Grizzly and black bears are currently in a phase known as “hyperphagia,” which is an increase in feeding activity driven by the biological need to fatten up before going into hibernation for the winter. Bears are intensely feeding on any available food resources including berries and often elk carcasses left behind by successful hunters. Bears will be very protective of their food caches, so it is important to be aware of your surroundings and to be prepared for an unexpected encounter while recreating in Grand Teton National Park and throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Now is a great time to get out your bear spray and review your skills. Being prepared is critical to how you respond to a potentially dangerous encounter with a bear.
Safety in bear country requires being alert and aware of your surroundings. Travel in groups (don't go alone) and be sure to make noise, especially in areas where visibility is limited or other noise (such as wind or rushing water) may mask your approach. Have your bear spray readily accessible in a secure holster, preferably on a belt or chest strap where you can quickly remove and deploy it in the event of an encounter. If you are required to use your spray, remove the trigger safety and spray in the direction of the bear. Aiming at the ground in front of the bear is recommended as this will create a low-lying cloud between you and the approaching animal.
Bears travel outside of the park and into populated areas. If you live near Grand Teton National Park, or anywhere within grizzly and black bear habitat, it is important to make sure all attractants (garbage, pet food, bird feeders, etc.) are put away in a secure building or in such a way that a bear can't get it. This will help bears stay out of trouble when/if they are passing through neighborhoods.
A few things to consider before recreating in bear country:
Is your bear spray EPA registered? There are many self-defense pepper sprays on the market. Make sure yours is labeled Bear Spray and indicates EPA registration on the label.
Is your bear spray expired? Replace your bear spray if it is expired!
Is it readily accessible and secure? Keep bear spray on a belt or chest harness on the outside of clothing layers, not in or attached to the side of your pack.
Can you release the trigger safety quickly? Practice with an inert can until you can safely release it quickly and without looking 100% of the time.
What is your reaction time? Most encounters occur at close range, leaving you just 2 seconds to deploy spray. Practice with empty or inert cans until you are proficient.
What will you do if you see a bear? What is your bear spray strategy? Thinking about these in advance will help improve chances for a successful outcome.
Use two hands to steady bear spray when deploying.
Trigger safety - always keep the safety on and store your bear spray properly! Most inadvertent human exposure to bear spray occurs with trigger safeties removed.
Buy the largest can available. Large cans spray for longer durations. Consider carrying 2 cans on multi-day trips in areas of high grizzly bear density.
Should everyone in your party carry bear spray? Yes, all adults should have their own can.
Not sure what to do with your expired or unused bear spray? Visitor centers in Grand Teton National Park, the Elk Refuge visitor center on the north end of Jackson, Teton County Recycling Center, and Jackson Hole Airport all take canisters for recycling, free of charge.
Remember, always carry bear spray when hiking in Grand Teton, and be bear aware! Stay safe out there and enjoy yourself while recreating responsibly in Grand Teton.