11 Black Bear Safety Tips
As a child, my neighborhood had a phone chain for bear alerts, bears digging into our garbage cans and a little over a year ago I even found bear prints on the sunroof of my car while there. Seriously, what was this bear doing on my car? My parents were attentive and taught me early on how to react safely when I encountered these situations. Sadly, safety around wildlife is not taught early on to every person who makes their way into the woods. Those who haven’t taken the proper precautions put themselves at great risk.
In September 2014, my hometown made national news for a bear attack that occurred down the street from the house I grew up in. A hiker, Darsh Patel, was killed by a rogue bear while hiking with his friends. It was clear, after reading their story they were not properly prepared for what dangers were in the quiet park they hiked in.
Apshawa Perserve is used mainly by locals for a short walk or some fishing. When Patel and his friends entered the park they ran into other hikers who warned them that there was a bear acting aggressively in the area, it was following them on the trail and they told the group they should not proceed. Patel and his friends continued on despite the warning. They did later encounter the bear along the trail and paused with their phones to take photos from a distance. Alarm set in to the group as the bear began to approach them. In what was most likely a panic, the group split up running in separate directions. Some of the friends were able to find their way out of the park. They promptly called 911 when they noticed that Patel was still missing. Police found his body shortly after they began their search.
Bears in this area are frequently easy to scare. Yet, they are large dangerous creatures and your safety should still be a concern while traveling through their territory. My hometown warns of this with signs at many of the trail heads and articles online about safety. This group could have done better with this safety information and without it they did a number of things wrong during their encounter. I think it’s important that everyone know what to do, especially since I’ve experienced first hand the vast number of bears that live in the NY/NJ Appalachian Trail area.
Aside from this bear which was uncommonly dangerous, there have been many bears needlessly killed in my hometown because of close contact with hikers and locals who were not following proper precautions. My hope is that others will take the time to learn what they need to know to avoid trouble.
I originally wanted this post to be my reaction to this local incident but I thought it would be a good use of my time to add tips for others who are unaccustomed to bear safety. The Appalachian Trail has bears and anyone who wants to hike it should know what to do to protect their lives and the lives of the local bears.
These tips are only for BLACK BEAR encounters!
1) Never approach a bear. If you know a bear is in an area do not go in that area. Find another route.
2) If you have encountered a bear, remain calm, do not make eye contact and DO NOT RUN from it. Bears are much faster than you and running could trigger a bears instinct to chase. Instead, move calmly and slowly away from the bear leaving it an escape route.
3) To scare a bear away make loud noises and make yourself big. If you are with others, stand close together and continue to do this.
4) If a bear acts aggressively towards you by huffing, popping or snapping its jaw or swatting the ground, the bear wants space, back away slowly from the bear and speak to it in a calm voice. If a bear is standing on its hind legs, it is curious of you so try not to have a strong reaction and move away slowly.
5) Never drop food to distract a bear. This will only encourage the bear to approach more humans in the future.
6) Do not try to climb trees to escape a bear. Despite what TV might lead you to believe, bears are excellent climbers.
7) Bear spray is not normally needed for north eastern black bears but hiking with bear spray is a good idea because it can stun a bear in an encounter giving you time to reach a safe location.
8) Lastly, and I hope this never happens to anyone but if a bear is attacking, the best thing you can do is fight back.
To prevent a bear encounter
9) Hang a bear bag at an appropriate distance from your campsite and pack out your trash. Food smells draw bears to that area and the promise of leftover garbage could invite a bear to return to that campsite at a later time.
10) While hiking in bear country, make loud noises to let any hidden bears know of your presence. They will most likely run before you know they were there. Talking loudly with a friend or belting a song works well.
11) Always be safe and keep your eyes open to whats around you!
Now that you’re a bear safety genius, I’ll lighten the mood to let you enjoy this video of a baby bear at my parents house. Happy safe hiking!
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Recently, while hiking I took a picture of a mountain in the distance, put my phone in my pocket and started walking down the old dirt road again. I was nearly 7 miles from my vehicle and alone. Seeing a black bear approaching that had not yet noticed me, I raised my hands over my head and yelled, “hey, get out of here.” The bear ran crashing over the hill. Starting my hike again in the same direction I saw a bear in the edge of the woods and repeated my yell only to have the bear step out into the road and look toward me. Yelling again, the second (perhaps the same) bear ran over the hill. I continued on in the same direction with no more visual bear encounters although about a mile farther along something made quite a noise running away. The noise could have easily been a deer. Although I was a bit apprehensive I finished my loop hike with no more wildlife encounters. The adrenaline was heightened for a little while.
Nice article with some great tips. Here is another article on the same topic.