Bears are large and dangerous animals, however charismatic they might look in pictures and videos. Found throughout the North American continent and much of the world bears are powerful and adaptable predators.
Though negative interactions between bears and humans are comparatively rare, when they do occur serious injury or death is likely. Though most bear species will not attack a human out of hand, such an event is not out of the question if a bear is surprised at close range or if it is eating or taking care of cubs.
Defensive options against bears are limited, and non-lethal options even more so. One concept that has been gaining ground is the notion of a bear horn, an air horn that emits an ear-shattering blast.
Would a horn like this scare off a bear?
Yes, an air horn is likely to startle or scare away a bear, and limited anecdotal accounts support this notion.
Many animals, even predators, could be frightened and sent into retreat or at least a withdrawal to assess the situation upon hearing something so painfully loud.
Used in conjunction with other defensive techniques or as part of a well-rounded plan an air horn might work to scare away a bear without injuring it.
But as you have probably surmised, dealing with an angry bear is no laughing matter, and you had better be sure that whatever you attempt will do the job. We will explore this concept in greater detail below along with other viable defensive techniques.
An Unexpected Run-In with a Bear is Dangerous
A close encounter with a bear is extremely dangerous indeed. even the smallest of adult bears in North America weigh several hundred pounds, and are possessed of long claws, piercing, crushing teeth, and the formidable strength to use both to quite literally rend you limb from limb.
What’s more, bears are intelligent and surprisingly nimble, with many of them being able to climb steep or completely vertical surfaces as easily as you or I would walk across flat ground.
Although you are unlikely to encounter a bear unless you are deliberately entering territory where there are commonly found, human abutment to their typical habitation and increasing traffic in their ranges means that close encounters are more likely than ever.
Black bears especially are commonly found rummaging through dumpsters, breaking into cars, and causing chaos near human habitation, whereas larger brown bears are often encountered hanging out near roads in National Parks or raiding campsites for easy meals.
Whichever kind of bear you are dealing with, wherever it happens to be, a close encounter with any bear is cause for major alarm, and if the bear happens to be surprised at close range it is likely to attack, very especially likely if it is a mother bear that has cubs with her.
With a little luck, the bear will be surprised and uncertain and will try to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible. Most bears are not natural man eaters.
However if a bear begins acting aggressively or directly attacks you, you must be prepared with a decisive response. An air horn might be just the thing to scare off the bear without hurting it or allowing it to get too close to you.
Repel the Bear at All Costs!
Whatever happens, should you come upon a bear at close range or one that is closing in you need to enact your defensive plan. Attempting to scare a bear away might be the best bet depending on the species.
Whatever species you are dealing with, blasting your air horn might be enough to scare the bear and send it running in the opposite direction. However, if this doesn’t work, you’ll need to try something else.
If you are dealing with a black bear, you should make yourself look as big and as intimidating as possible. Raise your arms over your head, get big, scream and shout.
If you have any other people with you, you should stay close together to appear as one, huge and gnarly organism and hopefully frighten the bear away. If a black bear attacks you must fight back as it is probably trying to kill and eat you.
If you are dealing with a brown bear, and the horn has failed to startle it away, you should not use the above strategy as it probably won’t work. Instead, don’t look the bear directly in the eye and slowly move away from it until you can escape.
If attacked by a brown bear don’t fight back but instead play dead. A brown bear is probably just trying to neutralize threats that are in its territory, not necessarily kill you for food.
As always, don’t forget to periodically test and maintain your bear horn as it, like any other tool, requires regular maintenance for proper operation.
An Air Horn Might Work, but It is Not a Sure Thing
The bottom line about air horns for bear defense is that they are reasonably likely to work, but far from a sure thing and they definitely don’t do anything to the bear physically to incentivize it against attacking or prevent it from attacking.
It does not hurt or wound the bear, and while that might be the number one factor for an animal lover it will be cold comfort if you are giving your little horn a toot and the bear is not distracted in the least.
Even compared to other non-lethal options like bear spray, air horns probably fall short on the efficacy scale.
Bear sprays are basically supersized cans of pepper spray like those that you might use as part of your self-defense plan against people.
Bears get into and eat all kinds of things in the wild but you can be sure that they will never, ever encounter anything as freakishly hot as pepper spray.
The burning, searing pain that it inflicts on the bear’s sensitive organs is likely enough to incentivize it to break off an attack.
Also before you bank on an air horn as your solitary means of defense consider that bears found near well traveled areas like national parks or even in settlements that are close to their usual habitats are probably already well acclimatized to the sound and effect of a blaring horn thanks to the preponderance of vehicles in the area.
Chances are they have plenty of horns tooted at them and have grown accustomed to them! You could be in for a rude awakening in that case!
Don’t Trust Your Life to an Air Horn Alone
This is not to say that an air horn won’t work or is not worth carrying, but I must encourage all readers to plan on utilizing a layered defense in order to repel bears.
If you come upon a bear at a reasonable distance that doesn’t take off as soon as it notices you, give it a blast from your horn while you ready other defensive options. If that doesn’t work, be prepared with your bear spray or a firearm.
Hopefully, the air horn will prove sufficient and the bear will hit the road, but if it doesn’t you’ll be prepared with a backup option that has a more decisive effect on the bear in any case. With a little bit of luck, we won’t have to hurt the bear at all or let him get too close, but if he decides that he wants to press the encounter you’ll be ready with stronger medicine.
Air horns have shown to be fairly effective at incentivizing bears to vacate an area, especially when they are not surprised at very close range. The loud, shrill blast of a horn is likely to startle the bear into retreat.
However, these horns have no decisive physical effect on a bear, non-lethal or otherwise, and readers are advised to be prepared with alternate defensive options in case their air horn fails to repel the bear.