that great. When the bear gets in a close range, not hand reaching range but 20-50ft, put your arms over your head (reach up) to make yourself appear bigger than the bear. Start waving slowly, and then back away casually.

*Note: when I say wave slowly, I do not mean wave at the bear like humans do to other humans. You are reaching up with your arms and hands and waving them in a crisscross motion, almost like you are signaling someone.

*Note: Never turn your back on a bear! When you back away slowly, you always keep your eye on that bear, but do not stare into his eyes. That would be challenging the bear and you never want to challenge a grizzly!

OK, so let’s say the grizzly charges. What do you do? STAND YOUR GROUND! Remember the bluff charge? He will probably stop. If the chances are that he does not stop (which is very unlikely), you have a few choices here.

  1. Play dead. These mammals are not scavengers. They don’t eat dead things. If the grizzly thinks you are dead, he may just stop.
  2. Use your bear spray.  Most bear spray bottles can shoot up to 30 feet. Wait for the opportune moment because most sprays will only have about seven seconds of use time.   Spray into the bears eyes. When the bear backs off, try to get out of that environment as quick and safely as possible.                       *Note: When you decide to use your bear spray, make sure you think about how and where you are spraying this. This spray can hurt your eyes just as much as the bear’s eyes, if not more. If you spray this when you are down wind, now you’re the one that isn’t going to be able to see. And don’t spray indoors or in a tent.
  3. Fight back! This is your life, fight for it. Remember, the chances of this happening are very slim. The chances of a bear encounter are very likely. The chances of a bear attack, very unlikely. You’ve heard of the statistics. There is more of a chance of you getting hurt driving to work. Hell there is a bigger chance of you getting struck by lightning then getting mauled by a bear. This is more of a tool just in case. It never hurts to be knowledgeable.


Black Bears 

We already went over the general rules for both bears at the beginning so there is no need to repeat it here. The main difference between black bears and grizzles is their size. A person should never try to intimidate a grizzly. Stand your ground yes, intimidate NO. When I use the word intimidate I mean, throw rocks, be loud and ultimately try to scare the bear off. You should not do this with a grizzly, but you have a good chance of scaring off a black bear. They’re much smaller bears, so there is more of a chance the bear will be skiddish of you. Remember how I said every situation is different and you have to read every situation. You may not want to do this when there are cubs around. That might complicate the situation. You can, I just wouldn’t. If there were cubs involved, even with black bears, I would just back away slowly (same approach as the grizzly.)

Anyway, another huge difference between the two bears is their diet. A grizzly is not a scavenger. A black bear is. So if you decide to play dead in front of a black bear, well you just became an easy meal.

How to tell them apart? 

Isn’t a black bear, black and a grizzly bear, brown? Yes! But that is not always that case. Here are the easiest ways to distinguish them apart and to know 100%.

  1. Geography– are you on the East Coast of the United States. If so, then you don’t have to worry about grizzlies. They’re not native to the land. Do your research. Are there both kinds of bear where you are?
  2. Hump on the back. Grizzly bears have a distinct hump on their back. You can see it miles away. A black bear has a flat back. (This is the easiest way to distinguish a bear).
  3. Size. Grizzlies are significantly larger than black bears.
  4. The other distinctions you need to be really close up to tell them apart (their snout, ears, claws). Just using the first three will tell you 100% for sure without you needing any more distinctions. But if you want to know, a grizzly has smaller ears than a black bear. Black bears have flatter noses and black bears also have smaller claws.

There are more distinctions, but these are the top and easiest ways to tell.

When I took this picture, I had a terrible camera and was miles away. You can distinctively see the hump on this grizzly’s (54)

I did not take this black bear picture, I wish I did. That bear is beautiful! Anyway,notice the flat back. Very easy way to (56)

That concludes my knowledge about bears. I love bears. Can’t you tell! lol. Thank you for reading and I hope you have a great day!





By | 2017-12-13T18:32:05+00:00 March 8th, 2016|All Blog Entries, Resources, Wildlife - what to do|2 Comments

About the Author:

Hi, I'm Shelly! A traveler, hiker and an outdoor enthusiast. My dream my whole life was to travel, so I stopped dreaming and started doing. I quit my job and I am currently doing whatever it takes to keep going. I'll pick up jobs along the way and do what it takes to keep being a full-time traveler! I can prove that you don't need to come from money or anywhere special to live your dream. You just have to have the power of your own life to finally say YES!


  1. Paul Anthon May 20, 2016 at 1:07 am - Reply

    Shelley, I am so proud of you . I think it is wonderful the way you look at life and your desire to get close to the earth . Good luck and stay in touch , I will be thinking of you and eager to see more and hear more on your blog .

    • shelly June 4, 2016 at 4:46 pm - Reply

      Awe, well thank you Paul! I really appreciate it!!! Contact me anytime. I’m only one click away. It was so great getting to know you and all the other residents at ECMC. I have connected with a lot of you there. And you are so great looking out for everyone there too. Keep up the great work Paul! The residents at ECMC really appreciate you.

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