Q: I heard that you are never supposed to look a bear in the eyes. Is that true?—Jim, Phoenix, Ariz., via email
A: Are you lookin’ at me? I said, ‘are you lookin’ at me?! Do I look like a just a big, fluffy stuffed animal to you?!
I’m willing to let you off the hook this time, Jim, but it’s true: Staring me in the eyes is decidedly not a good idea. I could perceive this as a direct challenge or an aggressive signal from you trying to communicate your dominance, which could lead to an escalation of our encounter—like a charge or even an attack.
While both black and brown bears are on record exhibiting adverse reactions to direct eye contact, this is especially dangerous if you find yourself in close quarters with a grizzly. Should that grizz be protecting a kill or cubs, you could be in especially big trouble; I’m unlikely to back down until I feel the threat against my food source or youngsters is over.
Loud, aggressive noises can be perceived the same way for grizzlies, but you should yell and shout at a black bear to scare it off. But if you make plenty of non-threatening human noises ahead of time, you probably won’t surprise me in the first place, and we can avoid a nasty staring contest. Trust me: I almost always win those.
Got a question for the bear? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.