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 had anything that resembled an attack. Just looking at us and slowly going its way, or it started running in the opposite direction. They are 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 or use a small "bear bell" that you can hang on your backpack.

2. Close encounter rule 1. So there is one in front of you. What 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 out run you easily and are 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. THIS IS NOT AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR!! The movies want to believe you otherwise...
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, then walk backwards, quietly and preferably diagonally (to move away from his direct line of escape). However, do not turn your back on him. If the bear comes towards you then stop and apply the next rule.

4. Close encounter rule 3. SHOW who is boss. Grab a stick and start waving with it. 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 the stick. 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 him. 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; He 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 aggrasive 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 his winter sleep, in a terrain that does not offer much food (eg. high alpine), might attack you anyway. Still, we never take anything with us in black bear country.

Tazers and the likes. Won't work on bears. Fur is too thick.

Pepper spray. True, It is quit effective and many people use it. And  you probably wish 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 any, and normally it is our fault or in some town because of trash or a black bear entering a house in search for food. But normally not while hiking. Except maybe for Yosemite National Park. Also, pepperspray is for a short distance and you must have a clear head when you start using it (PRACTISE !). Another effective way is to hike with 2 or a small group if you have no clear sight. It is very rare that a bear comes towards you if you are in higher numbers. But still, it is up to you if you want to take pepper spray.

Rifles. Nope. We only talke rifles with us to protect our groups in the high arctic.

Hand gun. Nope, never took one with us. It is for short distances and knowing bears, shooting a couple of holes in him when he is charging won't stop him. Too big and too powerfull. It will only make him more mad.

Flare gun. Nope, not in black bear country. We only take this with us to 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 :-)