Much of the hiking and biking I do is in the southeastern United States, where there are large densities of black bears. Once you get into the Appalachian Mountains, the chances are good that you will cross paths with an American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) at some point. Of all national parks, The Great Smoky Mountains has the largest population of black bears at 1,600.
While once overhunted, black bears are making a compelling comeback. They are starting to return to areas that they once roamed. There are now approximately 800,00 bears in North America, and inhabit 41 of the 50 U.S. states. So, even if you are not in a high-density area, it is still good to know what to do if you come across a black bear.
What to Do if you see a Bear:
Whether you are out for a quick day hike or thru-hiking the AT, you always want to be prepared for a possible bear encounter.
When you see a bear:
- Keep a safe distance of at least 50 yards (150 feet).
- Immediately pick up small children.
- Slowly change direction or back up while not turning your back on the bear.
- Be especially careful if you see cubs
If a bear follows you:
- Stand and face the bear directly. Do not turn your back or run!
- Make yourself look as large as possible. (Wave your arms, move to higher ground)
- Yell loudly “Hey Bear.” (Whistles are not a bear deterrent)
- Stay together with your hiking partners.
If the bear persistently follows you:
- Continue to make yourself look as big as possible.
- Stand your ground.
- Prepare your bear spray.
If attacked by a black bear:
- Spray a cloud of bear spray at the nose, mouth, and eyes of the bear as it charges
- Do Not Play Dead!
- Do not drop your pack. It may serve as protection.
- Fight back aggressively with any available object trying to target the eyes and nose.
Bear Sprays: Make sure you are using an EPA-approved bear spray and not a pepper spray. Here are a few of the higher rated sprays
- Do not store food in your tent.
- Use a bear bag or canister to store your food.
- Cook at least 100 yards from your tent and thoroughly clean the cooking area.
- Store deodorants, toothpaste, trash, and clothing that smells of food in a tree bag as well.
Important: Remember that the above information is for encounters with Black Bear. For information on grizzly encounters, click here.
Here is a video put out by the Nations Parks on how to encounter bear attacks.
North American black bear fun facts:
- Can black bears climb? Black bears can climb 100 feet up a tree in 30 seconds!
- How fast can black bears run? They run up to 35 miles per hour.
- How much do black bears weigh? Males weigh 125-500 lbs Females 90-300 lbs
- How big are black bears? 4-7 feet from nose to tail and 2 to 3 feet at the shoulders.
- How long do black bears live? They typically live 21 to 39 years.
- What do black bears eat? They prefer nuts, fruit, insects, and to a lesser extent, meat.
- Can black bear swim? Yes, many have been known to cover miles to access islands.
- How long is black bear hibernation? It varies by location but generally 3 to 7 months.
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Sources and more information: