It’s the height of summer, and you’ve decided to go camping in one of America’s national parks. But after you’ve set up your tent and huddled down for the night, a wild bear approaches from the undergrowth. Understandably, you’re utterly terrified. Your mind races as you ponder what move to make. So do you run for the hills? Or do you simply say your prayers? Well, after reading this article, you’ll know precisely which action will make matters worse – and which will save your life. That’s because former Navy SEAL Clint Emerson has the answers.
Seeing animals in their natural habitats can provide hugely rewarding experiences, of course. What could be better than witnessing creatures in the most unaffected environments? Yet we do have to be aware of the dangers that could come in such surroundings – especially if the animals in question can hurt us. And as you can guess, bears definitely fall into this category.
So there are certain signs that you should look out for if a bear gets too close to you. For instance, when the hulking animal signals its intent to attack, it could growl and pad the ground with its paws. And in addition to that, the omnivore will likely also lower its head as well as reposition its ears.
These encounters can happen for many reasons, too. Bears are usually unsure of people when they first spot them, you see. But this will change quickly if they feel threatened – or if the animals see the humans as prey. So Emerson’s advice could, therefore, prove crucial.
But where are these encounters likely to happen? Well, for those of us who love the great outdoors, there are few things more enjoyable than spending time in a national park. These locations – from Yosemite to Yellowstone – are some of the most eye-catching in the United States. Yet while these surroundings are certainly idyllic, visitors will have to stay alert for any sightings of bears.
In America, after all, we’re likely to spot three main types of bears out in the wild. These are brown bears, black bears and polar bears. The last of these are usually found in colder climates, of course. But the other two species roam around different areas of the country.
For example, black bears are scattered across the United States, living in states such as Tennessee, Alaska and North Carolina. The animals are also situated in both Yellowstone and Yosemite, so visitors can get a closer look at them. But given the size of these bears, some people will no doubt try their best to avoid them.
Black bears can weigh up to 500 pounds in their natural habitats, after all. Yet despite their imposing frames, most of these animals are vegetarian and seek out food such as nuts and fruit. Interestingly, in 2016, Emerson made an important observation about the black bear species.
As we mentioned earlier, Emerson used to be a member of the Navy SEALs. In fact, he dedicated over two decades of his life to the force. Then, after retiring, the former soldier wrote a book titled 100 Deadly Skills: Survival Edition, which was published in the fall of 2016. And in that publication, he touched upon the dangers of bear encounters.
Regarding black bears, Emerson wrote, “If you run into a black bear on a mountain trail, be grateful for your good fortune. Compared to polar bears and brown bears, black bears are much less likely to attack.” But that’s not to say that these creatures won’t go on the offensive if they think you’re a threat. It’s always best to be careful – and prepared.
As for brown bears, though, they’re far more volatile than their vegetarian counterparts. And much like black bears, this species can be found in Yellowstone – while sightings have also been made in Glacier National Park. In addition to that, a large number of the animals are situated across Alaska and Canada.
Interestingly, in terms of appearance, there are two variations of brown bears that live in the wild. The first kind are simply referred to as “brown bears,” and they can weigh as much as 1,000 pounds. But while these animals stick to the coastlines, the other subspecies make their home on land.
Yes, the second species – known as “grizzlies” – aren’t as large as browns, weighing up to 700 pounds. But alongside their incredible mass, grizzly bears can reach heights of over six feet, which only adds to their intimidating look. That’s not all, though – as we’re about to find out.
You see, one of the other defining features of grizzly bears is the muscle found around their shoulders. They’re famous for their dangerously sharp claws and strong jaws, too. And given those physical attributes, this subspecies of brown bears is an omnivore – meaning it will consume anything from plant life to meat.
Just like the black bear, though, grizzlies probably won’t attack you without reason. Yet these animals are known to be quite aggressive. This is especially true if you display any kind of threatening behavior in their presence. But even so, grizzly bears present a very different proposition to polar bears – for significant reasons.
You see, polar bears are found in the Arctic Circle, which covers some of northern Alaska. And compared to the other two species of bear, these beautiful creatures are massive – weighing to up to 1,500 pounds. Due to their environment, too, polar bears get their sustenance from meat, including hunting down seals on the ice.
And as you can imagine, polar bears don’t see humans all that often, unlike the black and brown bears. So while the latter two bears can be wary of people thanks to previous contacts, that isn’t usually the case for their Arctic counterparts. In fact, polar bears could view us as a viable food source should they ever come across us.
Emerson even touched upon polar bears’ willingness to go after people in his 2016 book. The former Navy SEAL wrote, “Polar bears are always hungry. And unlike black and brown bears, polar bears will actively track and hunt down humans across their arctic terrain. Their massive height and heft make them formidable opponents.”
“[Polar bears are] capable of disemboweling prey with a single swipe of their claws,” Emerson added. Yet despite the threat that these three bear species can pose, attacks aren’t as frequent as you might think. Up until 2016, in fact, Yellowstone had only registered eight fatalities related to bears since it first opened in 1872. But that doesn’t necessarily tell the full story.
Emerson discussed more recent bear encounters and their changing nature in 100 Deadly Skills: Survival Edition. The former SEAL explained, “Human-bear interactions have become increasingly frequent, as various regulations and conservation efforts have swelled the bear population across North America. Black bear sightings [are] particularly on the rise.”
Emerson continued, “Fortunately, bear attacks are very rare in general. You have a one in 2.1 million chance of being mauled, which means that almost any routine daily activity has a greater chance of killing you. But activities such as bow-hunting for elk in the mountains of Montana or backpacking in the Yellowstone range will significantly increase your risk of a lethal attack.”
So if that figure doesn’t put your mind at ease while you’re in the great outdoors, keep in mind that there are ways to avoid bears. For example: try to steer clear of noisy beds of water as the hulking animals could be lurking in those areas. And that’s not the only precaution you can take.
It’s advised, for instance, that you should travel in groups when moving through “bear country,” as the animals stay away from large gatherings. You should make plenty of noise, too, because this tells the bears that you’re not sneaking into their domains. The quieter you are, then, the bigger the risks.
If you’re camping outside, you also need to be very wary when preparing food. Unsurprisingly, you see, any bears in the area will be attracted by the smell of grub – so you should take some precautions. Emerson confirmed this in his book, even listing off a few instructions that could prove crucial.
“Bears have a formidable sense of smell,” wrote Emerson. “So when you’re stopped for the night, follow the common-sense strategies of double-bagging and hanging your food. Place food, cookware and utensils at least 100 feet from your tent, and never set up camp near bear scat or tracks.” His advice didn’t end there, either.
Emerson added, “Store any scented products (toothpaste, soap) with food and cooking supplies. Do not sleep in the same clothing you cooked in, as food scents may remain on [the] fibers.” So by following all of these steps, you should be able to keep the smell of nearby food to a minimum. Yet that still might not be enough to deter a curious bear.
To ensure your safety, then, it might be an idea to purchase some “bear spray” ahead of any trips into the wild. According to Emerson, this substance is the go-to tool to protect yourself from the animals – instead of a firearm. But the former soldier also revealed what you should do if a bear starts to get too close.
As the ex-SEAL explained, “Wave your arms around and make noise. Often this strategy will make bears stop in their tracks and run off. [But] if the bear charges you, this is the moment to use the bear spray… Dispense the bear spray when the bear is within 40 feet.” Or, if you did bring along a firearm, Emerson recommends that you “aim your rifle sights at a spot below its chin.”
In certain situations, though, the bear could just be testing you out with a fake charge. And if you’re wondering why it would do that, it’s because the creature may just be looking to gauge whether you’re a real threat to its safety. When this happens, you have to stay perfectly still – as the bear could choose to leave you alone anyway.
Unfortunately, though, there’s a possibility that the bear won’t stop charging. So you need to be prepared for what comes next. After all, the creature might well knock you down to the ground and begin an attack. And if it does, you’ve apparently got to try your best to fool it by “playing dead.”
