As we start going outside more, so do North America’s black bears. When the weather warms up, black bears wake up from their deep sleep very hungry! After all, it has been a few months since they have eaten.
Black bears do not truly hibernate, but do go into a long period of deep sleep called torpor where they do not eat, drink or defecate. In early March through April, bears are starting to wake up and come out of their dens. Black bears live throughout North America and in at least 40 states. Experts estimate about 800,000 black bears live on the North American Continent.
When bears first come out of the den in early spring, there is not as much natural food available as in late spring, summer and fall, so they scrounge for it anywhere. Bears can smell food from up to five miles away! Bears are also very curious, but also naturally wary of humans. Attacks on humans are rare. However, experts report that bear and human encounters are on the rise.
Most active in the early morning and late evening, bears see in color, can climb trees, swim and run up to 30 miles per hour. They typically eat berries, fruit, nuts, plants, honey, insects, and occasionally small animals, animal carcasses, fish, and livestock. Like us, the better it smells, the more the bear wants it.
Human irresponsibility counts for ninety five percent of bear attacks.
If you live in bear country, the following eights tips will help keep bears away from your property:
- Keep trash bins inside the garage with the garage door down. Do not put garbage out the night before pick up, wait until the morning.
- Thoroughly clean your barbecue grill after cooking. Let it cool down, then brush off charred bits and store it in a secured inside location.
- Feed pets inside. Never leave pet food outside.
- Keep livestock feed inside, secured and locked up.
- Keep windows and doors closed.
- During early- to mid-spring, put away all your bird feeders.
- Hang food up properly when camping. Never keep food in tents or in easily accessible containers or coolers. If you are car camping, secure the cooler inside your vehicle. Double bag food and string it up on a pole or tree, at least 10 feet high and 4 feet away from the tree trunk.
- NEVER FEED A BEAR!
Making human food easily accessible to the bear results in bears becoming unafraid of humans and their behavior might change. This is not only dangerous to humans, but for the bears. A bear’s easy access to human food causes property damage as well. Ninety five percent of bears trained to accept food and garbage from humans become a problem and must be euthanatized.
What to do if You Encounter a Bear
Seeing a bear in its natural habitat is awe-inspiring and most parks encourage you to watch and admire from a distance. Stay at least 50 yards away—100 yards if you encounter a mother with cubs and view with binoculars. Never approach a black bear.
If the bear does not notice you, leave the area quietly. If the bear does notice you, do not look him in the eye. Pay attention and watch the bear’s behavior. It may continue doing what it was doing or it may react to your presence. The bear might stand on its hind legs. This is not an aggressive move. Stay calm and do not panic. Back away slowly, speaking to the bear in a low commanding voice. Give the bear its space.
A bear that feels you are intruding will let you know. It may vocalize or blow out its nose, stamp or hit the vegetation. The bear might stand on its hind legs. This is not an aggressive move. Stay calm and do not panic.
The bear may start coming toward you. You have no idea if the bear wants to simply walk your same path or if it smells food you are carrying. Either way, if the bear starts coming your way, back away and change direction. Move to higher ground. This may not work; the bear may have decided it wants something you have. Stay calm, but attempt to restore dominance over the bear. Moving to higher ground or standing on a log or rock to appear bigger than you are helps. Wave your arms and yell at the bear aggressively.
You may have heard if a bear attacks you to lie down, cover your head and “play dead.” However, this should only be a last resort. The National Park Foundation’s Great Smokey Mountain National Park rangers tell hikers to fight back as aggressively as possible if a bear attacks you.
When you venture outdoors this spring and summer to hike, camp, hunt, fish or any other activity, especially in wooded areas and bear country, pack bear repellent pepper spray, clip a bear bell to your pack and be overly diligent of disposing of your trash properly. To read more about bear repellent pepper spray, read “Gizmos and Gadgets—Bear Spray.”
Some bear encounters are intentional. Read the following blogs to learn more about hunting bear:
- Women Afield—Bear! It’s What’s For Supper
- Women Afield — Spot and Stalk Bruins
- Women Afield — Tips for Field Judging Bears
- Loaded for Bear