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We have been truly blessed with adventures we get to go on while on horseback. However, with that blessing comes the responsibility that we owe to ourselves to complete our rides in the most safe way possible. We are fortunate enough to encounter quite a few wildlife sightings while out on the trail. These can include moose, deer, elk, wolves, and of course bear.  We have  encountered bears on the trail and have been lucky that they were more afraid of us and have run off.  While it is an amazing site to get to see these animals and of course get that picture of these beautiful creatures, we also need to be safe in doing so. That is why we attended a few Bear Aware presentations that have been quite educational. Our local Fish and Game organization puts together an awesome free presentation that is full of great information.  In this post we will share with you the most valuable information that we took away from these presentations. However, if this is something you want to know more about after reading our blog, then we highly encourage you to contact  Fish and Game in your area to see if they too hold the Bear Aware presentations.

Sociology of a Bear 

Bears are programmed to survive. There are things they do automatically in regards to food and mating. A female’s job is to mate and reproduce.  A female will mate with as many males that are around as long as she doesn’t have a cub or yearling. If she does, a male will come around to kill the cub to get the female bear to go into heat. This can happen in one day because the female will want to replace that cub. Once a female is impregnated she will go into the den and the gestation period is 2 months. When a female gets pregnant, she could have 4-5 cubs  inside of her, all from different fathers. At birth, a black bear is about half a pound and a grizzly will be about a pound. Bears can be cannibalistic and a female will eat the cub, if the cub is in bad shape before winter. The female makes the choice to eat her cub so that she can survive and keep the species going. Bears tend to be solitary animals. The moms will hang out with their cubs or hang out with their daughter’s cubs, or they will share cubs.


Bears only hibernate if there isn’t enough food. If the food is plentiful,they may not hibernate. Hibernation is a form of shutting down when there isn’t enough food. If you take away a bear’s food they will hibernate. Hibernation has nothing to do with the time of year or temperature. When bears do hibernate, males and females will den separately. A grizzly bears might just lay down and let the snow cover them.  Grizzly bears drop their heart rate and body temperature a bit, but can turn everything back on in a quick second. If a grizzly feels threatened they will immediately wake up. If a grizzly bear is hibernating, it might wake up in the middle of winter to walk around a bit. However, once their body is in hibernation mode they won’t eat, hydrate, or defecate. When black bears hibernate they will actually go into a den. If a black bear is hibernating  you can crawl in a den and check them out because they can’t wake up immediately like a grizzly bear can.

Physical Difference Between Black Bears and Grizzly Bears

Color is the last thing to look at when telling the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear. Not all black bears are black.  Actually,  in Idaho only 19% of the black bears are  black. The size of a bear is also not a good indication because bear size is a function of food. There might be a small grizzly bear or a large black bear. There are about 20,000 black bears in Idaho. Black bears are not on the  endangered list and 2000 black bears are harvested a year in Idaho. Grizzly bears however, are on the endangered species list in Idaho. Black bears are found almost everywhere except for the high desert. The front claws of a grizzly bear are much larger than a black bears. Grizzly claws are meant to dig so they aren’t sharp, whereas a black bears claws are sharp because they climb trees to get away from problems. If a bear looks like a teddy bear with a big, round snout and round ears, it is a grizzly bear. If you see a bear with a long snout, longer ears,  and looks more like a dog, that is a black bear. When looking at a black bears they will not have a hump on their back and their rump is higher than their head. A grizzly bear will have a distinct hump on their backs. When looking at tracks, a grizzly bear’s tracks will have a clear definite line between the toes and the paw whereas a black bear will not have that. It is difficult to find a good track that you can analyze and see the differences, so it’s not recommended to rely on tracks.  There is a test you can take for free in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho on the Fish and Game website that will tell you how great you are at telling the difference between the black and grizzly bears.

Signs That a Bear is in the Area 

You will see a black bear or grizzly bear any where in Idaho even in the sage brush areas. Many people think if you are in sage brush you are safe. Some people also think if they see a black bear then they won’t be able to see a grizzly bear in the same area. It is thought that a grizzly bear will kill the black bear. Truth is they will often share territories. There are a few things you can look for that lets you know a bear is in the area. One of them is down logs that have been tore open. Bears do this to look for bugs.  Bears also tend to follow trails so check for foot prints. Scat is a sign that there is a bear around. It is wise to make noise if you see signs so you don’t surprise the bear. Some people do this by carrying a bear bell or a horn.

How to Avoid Problems With a Bear

In Idaho we have been fortunate in the fact that we can say there have been no bear fatalities. Our neighboring states cannot say the same thing . There are a few steps you can take to avoid having an encounter with a bear. Bears usually think we are bad news so they will avoid us unless we surprise them or have something like garbage that they want to get into. 90% of bear attacks are caused because the bear was surprised. If you clean up after yourself and use a bear approved food storage box you are less likely to be bothered by bears. Also if you are out hunting and you want to protect your kill, bears don’t like electricity so a  portable electric fence would be a  good tool to keep your stuff safe. Also, don’t hike alone, it is good to hike in parties of three or more. If you do happen to come across a bear, don’t run. If you run their preditorial instincts will kick in. Your chances of outrunning a bear is zero. Bears are also excellent climbers, so if you climb up a tree both a grizzly bear and a black bear will be able to get you . You can also not out swim a bear.

What to Do if a Bear Attacks

If a bear stands up on its hind legs, that doesn’t always mean they are going to attack. Bears rely a lot on their smell so they are just getting a better smell of the area. However, if a bear doesn’t like what they smell then they may shake their head, slap their jaw, or slobber. Then you may have problems.  A grizzly bear will do a bluff charge because they want to see what you will do. The reason for doing this is to let you know that they are tougher than you. Whatever you do, don’t run or shoot cause you will just anger them. If a grizzly bear comes after you, know that he can kill you, and he knows he can kill you. If a grizzly bear comes at you and he isn’t doing a bluff charge, you are going to drop to the ground on your stomach and put your hands over your neck. The bear may  toss you around and hopefully walk away. If a black bear is charging you; yell, throw sticks, or even punch the bear. You can intimidate a black bear. Do not lay down and play dead for a black bear. If you play dead for a black bear then he thinks he has won and he will eat you. If you are in your tent and a grizzly or black bear comes after you and you have done everything right, meaning you don’t have any food in the tent with you, then the bear has gone preditorial. He has decided that he wants you. At that point do whatever you need to do to get the bear away. The chances of a bear coming into your tent is slim but it has happened.

Bear spray is the best tool to keep you safe in an attack. A gun is not the right tool, it has killed more people in an attack than a bear. Bear spray has to be accessible and it is a good idea to wear it in a holster. It can’t be in a backpack because you won’t have enough time to get to it there. Bear spray works instantly and creates a pain in the bear’s brain that is unlike anything they have ever dealt with before. Horses are a good thing round bears because bears will generally not attack a person when on a horse. We create too big of a picture, however we still carry bear spray on us while horseback riding.