The black bear once existed across almost all of the United States, but its numbers have been significantly cut. In the Grand Tetons, the black bear is not uncommon; these bears might be black-, brown-, cinnamon- or even blond-colored. The black bear can weigh as much as 500 to 600 pounds, but the average specimen weighs about 200 to 250 pounds. Black bears are omnivores, eating whatever they can find and digest. They hibernate in the colder months and emerge from their dens in the spring. Black bears have large claws that are curved, enabling them to handily climb trees.
The grizzly bear, also called the brown bear, is larger than a black bear, with some weighing as much as 1,000 pounds. Those found in the Grand Tetons are considerably smaller but still can weigh about 600 pounds. These bears have a distinctive "hump" on their shoulders, and their claws are not as curved as the black bears, making tree climbing more problematic. Also omnivorous, the grizzly bear is not choosy about what it eats. It is capable of killing a full grown elk or moose and is one of the most feared predators in North America. The grizzly also will hibernate when the weather turns cold.
Hikers, campers and backpackers going into the Grand Tetons region need to be aware of the dangers associated with bears and take the proper precautions. A surprised bear is a very agitated animal, so making sufficient noise when in bear country is prudent. Loudly talking, shouting or singing is not a bad idea. People never should approach a bear if they spot one despite the attraction of perhaps getting closer to get a picture. If someone stumbles upon a bear, they should stop and not run, as this almost always will prod the bear into chasing--a race a human cannot win. Staying still and hoping a bear realizes a person isn't a threat is the best course of action. Bears often will charge a person, then pull back at the last instant, which makes it difficult to hold one's ground. If a bear does commence an attack, an individual should roll into a ball and protect their abdomen and their neck area from being bitten and/or clawed. Anyone venturing into where bears might live in the Grand Tetons is urged to carry a form of pepper spray that might deter a charging bear.
Bears will attack a person if they feel threatened, if they are stumbled upon while feeding or when a person comes between a mother bear and her cubs. In June 2007, a man was observing wildlife and failed to notice a mother grizzly with three cubs feeding off the carcass of an elk less than 20 feet away. The bears came at him, and even though he yelled at one of them, he was attacked. He saved his life by remaining calm and laying down next to the trail he was on and assuming a protective and nonthreatening posture, coming away with only minor injuries. In summer 2007, three black bears in the Grand Tetons had to be killed by rangers after becoming used to obtaining food from humans. There are strict rules throughout bear country that prohibit people from feeding bears or leaving out food that bears can get into. This will cause a bear to lose its fear of people and make them bold enough to approach anyone with food.