What do you do when you encounter a black bear in the wild?
First, it is important to know your bears! Black Bears are different from Grizzly Bears, which are different from Kodiak Bears, which are different from Polar Bears. These differences are more than color and size. Different bears have different mannerisms and habits.
In this post we will focus on the black bear, which is the most common bear in North America.
Meet the Black Bear
Color: Black bears can be found in a variety of colors ranging from black to light brown, or even blond.
Body Shape: Bears all have a similar build. They do vary a great deal in size, and black bears don’t have the large shoulder hump that grizzly bears have.
Weight: Black bears are smaller than grizzly bears. Though they can occasionally get bigger, the average male black bear can weigh between 200 and 300 pounds, with females typically being somewhat smaller.
Claws: Yes! They certainly have claws and, while not as large as those of the grizzly bear or polar bear, you still don’t want them swiping at you with them.
Location: Black bears are the most commonly found bear in North America. They range thought all the provinces of Canada and 41 of the 50 American states. Black bears are very common in the Adirondack Park.
How to Survive a Black Bear attack!
American black bears are know to occasionally attack humans. But given the choice, they would rather flee than fight. They’re smaller, faster and better climbers than grizzlies.
1. Be bear aware!
This means leaving your damn earbuds in the car! Traipsing through the woods with Welcome to the Jungle blasting your eardrums is not a great idea, especially in bear country. Bears are quiet, and almost impossible to hear coming as it is. Stay tuned to the environment, not your music. Carry bear spray in areas where black bears are active. Keep food and trash packed away. And make some noise while walking through the woods. It is not a good idea to surprise a mother bear with her cubs.
Carry a good bear repellent spray!
Bear Spray can certainly help, but it’s not as critical as with grizzlies. Black bears are less aggressive and will move off if they hear you coming. However, a mother bear will still protect her cubs if she thinks they are threatened. This is deeply ingrained in her, because male bear will often kill cubs. Try to spray when the bear is within 40 to 50 feet of you, creating a barrier of bear spray between you and the approaching bear.
Stand your ground!
Since black bears are less aggressive than grizzlies, you should try to present yourself as something large and loud and something to be feared; they’ll usually leave you alone. Shout, wave your arms, and create a big commotion. Do anything you can to make yourself look bigger. Most importantly, just like with grizzlies, never run from a black bear. First, they can outrun you. Second, they often will charge in an attempt to bluff, and the best strategy is to stand your ground with your bear spray ready to fire if the bear gets too close.
Keep your feet on the ground!
Never, ever climb a tree to escape a black bear. They’re really excellent climbers, and they tend to chase anything they think is running away. There’s a good chance the bear will simply trap you in the tree, and could even climb up after you.
Do NOT play dead with a black bear!
This has been known to work with grizzlies which are true predators, and unless starving, will only eat what they actually kill. Black bears, on the other hand, are scavengers. If you play dead and they are hungry, they may decide to eat you.
Unless you’re physically not able to, it’s far better to defend yourself against a black bear than to simply fall down on the ground and play dead (See previous section). If you end up in “close quarter combat” with the bear, use any available object as a weapon to defend yourself. If nothing is handy, punch or kick at the bear’s nose, eyes, and ears. Attack the sensitive areas that are more likely to get an immediate reaction. Do whatever is needed to scare it away. Work to create distance between you and the bear, but do not run away. The bear will simply chase you. You have to make the bear decide to run away.
I am soon releasing a a collection of short stores called Adirondack Bear Tales on Kindle and in paperback. The book is based on my series of blog post on Adirondack Bear Tales. You can read one of these posts here. I hope you will check my new book out when it becomes available.
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