Are Bears Afraid of Whistles? Well, it Depends

Beautiful Alaska Black Bear sits in a meadow, looking off to the side, with mouth open and tongue out

If you live in bear country, you may have some pretty frequent encounters with bears.

Or maybe you don’t live near bear country – but like to go hiking in a place that is known for having a large population of bears.

One item you may have thought of taking with you when going into an area where you may encounter bears is a whistle! But get this – bears are not fearful of whistles, or loud noises like a whistle.

If you were thinking of carrying a whistle, it may not be a bad idea to bring it along to use as a safety signal … but, for scaring bears – the whistle is not enough.

Here are some helpful tips that explain why whistles are not useful in frightening bears and some better items that you can bring along instead!

* This post contains affiliate links.

Bears are Not Afraid of Whistles

Black Bear Roaming in Field

Bears are generally thought of to be hesitant of human contact in general. While bears mostly like to keep their distance from humans, they aren’t necessarily scared of us.

Now, there is STILL value in carrying a whistle while hiking – as it can make for a fantastic SOS and emergency signal. However, to deter bears, whistles simply do not do the trick.

Bears typically do not run or hide from human noise or deterrents. There was a study done that tested whether or not military weapon training affected the distance black bears kept from a certain area.

Astonishingly, the researchers found that the black bears were not affected by military training in any significance whatsoever.

Basically, if the presence of the military doesn’t deter bears from an area, then a whistle more than likely isn’t going to get the job done.

Black Bears

Overall, bears are really more curious than anything. They are incredibly social and love to inspect areas to figure things out.

Black bears are the most common species of bears in the United States, followed by brown bears (also called grizzly bears).

Knowing that loud noises don’t effectively ward off bears, there are still other effective ways to deter bears.

Grizzly bear in Alaska river

So, one thing you can do to deter black bears is to plainly talk when you are on a hiking trail or out in the woods so that they don’t accidentally run into you.

Remember, black bears do not want to run into you just as much as you do not want to run into them, so showing your presence through speaking may keep them away – in fact, we have a whole article dedicated to why bears are afraid of humans – definitely worth taking a look at!

Grizzly Bears

While black bears may be less aggressive, brown grizzly bears are another story entirely. Black bears overall are much less aggressive than grizzly bears in terms of overall aggression.

Grizzly bears are much more protective and territorial than their black bear counterparts. Grizzly bears are especially protective of their cubs.

If you see a grizzly bear cub and no mother, your best course of action is to slowly start to walk in the other direction and have your whistle ready in case you need to blow an SOS signal.

This implies that a mother grizzly bear is nearby – which is something you DEFINITELY do not want to encounter on accident.

In this situation, your best course of action is to carry bear spray along with a whistle for SOS purposes.

Carry Bear Spray Along With a Whistle

Brown mother bear protecting her cubs

While whistles are best for SOS emergencies, it’s extremely good to have a can of bear spray as a primary defense

Bear spray is a great safety tool for protecting yourself against aggressive bears.

Essentially, bear spray is simply a version of pepper spray that can shoot up to 3 meters away.

When you use bear spray against a bear, the spray uses a chemical called capsaicin to irritate the bear and halt it in its path, allowing you to get to safety.

Bear spray is your last line of defense because you never want to be that close to a bear, to begin with. However, it’s a must-have if you’re ever faced in that difficult situation.

Bear Spray Is Effective

Researchers out of BYU, analyzed a sample of spray incidents that included bears such as black bears, polar bears, and brown bears (grizzly bears).

Astoundingly, out of the 72 instances where individuals used bear spray to defend themselves, 98% of individuals came away from their encounters unharmed thanks to bear spray.

What would have happened if none of those individuals had bear spray but were relying on only whistles, their voices, or nothing at all? The common factor in the success and survival of those individuals was bear spray.

Additionally, bear spray is a non-lethal option (it dazes the target) and is, therefore, bear-friendly (in a way), a great bear spray to purchase is the Guard Alaska Bear Spray.

That’s A Wrap

While your first course of action should be to never get into one of these encounters in the first place, bear spray is a fantastic backup to have if the situation ever occurs.

To recap, you SHOULD bring a whistle hiking with you. The whistle shouldn’t be used to deter bears but rather, it should be used to call for help if needed.

You SHOULD bring bear spray with you as a non-lethal, last line of defense against bears while hiking.

Additionally, there are other ways to protect yourself against bears, and before going hiking, you should learn a bit about bears, what bears are attracted to, and how to repel them. Head on over to our article for more info!


Telesco, D. J., & Van Manen, F. T. (2006). Do black bears respond to military weapons training?. The Journal of wildlife management70(1), 222-230. 

Bacon, E. S., & Burghardt, G. M. (1976). Learning and color discrimination in the American black bear. Bears: Their Biology and Management, 27-36. 

Worthy, F. R., & Foggin, J. M. (2008). Conflicts between local villagers and Tibetan brown bears threaten conservation of bears in a remote region of the Tibetan Plateau. Human-Wildlife Conflicts2(2), 200-205 

Herrero, S., & Fleck, S. (1990). Injury to people inflicted by black, grizzly or polar bears: recent trends and new insights. Bears: Their Biology and Management, 25-32. 

Herrero, S., & Fleck, S. (1990). Injury to people inflicted by black, grizzly or polar bears: recent trends and new insights. Bears: Their Biology and Management, 25-32. 

How to pest proof your home in under a day e-book by Zack DeAngelis

Download My Free E-Book!

 Take a look at my guide on Pest Proofing Your Home In Under a Day! I get into the nitty-gritty on the most common types of pests you’ll see on your property including BOTH insects and wildlife, along with the specific signs to look for regarding any pest you have questions about.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *