Bears are large carnivorous mammals found across many parts of the world. Though typically solitary and comparatively rare compared to other large mammals, encounters with humans can and do happen, sometimes resulting in tragedy.
A bear on the attack can easily cripple or kill a human. This makes it essential for people who live and work in bear country to be prepared.
For close encounters, firearms and bear spray are often recommended, but either have legal, practical, or ethical considerations.
One question that often arises on the topic is whether an air horn would scare a bear away. So would it?
Yes, an air horn may scare off a bear. The loud, unfamiliar sound may startle the animal and ward off an attack or deter it from approaching. However, air horns are nothing more than a scare tactic, and other defenses should be considered.
However, a more exact answer is not as definitive as you might think, and there are many factors at play when it comes to using any technique or tool to keep safe in bear country.
To this end, we will tell you everything you need to know about possibly incorporating an air horn into your bear defense plan…
Understanding the Bears of North America
North America is home to a variety of bear species, each of which has distinct characteristics and habits.
The most commonly encountered species in the United States and Canada are the Black Bear (Ursus americanus), Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis), and Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus).
In the United States, black bears are found all over, including much of the eastern half of the country and even including Florida.
Grizzly bears are more limited in their distribution and are primarily found in Alaska, western Canada, and Northwestern US states such as Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.
Polar bears, the largest and most carnivorous bears, are found in the Arctic regions of the northernmost regions of Canada and Alaska.
All of these bears vary in disposition, diet, and habits but they all have one thing in common: they are easily maim or kill a human when push comes to shove!
Dangerous Encounters between Humans and Bears
Interactions between humans and bears are rare compared to other wild animals but, unfortunately, not entirely uncommon.
There have been many documented cases of fatal bear attacks on humans in North America, although most of these incidents have occurred in Canada or Alaska.
In the United States, states such as Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho have seen their fair share of fatal attacks due to their higher concentrations of Grizzly bears.
Bears and humans often encounter each other because they both inhabit the same areas.
As human populations continue to grow and encroach on bear habitats, interactions between the two species become more common.
Additionally, many people enjoy recreating in bear country, naturally bringing them into close contact with bears.
In both cases, bears which are normally shy and wary of humans soon learn to associate people with food, and I don’t mean directly.
A lot of bears have been conditioned to look for snacks in campsites and near trails, in garbage cans and dumpsters, and even in cars, leading to dangerous interactions.
Irresponsible people even feed bears, which is illegal and has resulted in increasingly aggressive behavior.
In any case, knowing how to avoid a bear is best, and second, best is deterring it when it is too close.
How Can Humans Avoid Confronting a Bear?
It is important to keep your distance from bears if you come across one in the wild.
Bears are powerful, unpredictable animals, and can easily be provoked into attacking a human if they feel threatened or are seeking food.
Luckily, taking some simple steps will eliminate the majority of unwanted close encounters.
Making noise to alert bears of your presence is one of the best methods for avoiding a dangerous confrontation.
Clapping, whistling or singing can be used to let nearby bears know that you are in the area and may help deter them from approaching.
Surprised bears may decide to fight first and ask questions later! Some people wear bells on their belt or packs when in bear country so they are constantly making noise.
It’s important to be aware of your surroundings when traveling in bear country and make sure to regularly check for signs of a bear’s presence.
If you come across a bear at close range in the wild, it is important to stay calm and keep your distance.
Running away is never a good idea if the bear is not attacking: it may provoke the bear and cause it to chase after you! Instead of fleeing, ready your defense.
Air Horns are Loud Enough to Scare Bears
An air horn blast can be an effective way to startle or scare away a bear, although it is not a guaranteed solution.
An ear-piercing and sudden blast of sound can certainly be intimidating to a bear: it may make the bear stop in its tracks or tuck tail and run, giving you time to back away.
But then again it might not have any effect. You’ll need a different tactic, then.
What Should You Do If the Air Horn Does Not Work?
If the air horn does not work, what you do next will be determined by what type of bear you are dealing with.
When confronted by a black bear, try to bluff them: you must make yourself appear as intimidating and threatening as possible.
Increase your “size” by lifting your arms in the air, shout loudly, and remain close together with others in your group to appear as one giant creature that will seem very threatening indeed to the bear.
If an attack does occur, though, it is important to fight back ferociously; a black bear that presses the attack is probably trying to eat you!
If confronted by a grizzly bear, and the horn does not scare it away, do not use the same tactic that you would with the black bear.
Instead, avert your gaze from the bear’s and carefully, slowly back away until you can reach safety.
A brown or grizzly bear is probably just attempting to protect its turf rather than kill and eat you as prey.
If attacked by one of these big bears try not to fight: they will usually leave you be once they are convinced the threat is eliminated. After the attack has halted, lie still as if you were dead until you are sure the bear is gone.
Of course, if you perceive the bear is continuing the attack you will need to fight back with everything you have.
Polar bears are an entirely different matter. Polar bears are thought to be the most aggressive of all bear species with little to no fear of humans, and they are hypercarnivores to boot.
If a polar bear approaches you, it is likely that it views you as prey or food and intends to attack.
Do not attempt to run away unless shelter is very close: you won’t make it, as these bears are very quick despite their immense size. Ready any defense you have, and be prepared to fight for your life.
Have a Backup to Your Air Horn
An air horn might work, but as I said it might not. If it doesn’t, you’ll need something better than harsh language and fists.
Consider carrying bear spray if you are regularly in bear country as it is proven to be one of the most effective ways to eliminate the threat posed by an angry bear. Bear spray is available at most outdoor recreational stores, or you can purchase it online.
Bear spray is basically the same as OC pepper spray, but it comes in an extra large dispenser with better range. And, of course, you could go with a trusty firearm.
Any gun beats no gun when you need to truly stop an attacking bear, but the best are long guns, be it a shotgun or rifle. And don’t treat a firearm like a good luck charm, either.
If you are going to depend on it you’ll need to know how to use it and be prepared to do so in a terrifying situation. Get training and practice, practice, practice!
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.