Encounters with bears can be ugly, but the authors of "What the Bears Know" tell PEOPLE there's no need to "fear" — you just have to learn to "understand" them
Already this month, a small black bear attacked an 82-year-old woman inside her Colorado home while a 7-year-old boy was injured in a separate incident in his backyard — and those are far from the only attacks this summer.
But according to The New York Times, bear attacks are extremely rare, and fatal attacks are even rarer.
Steve Searles, a self-taught bear expert and the subject of Animal Planet's reality show The Bear Whisperer, agrees, telling PEOPLE that "there are countless, tens of thousands [of] encounters every day without it going bad, without an incident."
Grizzly bears, a federally protected subspecies of brown bears in the lower 48 states, have killed only eight people in Yellowstone National Park since its establishment in 1872, despite being "much more aggressive" than black bears, according to the National Park Service.
"More people in the park have died from drowning (125 incidents) and burns (after falling into hot springs, 23 incidents) than have been killed by bears," the NPS said.
In the late 1990s, Mammoth Lakes, Calif., hired Searles as a hunter to kill half of the ski town's bear population.
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Instead, he began to feel a kinship with the bears and employed non-lethal means to control the population, which, according to the expert, are very similar to people.
"Who you are is based on your life's experiences and what you've seen, how people treat you, where you live," he tells PEOPLE, adding that the same is true of bears.
On Oct. 3, he'll release What the Bears Know, a book co-written with retired Los Angeles Times columnist Chris Erskine, about his experience, bear tips and responses to bear myths.
Now, they're sharing their expertise with PEOPLE on how to interact with bears to avoid attacks.
What should you do if you see a bear in the wild?
Both Searles and Erskine say that one thing you shouldn’t do is run.
"It can make them want to chase you and pursue you," Searles tells PEOPLE, noting that the animals — which he describes as "stomachs with feet" — can "run 35 miles an hour."
Plus, they note that pursuing humans isn't on the top of a bear's to-do list. "They're lazy animals that just want to get fatter and fatter,” says Searles, who adds that meat is only about 4% of a black bear's yearly diet.
"Gladly, humans aren't on the menu," he says.
Ultimately, he says that a lot of the things people are often told to do just aren't necessary.
"Here in Mammoth, in my years of work, I've seen people play dead. I've seen people run from them. I've seen people run at them. I've seen people cry," Searles continues. "I've seen people drop to their knees and pray and thank God. I've seen it all, and it all resulted in the same thing. The bear just thinks people are dumb and goes on his way."
"We're just about to go into a really busy time where bears will be seen day and night and feeding," he adds. "And so that's a time where you should be more aware of your surroundings, situationally aware of where you live, the likelihood of encountering a bear, and take that into account, whatever you're doing — riding bicycles or kayaking."
What should you do if a bear comes up to you?
If someone comes across a bear, Searles recommends making "a loud noise" and holding your "hands above your head."
According to Erskine, "bear spray" is one defense option that provides "peace of mind" in case of an attack.
"His number one tool in life is his nose to find food, water, to breathe, to find his den, and so his nose is shut off instantly from the pepper spray," Searles adds.
As for what to avoid, don't approach them, try to feed them or pick up their cubs.
How often do bears break into tents or homes?
According to Erskine, it's "almost unheard of" for bears to enter tents unless they're "unoccupied and there's a candy bar in there."
Meanwhile, Searles emphasizes the need to use non-lethal measures to teach a bear a lesson if it enters someone's home. Bear spray, non-lethal rubber bullets and flash bang devices have all hit the market, and if used appropriately, Searles believes the bear "won't repeat the problem."
"He's been taught where that line is, what the rules are, and so he becomes one of my allies," he explains.
Should we be afraid of bears?
Erskine says Searles was initially "scared to death" of bears when he began working as a hunter, adding that he "thought he was going to lose an arm, or a leg, or his life." But "in learning about the bears, he realized he had nothing really to fear," Erskine adds.
"Steve's message is, 'I hate fear. I hate what it does to us, what it deprives us of,'" Erskine adds. “And that, to me, is the great message. And that's what we learned from being outdoors and dealing with the things we don't understand. And as we learn to understand them, we appreciate them."
"That's what the message of the bears is from Steve and to me," he adds, sharing that bear encounters can be life-changing in positives ways "as long as you keep your wits about you, appreciate what you're seeing, and don't do stupid things like try to get a selfie with the beer, or give them your marshmallows, or your goldfish."
What the Bears Know is out on Oct. 3. You can preorder it here.
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