Do Bear Bells Work? & Other Useful Repellants, Deterrents!

We were doing Mountain Biking (MTB) in the forest when suddenly we witnessed a bear about 10 meters away. Without losing our presence of mind, instead of cycling and getting caught by the bear (that runs at a speed of about 60 km per hour), we preferred climbing a tree.

Both of us chose different trees. The bear chased us to the tree and kept guarding us for about 30 mins. Luckily, the bear did not decide to ascend the tree and get hold of us.

Instead, after 30 minutes, it went into a bush to hide. We waited for another 15 minutes to make sure that it does not come back. Then silently got down from the tree and rushed back.

Such incidents are common in a bear country where humans are trespassers. So it is apparently our responsibility to make sure that both the bear and we are safe.

The History of Bear

Bears are in abundance in certain places, especially in North America, where encounters between the man and the bear are not new at all.

In fact, the bear is entrenched in the folklore of this very land. They viewed the grizzly bear as the most dangerous animal on the land. Moreover, they worshipped these bears as one of their great spirits.

As time went by, when the native Americans were replaced by the migrated Europeans, things changed drastically. The spiritual tales were replaced by pleasure-hungry humans, who would hunt bears for their pleasure.

Hunting went to such an extent that it was at one time looked at as a sport. Rulers used to hunt bears on a regular basis, just for pleasure.

In one such incident, President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid bear hunter, one day returned to his camp empty-handed.

Looking at the president’s disappointment the camp owner offered the president to shoot his caged bear. Politely declining the offer with good sportsmanship, the sparing of this caged bear is behind the origin of the stuffed soft toy, the Teddy Bear.

Bear, Mountain Biking, and Hiking

In recent times, for about 20 years now, cycling, also known as biking, and hiking are the order of the day. More and more people, wanting to explore nature, are on an exploration spree.

What was hunting about a couple of decades ago is now replaced by adventure without hunting. More and more such explorations have resulted in more and more encounters with the bears.

In addition to hiking, MTB is another way of getting close to mother nature faster. So, bear confrontations are at a maximum level despite the cities humans have built.

Characteristics and Behaviors of Bears

Bears are omnivorous animals that can eat a wide range of food. Right from those delicious berries to big-sized meat. Given their way, they can find the highest quality food in their vicinity.

They are capable of killing animals too but are inefficient with it generally preferring to scavenge on the young, old, or sick.

There are two types of bears:

Grizzly Bear

  • Bigger in size
  • Has a stout
  • Shoulder hump
  • Massive head
  • Long claws
  • Color ranging from black to blond
  • Have white tipped hair on their back
  • Have darker legs
  • In the interior areas weighs about 180 kg
  • In the coastal region weighs about 650 kg
  • Runs at a speed of about 60 km/hour
  • Runs without breaks for about 17 km
  • Long claws make this bear dig for its food, Roots, and bulbs

Black Bear

  • Smaller in size
  • Less Robust built
  • Less prominent shoulder hump
  • Curved Shorter Claws
  • White fur on the chest
  • Weighs about 250 kg
  • Expert tree climbers
  • Runs at a speed of about 50 km/hour

Bear Behavior

A very prominent behavior of both types of bears is that the individual bears are as unique as individual humans. Though this cannot be generalized, at times, bear behaviors can be complex.

Bears are shy animals and they prefer staying in isolated places, they are territorial and want to stay away from human beings as much as possible.

Their natural behavior, given their way, is to avoid people without acting aggressively. This could be their previous experiences with the then human beings who used to hunt them inhumanly.

However, if they are cornered, threatened, or surprised, they can be aggressive. This is due to the fact that there is no cover when living in open habitat.

So, the best way to avoid cornering, threatening, or surprising a bear is to warn the bear in advance about one’s presence.

To warn the bear in advance, we need to know a little about the sensory modalities of the bear.

Sensory Modalities of the Bear

The only goal of all the animals is to find their food the easiest way. To do this, the bear should have the best sense organs, for the food they eat.


They have their eyesight as good as humans to recognize movements from slightly far places, with great peripheral, color, and night visions, unlike humans who need lanterns.


The smell is a powerful part of its body like an antenna, that connects to the outer world to:

  • avoid danger
  • locate mates
  • find food
  • distinguish human and animal scents


Apart from chemicals that the bears hate, other tastes are naturally inviting.


They can hear better than humans. They can locate their prey from a distance of 1600 feet away.

Deterrents vs Repellents

Before analyzing if bear bells work or not, we should understand the difference between repellants and deterrents. Let us see the definitions of these:


These prevent undesirable behaviors by turning bears away way before the conflict. You can say that these deterrents try to avoid encounters with bears. They can also be known as “Bear Warning Devices”.


These are used by humans to immediately turn a bear away during a close encounter or attack. When the deterrents don’t work and the bear is in your close vicinity, use these repellants.

What is a Bear Bell?

A Bear Bell is a deterrent that warns a shy bear beforehand so that it can shy away from humans by avoiding a close encounter.

It is a small bell that more or less sounds like a bell tied to a horse or cow attached to the backpack that you carry to a hike.

Do Bear Bells Actually Work?

Now that you have an idea about the psychology of a bear, theoretically speaking it is a good idea to have the bell warn the bears that I, a human being am coming towards your territory.

Theory apart, let us see the experiment research conducted by Jope in 1985, about the effectiveness of the bear bells.

She explored the reactions of grizzly bears to the hikers who were wearing bells to those who were not. The hikers had both traveled on light to heavily traveled trails.

Both the hikers who were wearing bells and who were not observed bears at similar distances. But, the responses that they got further were different.

Sitting BearsBears Moving Towards InitiallyHikers charged by Bears
Hikers with Bells67% of bears moved away from hikers50% of bears moved away from hikers0% charged
Hikers without Bells26% moved toward hikers21% of bears moved toward hikers14% charged
Experiment on different types of hikers and bears

Are Bear Bells useless?

From the above table, you can clearly say that the bells reduce the probability of sudden encounters. So, the bear bells help.

However, there are certain limitations that make these Bear Bells useless when there are other sounds that interfere bear from hearing the bell. It is also useless when it comes to mountain bikers using these bells.

Due to a lack of sudden motions, the bells don’t make any sound and is not of any use to them.

In such cases, the bears cannot recognize the warning which increases the chances of encounters again.

  • Further to avoid encounters Jope suggests the following practices:
  • Provide bears a context for encounters with hikers and bikers.
  • To habituate the bears to the appearance of human beings
  • Train the humans to be more responsible and not disturb or over-nurture the bears

What Other Deterrents and Repellents can be Used on Bears?

Loud Sounds

A sudden loud noise can result in the bear stopping its charge, scaring the bear away.

Thunder flashes100% effective
Boat Horns66% effective
Air Horns and SirensStops midway
Humans Shouting, Growling BearsIneffective
How effective are different deterrents?

Noxious Chemicals

Some chemical sprays work really work well. But beware, as it is not 100% effective as the bears might respond negatively.

Capsaicin95% effective


Firearms are the safest bet when it comes to close encounters or even deterrents. But humans have to be responsible enough not to kill the animal and only to shoo away the bears.

  • Shotguns
  • Rifles
  • Handguns

What is the best bear deterrent?

The best deterrent is a firearm. It can do one of the things to the bear:

  • Scare the bear off with the loud sound
  • The actual shoot can wound the bear
  • It can even kill the bear which should not be done in any case

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