Grizzly bears are the most revered animals in North America. Numerous myths and legends surround them. For the most part they are feared for their size, power and tales of ferociousness. Not to mention those large claws and canine teeth.
I have studied them now for three years. I have learned that they are very intelligent animals. The bears in Katmai and Lake Clark have learned that we are not a threat to them. The sows are excellent mothers very caring, nurturing and protective. They have learned that when people are around their cubs are less likely to be attacked by big male bears called a boars. Some sows walk up to us (25 feet away) and then lay back and nurse their cubs because they are using us for protection.
The boars may kill the cubs in mating season so that they can mate with the sow. They know that if she has cubs she will not mate. If she is nursing, she will not go into estrus. If she has cubs of any size with her they are still nursing.
Where we go to see bears their main concern is other bears, not us so it is very safe. They eat what their mothers taught them to eat, mostly clams, sedges and fish. Sedges are a salt marsh plants that only grow on the coast. It's actually has 10 to 15% protein. In Alaska there has never been a bear attack to a group of three or more people. These bears have never been hunted or feed by humans and we want to keep it that way. So it is important to not bring seafood for lunch or even smell of fish. Bears can smell twice as good as the best blood hound.
A few tips if you are in bear country and not with an experienced bear guide.
If you are camping in Canada or Alaska do not leave food in your tent or even your car and never throw a backpack with food in it to a bear, a hat would be better. They have a chase instinct. If you run or are running threw the forest they can't help it, they will chase you and they can run 30-35 mph. The best thing if you are in a group is to stay together and hold your ground. Don't run! If hiking make lots of noise so you don't surprise a bear. If it is a sow with cubs. I think the best thing to do is kneel down or sit down and don't look at the cubs. The sow may take that as a threat and knock you down to make sure you don't harm her cubs. Standing up to a sow with cubs is actually challenging her in bear language. If it is a sub-adult or medium size bear with no mother, they can be aggressive. Stay standing and look him in the eye, then clap, yell or open your jacket up to look bigger. I sometimes even take a few steps towards the bear clapping. Most likely he will move away if you look like you are not afraid of him. They know prey runs and predators don't. Juvenile bears will often bluff charge you to see if you are prey. If you get a charge don't turn your back, hold your ground and make noise.
I don't recommend pepper spray because if there is any wind it will blow it away. Us guides carry marine hand held flares. The bears don't like the fire and noise of a flare. Just be careful you don't burn the forest down. If you have a gun and shoot at the bear you better be an expert shot because he may defend himself and kill you.