"Luckier than hell" hiker survives grizzly bear attack by playing dead

Grizzly bear in open grassland
(Image credit: Getty)

A hiker exploring the mountains of Wyoming escaped a potentially fatal close encounter with a grizzly bear by using his knowledge of the animals' behavior and playing dead.

Barry Olson from Buffalo, New York, was visiting the state on a mission to conquer every 13er (mountains over 13,000ft tall). He was making his way down Francs Peak, a 13,164ft mountain, when he came across the grizzly.

"I was going down, over the ridge, and couldn’t see that far ahead," Olson told local news site Cody Enterprise. "We just happened to cross paths – I was going down, he was coming up."

Although he was equipped with bear spray (see our guide to carrying and using bear spray for advice), he didn't have time to use it.

"I took one small step away from him, but then he started to move toward me," Olson said. "I tried to get to my bear spray – it had been clipped on my shoulder – but they move so damn fast. He was on me before I could even get to it."

Quick thinking

Brown, black, and grizzly bears all tend to behave in different ways, and Olson was able to save himself by lying down prone rather than attempting to fight back, which makes grizzlies more aggressive.

"They say the bear attacked me five times, but I’d almost call it like one attack,” he said. “After it got me the first time, bit me and shook me around, I tried to go for my bear spray again because he paused. But it was only a pause of a couple seconds. Then it was on top of me again. After that, I just played dead."

Eventually the bear lost interest and left. Olson received injuries to both legs and one arm, but was able to activate his personal locator beacon and summon emergency services, who transported him to hospital for treatment. "I'm luckier than hell, to be honest," he said.

Bear encounters are on the rise across the US, and the animals are becoming bolder in their search for food as they become habituated to humans, losing their natural wariness. Encounters can end badly for both parties, as bears that attack humans (even if there are no significant injuries) are captured and euthanized in several states.

If you are approached by a grizzly bear, it's best to leave your backpack on, lie face-down on the ground, and clasp your hands behind your neck for protection. Spreading your legs will make it harder for the bear to turn you over. For more advice, see our guide what to do if you meet a bear.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.