If you’ve never been the subject of a bear‘s bluff charge, you might want to keep it that way. A video courtesy of photographer Henrik Nilsson on Instagram shows just what it’s like to be on the receiving end of one of these bluff charges from a brown bear.
“While in Alaska photographing brown bears, this youngster decided to come by,” Nilsson wrote in the caption. “It gave us a look followed by a bluff charge. Of course you only know it’s a bluff after the fact. Hospitals use various different color codes for alerts – code yellow, code green. This was almost a Code Brown.”
Jokes aside, the bluff is serious business. The bluff charge is a tactic used to intimidate, and it’s different than an aggressive charge, which is possibly even more serious business. A bear who is using a bluff charge will have its ears and head up and forward. It will bound forward on its front paws before stopping short of veering to the side. It is trying to make itself look bigger to intimidate you.
If a bear looks like it’s about to bluff charge (noting the head and ears), don’t run. Talk to the bear in a calm voice so it recognizes you as human, and back away slowly, waving your arms above your head. The key is to make it clear that you’re not a threat, but also to make yourself look big, differentiating you from prey.
Running during a bluff charge could trigger the bear to attack, according to the National Park Service. The NPS advises standing your ground and knowing how to defend yourself if the bear does turn aggressive. Nilsson did the right thing by not turning tail during the bluff charge, but they were probably standing way too close to this animal, to begin with.
Brown Bear Bluff Charges Photographer: What To Do if it’s Not a Bluff Charge
There are some clear warning signs that a bear is not bluffing. In the bluff charge, the head and ears will be up and forward. But, in an aggressive charge, the head will be downward and the ears pointed back. The bear will possibly yawn, gnash or clack its teeth, huff, and pound its paws on the ground. The bear is stressed and is getting ready to attack.
The NPS also has some tips if different bear species are charging you. For a black bear, stand your ground and fight back. Don’t play dead with a black bear. Use any weapon you can get your hands on, like rocks, sticks, or bear spray. Try to throw punches directly at the bear’s head and face.
If a brown bear or grizzly charges, do play dead. Cover your head and face and go down on your stomach, spreading your legs apart. If you have a backpack on, keep it on, because it will protect your back. Try not to make any noise as you play dead. Again, the goal is to convince the bear that you’re not a threat. If the bear is thoroughly convinced and walks away, still wait a few minutes before getting up, because the animal may still be in the area.