The traditional thinking goes something like this: if you're out in the woods, never get between a bear mother and her cubs.

Protective mothers, it's traditionally thought, are more likely to attack, given that they'll do nearly anything to protect their young.

But new research is suggesting that male black bears are responsible for far more deadly human encounters than their female counterparts.

"One of the surprises was that the females that can act so aggressively when they feel threatened are really not the ones that follow through with the serious stuff," said Stephen Herrero, who is an expert in bear behaviour at the University of Calgary.

"The male bears are the ones that follow through with the serious stuff."

During the study, Herrero and a group of researchers -- from Utah, Massachusetts and elsewhere -- ploughed through records dating back to 1900 that detail deaths caused by North American, non-captive black bears.

What they found was surprising on two fronts.

Firstly, with only 63 fatal maulings over that century-plus span in both Canada and the U.S., fatal bear encounters are relatively rare.

Secondly, of those fatal incidents, most of them occurred when black bears were showing predatory signals, and 92 per cent were males.

Tony Webb, from the Black Bear Network, told CTV News Channel that he aims to tell people to stay "situation aware" when confronted by black bears.

While most bears will simply turn around when they spot a human, Webb said that a small number are deemed "predatory" and could pose serious dangers.

Plus, it's important to keep bears away in the first place by not having smelly items around a campsite or home, Webb added.

Some items to watch for: diapers, hot tub covers and even paint, which can carry a strong scent.

According to Webb, a bear is "really a nose on four legs," so maintaining cleanliness is important to keep one away from your home or campsite.

While some bears are known to come into more urbanized areas like Vancouver's North Shore, Webb reiterated his "situation aware" thesis, as each scenario is different.

For example, while screaming and yelling at a bear in the wild might be a good idea to scare away a curious creature, doing so in a garage or enclosed area could scare the bear and force its hand.

"Now that's a problem, because the bear is going to go into a defensive mode," he said.

"You can't be too careful when you're dealing with animals."