Here’s the situation: you are hanging out at your campsite or on a picnic area beach in Yosemite, when you hear a branch crack behind you. You turn around to find a bear approaching. What do you do?
You stand up, face the bear, wave your arms, and yell at the bear. We mean YELL at the bear, as loudly as you possibly can. Be aggressive with your voice and body language. You’re not just making noise; you’re scaring a bear away! You have to mean it for it to work.
Here are some examples of things you can yell:
GET OUT OF HERE BEAR!!
Or even just: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH BEAR!!!!!!!!!
One half-hearted yell may not be enough to scare a bear. So, keep yelling LOUDLY and AGGRESSIVELY until the bear leaves. Yell, clap your hands, wave your arms, hit a stick against a tree, get other people to help you yell! You can even throw small objects like pinecones or small pebbles at the bear to help scare it. (You’re trying to gently hit the bear with the pebble or pinecone—not injure it: Bears don’t like being touched.) Don’t chase the bear; just use your voice to scare it away.
Do you have time to snap a quick picture? No!
Do you have time to look around for a pot to bang or a whistle to blow? No! Use your voice! Your voice is your most effective tool to scare a bear away (and you don’t have to go looking for it… unless you’re really scared).
When a bear is around people, it could be only moments away from getting food, so you need to make it feel unwelcome immediately. Once a bear is eating food, it will be harder to scare away and much more likely to return in search of more food, ultimately getting itself into more trouble. We also want bears to be immediately afraid of people (as they naturally are), rather than assuming most people aren’t scary.
Bears that consume human food typically have decayed and damaged teeth. But that’s not the only negative consequence: when a bear gets food from people, even just a banana, the bear will change its natural behavior. Bears are extremely food-driven and a bear that gets human food will often become so bold in its attempts at getting human food that it has to be killed to protect people. So, when you see a bear approaching you or in any developed area (e.g., campground, picnic area, trail, parking lot), it is important to scare it away immediately, stopping this cycle, and helping keep the bear wild and alive. Yes, yelling at a bear helps keep it alive.
What about when you see a bear in a meadow, in the wilderness, or anywhere else away from human development or people—should you scare it? Generally, no. Do you have time to snap a quick picture? Probably, if you are at least 50 yards away from the bear. It can be one of the best Yosemite experiences getting to watch a wild bear do wild bear things.
Are you having trouble envisioning scaring a bear away? This video shows what it sounds and looks like. This advice applies in Yosemite; always check local recommendations when visiting bear country.