BLACK BEAR BEHAVIOUR - RULES
We have seen many black bears up close in the USA and Canada. Some really close, also at night and just a few meters (feet) away. And we never experianced anything that resembled an attack. Just looking at us and slowly doing its thing. Or it started running in the opposite direction. They are much more friendly and shy than the grizzly. Underneath you will find some basic rules. Normally nothing happens to you if you obay them. That said, these animals are unpredictable and their reaction depends on their personality and the circumstances of the encounter. We can not be held responsible for anything that might happen to you. You are entering their domain where they make the rules. If unsure, go with a guide.
Please read the rules in the General Behavior section before reading this. The following is specific for black bears and deals with encounters.
1. NEVER surprise a bear. Bears do not like surprises. A black bear might be scared by the surprise and run away. A grizzly will most likely do the opposite. Normally a black bear does not want to eat you. You are not his normal prey, but a scared or surprised animal might charge you anyway. Let him know you are coming. So when you do not have a good 360 view, sing a song, speak in a loud tone. Although not recommended anymore, some people sometimes use a small "bear bell" that you can hang on your backpack.
2. Close encounter rule 1. So there is suddenly one in front of you. What should you do next?
It's important to let the bear know you are human. They rely more on their smell and hearing then on sight. Therefore speak to the bear in a normal friendly tone (not with a high pitch) and move your arms slowly. This helps the bear perceive you as being a human being.
Also, do not run or climb in a tree. They run much faster than you and are much better climbers too.
3. Close encounter rule 2. If the bear is still unsure what you are, then it may be possible that he will stand on its hind legs. although movies want to believe you otherwise, THIS IS NOT AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR!!
The bear is only trying to see and smell you a bit better! An upright standing bear is usually curious, not aggressive. Should this situation occur, walk backwards, quietly and preferably diagonally (to move away from his direct line of escape). However, do not turn your back on it. If the bear comes towards you then stop and apply the next rule.
4. Close encounter rule 3. SHOW who is boss. Look a black bear straight into his eyes. Let him know that YOU are the dominant one. Make yourself look bigger. Stand straight and move your arms next and above you, preferably with a stick or hiking pole. Speak in a loud voice. If you have a backpack on, leave it on. You not only look bigger but it will also protect your back in case it really attacks. Make noise, lots of it! and start walking towards it. Show that you are not afraid. If you have metal around you, like pots and pans in a camp, then start banging on them.
5. Close encounter rule 4. Although very rare; it is still moving towards you. This means that you are most likely dinner. The closer it gets, the more aggrasive you have to be. Never play dead with a black bear! You are just an easy meal. No, fight as hard and aggressive as possible. Grab anything that you have lying around and focus on the face. Especially the eyes and nose. Smash a rock on its nose (very sensitive) or poke his eye. You have to keep fighting, never stop.
6. Guns, pepperspray, flare guns and tazers. We normally don't take them with us on a regular hike, too heavy for hiking. Black bears are kinda nice and we feel totally comfortable when we are in their domain. However, it does depend on the season. What we mean is that a hunger driven bear, just coming out of hibernation, in a terrain that does not offer much food (eg. high alpine), might attack you anyway (although this is higly unlikely). Still, we never take anything with us in black bear country.
Tazers and the likes. Won't work on bears. The fur is too thick.
Pepper spray. True, It is quite effective and many people use it. And you probably whish you have it with you when you are (almost) getting mauled. But that usually applies to brown/ grizzly bears. How often does someone really get mauled by a black bear while hiking? Hardly ever and than it's usually our fault anyway because of trash, or not following basic camp rules (eg. no food in your tent). But normally nothing happens when you encounter a black bear while hiking. So enjoy that special moment together :-)
We don't use it in black bear country, but if you want to make sure that you know how to use it. Pepperspray is for a short distance and you must have a clear head when you start using it (PRACTISE !).
An effective way to keep black bears away is to hike with 2 or in a small group. It's very rare that a bear comes towards you if you are in higher numbers.
Rifles. Nope. We only talke rifles with us to protect our groups in the high arctic (polar bears).
Hand gun. Nope, never took one with us. It is for short distances and knowing bears, shooting a couple of holes in it when he is charging won't stop it. It will only make him more mad.
Flare gun. Nope, not in black bear country. We only take this with us when entering Polar bear country.
Attacks from black bears are extremely rare. That is one of the reasons we do not take pepper spray or any of the other stuff with us. While hiking in black bear country, there is a high probability that you are not in danger at all. Most bears are only interested in protecting their young, food and their "personal space". Once this threat is no longer present they normally go away.
Do know that in a lot of national parks, black bears and grizzlies are used to humans and sometimes stroll straight through your campground without doing anything. Even mums with young. Keep your distance though and don't provoke them. It is great to see them walking by :-)
That said, DO KEEP YOUR FOOD OUT OF YOUR TENT AND CAMPSITE, if you do, you're asking for trouble.