The grizzly bear is the second largest land carnivore on the North American continent, with only the polar bear larger. The grizzly lives in places that hikers and backpackers may frequent. It is prudent for people who go into the backcountry to acquaint themselves with this formidable animal's habits. Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington and Alaska have grizzly populations. While the grizzly is a threatened species due to its loss of habitat and overhunting in the lower 48 states, a hiker that encounters one and reacts the wrong way likely will quickly become extinct.
The grizzly bear can reach weights of near 1,000 pounds in certain Alaskan subspecies. Those in places such as Yellowstone and Glacier national parks typically are smaller. The male can stand 7 feet tall on its hind legs and weigh 600 pounds, with the females about 200 pounds less. The colors of a grizzly bear range from a yellow brown to a dark cinnamon. The bear can run up to 35 miles an hour. It has long claws but they lack curvature, making it difficult for a grizzly to climb as expertly as its black bear cousins do.
A grizzly bear's body language can help a person determine its mood in some cases. The bear will usually show that it is upset by making a huffing sound, clacking its teeth and by moving the head back and forth in a swaying motion. If the ears appear "laid back" and the head is down then the bear is typically in an aggravated state. The grizzly often stands on its back legs but biologists say this is how the animal gets a better look at what is around it and not necessarily a sign of aggression.
Experts advise hikers and backpackers to make plenty of noise when traversing grizzly country. This action allows a person to avoid surprising a bear, especially a mother with cubs. The conditions that exist on many trails make it impossible for a hiker to see a bear and vice versa. By creating a sufficient noise or disturbance when a hiker encounters a stream, a blind corner or a rise in the path the hiker increases the odds the bear will hear and flee into the surrounding countryside.
A hiker who encounters a bear should keep a cool head. That's obviously difficult. The National Park Service advises that the person talk quietly once the bear is in close proximity. Experts do not recommend running from the bear. Backing away slowly and methodically is the proper action to take. By turning sideways and or bending at the knees a person assumes a much less threatening appearance. Grizzly bears can interpret direct eye contact as a threat so people should avoid this. If an attack occurs a person should protect her abdomen and chest by falling into a fetal position, keeping her hands over her head and neck.