The only times I have seen a grizzly sow with cubs have been from the car. That’s probably a good thing. Apparently if she chooses the time and place of an encounter, it’s OK to be around humans. Surprising her in the backcountry is a different story.
Then she doesn’t really want to kill you – just to neutralize you, i.e. to ensure you are not a threat to the family. Just what that entails depends upon the circumstances. Over the years I have developed some theories about bears. Men may be more at risk than women. Bears know the difference (just like my collies do when I walk at night), and the attacks, while always isolated and infrequent, seem to involve men more often. Also, if you are hiking on a trail, bears expect you. The trail must smell like humans, so your being there is probably no surprise. Bears can hear and smell really well, so seeing one on the trail is highly unlikely. They are eager to avoid an encounter.
Off trail is different. Madame Grizzly may attack first and ask questions never. Bear spray will be of no use, since bears move like greased lightning. We choose to be quiet on the trail and hope for the best. We do go to Yellowstone to see wildlife. Others wear bells, which we don’t hear until the wearer is in plain view; carry spray; or even blow a whistle or carry a radio. The National Park Service makes people frantic with their bear attack warnings.
On our last trip to Yellowstone, a fellow was hiking down the trail with an unsheathed ax. I wondered on what life form he planned to use this weapon and was quite relieved to get back to the car. How can we worry about grizzlies when humans are so unpredictable?
This poem was written about another trail…
Bear convention down the trail
round toes, pointed nails,
big tracks, little tracks,
grizzly bear, black.
Native woodsmen won’t be seen,
not, at least, today,
scent of human signals them
to simply melt away.
from Songs for a Beloved Friend, Poems and Essays for the Planet