Our dutiful public service announcement

Bears Live Here

There have been numerous bear sightings on several popular mountain bike trails in Big Sky this summer.   Even some of the most popular trails, such as Mountain to Meadow, which sees a lot of high-speed mountain bikers, has had its share of bear sightings.

The Southwest Montana Bear Education Working Group reached out and asked if we could relay some important notes regarding bear encounters and safety precautions.

We’re betting that most of you already take precautions while mountain bike riding, but a little reminder never hurts.

1. Be Vigilant – Be alert for bears and bear sign (tracks, scat, feeding sites) where you ride. Do not ride in areas where you see fresh bear sign like scats and tracks. Avoid riding in areas where there are rich bear foods like huckleberries in late summer when bears are very likely to be present. Bears frequently use maintained trails and encounters may occur anywhere at any time of the day. We encourage mountain bikers to remain vigilant while biking anywhere in bear country.

2. Slow Down – Encounters with bears are much more likely to occur when riding at high speed. Surprised bears are more likely to be defensive and to cause injury to bike riders. High-speed encounters can cause enhanced aggression in bears and may cause bears to chase you and possibly knock you off your bike. Riding at high speed can be especially dangerous where there is little sight distance ahead or to the sides of the trail where you can surprise a bear at close range. Areas with curves in the trail or thick vegetation require slow speeds and making noise as you ride to alert bears to your presence.

3. Carry Bear Spray – Bear spray is effective at stopping aggressive bear behavior during surprise encounters when the person involved has time to deploy it. Carry bear spray on your person, not in your pack, and in a place you can reach it in a few seconds. Should you encounter a bear, bear spray is an essential deterrent to enhance your safety. Also, should there be an incident with a bear, riding partners can aid injured riders by deterring bears with spray and this may save their life.

4. Make Noise – Mountain biking is a quiet and fast activity that may cause you to get much too close to a bear before either you or the bear knows it, resulting in a surprise encounter and a defensive attack by a surprised bear. Surprised bears are more likely to be agitated, dangerous, and aggressive. Making noise while riding is an effective method of forewarning bears of your presence, thereby reducing the chances of surprise encounters and related attacks. You can make noise by riding with bells, other noisemakers, and/or shouting when in or approaching areas of thick cover or at blind corners in the trail. If you can’t make noise and you are in bear habitat with limited sight distance along the trail, slow down and be alert.

5. Do Not Ride Alone – Single riders are much more likely to surprise a bear and be injured or killed if there is an attack. Riding in groups of 3 or more people can reduce the risks of bear attack. Larger groups are more likely to make more noise and are intimidating to bears should a bear be encountered. Also, if there is an incident with a surprised bear and there is injury to a rider, the other riders can help by deterring the bear with bear spray, going for help, and offering first aid to the victim until help arrives.

6. Never Ride at Night or at Dusk or Dawn – Riding at night or during early morning or before dark will greatly increase your risk of encountering and surprising a bear. Bears tend to be more active at these times. Your ability to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings is greatly reduced when you cannot see bear sign or bears in low light or in darkness.

7. Don’t think: “It won’t happen to me”. That kind of attitude is what can get you into serious trouble whether you are mountain biking or doing any other potentially dangerous activity. Be prepared and be safe. That way you can enjoy your activity and you and the bears will be safe.

8. Remember the bears live there and you are just a visitor. Taking these precautions will help keep you safer and reduce the stress and disturbance to bears that live in these places where you choose to occasionally recreate.