As Emerson explained in 100 Deadly Skills: Survival Edition, “If the bear attacks, most experts agree that this is the moment to lie down and play dead. You want to convince the bear that it has done its job and effectively minimized the perceived threat you posed. Lay flat on your stomach to protect your organs, crossing your hands behind your neck to guard your arteries.”
As Emerson emphasized, playing dead apparently works 75 percent of the time. And the retired Navy SEAL offered another suggestion, too, for when you’re pretending to be out of it. He added, “[You could also] curl into the fetal position, covering the back of your neck with your hands.”
But if you do spot a bear from a distance, there’s one piece of advice that you must follow – regardless of how you feel. When a person is threatened, you see, their fight-or-flight response kicks in. In many cases, the individual will naturally want to get away as quickly as possible to avoid danger.
But when it comes to bears, you have to be mindful of how you flee the area. As Emerson said in his book, “Never turn your back on a bear, and never try to run. Both of these actions can kick-start a bear’s predatory reflexes. And you’ll never be able to outrun a bear, as the animals can travel at up to 30 miles per hour.”
So you might be wondering how to escape before the bear gets too close for comfort. And, fortunately, Emerson came up with another solution. He also suggested that this is your best bet. He wrote, “Instead [of running], slowly walk away sideways, keeping an eye on the animal so that you can monitor its movements.”
Given how unpredictable nature is, though, you could still find yourself at the mercy of the bear. So if the beast continues to attack while it has you pinned down, you need to respond with force. Yes, using whatever tools are available to you, you’re advised to strike it in the eyes or snout. As Emerson explained, “The bear intends to kill and possibly eat you, so fight back with any available weapons: a knife, sticks, rocks, your fists.”
According to Emerson, this move could eventually fend off the bear – if you’re lucky enough. After all, when a bear maintains an attack like that for a sustained period, it ultimately wants to kill you. But, due to the numbers that we previously discussed, this would be an absolute worst-case scenario.
In conclusion, then, Emerson reiterated that you have to be prepared for any outcome when you head into bear country, as no one can truly predict what will happen. That being said, the retired SEAL still believed that one particular tool would get you out of most trouble.
As he explained in 100 Deadly Skills: Survival Edition, “Some say that playing dead is more likely to work with the [grizzly bear], claiming that the [black bears’] less frequent attacks are more likely to be offensive. But all agree that pepper spray is the single best deterrent. One so effective that it has been used successfully by children under the age of ten.”
Emerson added, “There’s no tried-and-true, written-in-stone protocol for handling a bear attack. In part because attacks are so rare. So it’s no surprise to find debate among bear country-dwellers about how to handle a grizzly charge versus an encounter with a black bear.”
This is not the only survival secret that Emerson has revealed, however. For around two decades, Emerson traveled the world on U.S. Navy SEAL business. He was a “violent nomad” who not only survived behind enemy lines but also thrived. Now that he is retired, though, he has a new mission: to pass on all of his survival skills – and much more besides – to the general public. And if you want to know how to prevent yourself from drowning, you’re in luck, as Emerson has revealed just how to do it.
Emerson’s earlier life, however, was a little less eventful than his adulthood, even if he did spend much of his childhood in Saudi Arabia. He was there because his father was an oil industry engineer, and it’s not an experience that he remembers fondly. “Westerners are not exactly treated the best in Saudi Arabia, and as a child I didn’t care much for the people or the culture,” he elaborated to Texas Monthly magazine in 2015.
Emerson was educated at Plano Senior High, in the city at Dallas’ northern perimeter. He ended up joining the U.S. Navy in 1994 after finishing high school, going on to become part of the elite SEALs. SEAL stands for sea, air and land, and the unit’s personnel are drilled to be able to thrive in all of those surroundings.
Yet joining the U.S. Navy SEALs is notoriously difficult. Indeed, recruits have to pass a punishing set of fitness tests just to be accepted onto the training program. They are required to swim 500 yards in 12 minutes and 30 seconds, for example, as well as to run 1.5 miles in ten minutes and 30 seconds. Furthermore, they should be able to do 50 push-ups, 50 sit-ups and ten pull-ups within two minutes for each set.
If an aspiring recruit is strong enough to pass the SEAL training test, though, then things start to get really tough. After a 16-week preparatory course, they’ll quickly move on to the 24-week Basic Under Water Demolition/SEAL training. And even if they pass that with flying colors, there’s still a five-week parachuting course, followed by 26 grueling weeks of SEAL Qualification Training, to complete.
What’s more, this rigorous 71-week program includes the notorious Hell Week. Trainees are put through five days of stamina-sapping activity with just four hours of rest each night. Unsurprisingly, then, the dropout rate from training is very high. Only 10 percent of trainees make it through some of the more advanced courses, in fact.
But it doesn’t stop there. Successful candidates undertake yet further training after being awarded the much-coveted U.S. Navy SEAL Trident. This includes at least three six-month blocks covering special reconnaissance, land warfare and air operations. Only then is a SEAL ready for action.
Emerson, meanwhile, has his own take on life as a SEAL. “Being a SEAL is nothing more than being a professional troublemaker,” he told Texas Monthly. “The biggest quality is being adaptable, being creative.”
What’s more, the veteran has an interesting philosophy on life whereby he divides the human population into three segments. Specifically, he calls everyday civilians “sheep,” soldiers “sheepdogs” and opposing combatants “wolves.” Naturally, the sheepdogs protect the sheep from the wolves.
But sheepdogs aren’t at their best in water, and SEALs have to be as confident in the deep as their animal namesakes are. As well as each clocking up a 500-yard swim in under 12 and a half minutes, for instance, they also have to be able to swim underwater for 50 meters. That’s the length of an Olympic swimming pool.
Yet SEALs will sometimes find themselves in situations where swimming alone won’t cut it. Emerson, however, has that covered. In his bestselling book 100 Deadly Skills, he explains the steps to take to avoid drowning, even if you end up in the water with both hands tied behind your back.
As he states, when you’re in shallow water, take the deepest of breaths and then exhale and sink to the bottom. Next, quickly crouch and then kick up, following that up with taking another breath when you hit the surface. To stay alive, keep repeating these steps.
As for floating with your hands bound, the trick is to bend your knees, allow your head to go underwater and exhale. Then kick out strongly, arch your back, thrust your head upwards and breathe. And repeat the movement.
These tips can only get you so far, however: to do anything more than merely survive, you’ll need to move more in the water. Bend your knees and breathe out. Now kick out hard, straighten your body and fill your lungs with air. Keep repeating these movements to make progress through the water.
Next, try turning over while struggling in the water. Remember: your hands are still tied behind your back. Start on your back, then, remembering to take a breath. Now flip over and exhale with your head underwater. Got it? Then you now know how to survive, hands tied, in water.
That said, it’s best that you don’t actually try any of this unless you are actually on a fully supervised special forces training course. After all, there’s a huge risk of death by drowning if doing this unsupervised.
Incidentally, if you met Emerson in a bar, you’d be unlikely to guess his history as a “violent nomad” – the term for highly proficient SEALs who secretly travel to trouble spots around the world. He’s not physically spectacular, dresses unassumingly and bears no resemblance to Rambo.
Despite his “gray man” persona, though, Emerson was among the first U.S. military personnel in action in both Afghanistan and Iraq. And while his activities out in the field will remain shrouded in mystery, he’s used his book to pass on some other essential SEAL survival skills.
For example, in addition to the anti-drowning tips, the guide describes how to achieve “rectal concealment” using a cigar tube and how to fashion a bulletproof vest using books and duct tape. It also outlines a method by which to construct a serviceable cudgel with nothing more than newspaper, water and yet more duct tape.
Still, as ridiculous as some of the former SEAL’s advice may sound, many would argue that it’s undoubtedly worth taking on board. After all, it could end up saving your life someday.