Dangerous Animal Encounters – Section 3.1.1 Black Bear

In this section you'll learn what to do when you encounter a black bear and the best actions for surviving an aggressive confrontation.

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Black bears are our most common bear in North America. The average sized black bear is around 200lbs depending on the region you live in. So they are not huge, but their power should not be underestimated. Even though the average black bear isn’t much larger than the average adult male human they are many times more powerful than humans. Black bears are not as territorial as Brown bears though.

Most black bear attacks occur in national parks or areas where bears have become habituated and humans have fed them or they have successfully learned to scavenge human food from trash receptacles, coolers, cars, etc. In the wild black bears are generally very skittish around humans and almost always retreat when confronted. Black bears pose the greatest danger to humans when they begin to feel comfortable around us and stop seeing humans as an immediate threat. Use extreme caution when dealing with black bears that are habituated to humans.

When black bears feel threatened they may make a huffing or snorting sound, clack their teeth or jaws together, sway their head side to side swipe the ground with their forepaw, put its head down and lay its ears back, or perhaps even charge at you. All of the above behavior is body language that is letting you know that the bear is feels threatened by you. This body language should be heeded.

What to do if you encounter a black bear

If you come into contact with a black bear and it is not showing signs of retreat, immediately speak forcefully and loudly at the bear. It doesn’t matter what you say just say something, “Hey, get out of here!” “Don’t mess with me!” Square off your shoulders to the bear, make eye contact, hold your ground and give off the impression that you are not scared, are ready to fight, and that you are a formidable foe. If you have small children with you, pick them up immediately.

It is common for black bears that feel threatened to charge and stop short of making contact and then continue to evaluate the threat further. A bear may also stand up on its back legs when confronted. In black bears, standing up is not a sign of aggression but rather a sign that they are curious and gathering more information and assessing a situation. They are standing up so they can see, hear, and smell better.

What to do if a black bear attacks you

On the off chance that a black bear does attack you. Fight back immediately and as fiercely as you can, concentrating blows and kicks to the face and nose if possible. You will get injured, but it is very uncommon for a black bear to continue to attack a human if they fight back. If you do not fight back it is more likely to kill you.

Though it is rare, there are reports of adult male black bears preying on humans. A predatory attack scenario is many times more dangerous than a defensive attack and will present with completely different behavior patterns. If a bear begins stalking or following you this could be a sign of predatory behavior and should be treated as an extremely dangerous situation. Though I have never experienced this myself, some people have reported that adult male bears may or may not lay their ears back and put their heads down as they stalk. If a bear begins stalking or following you the best thing to do is to retreat (not turn your back) continue to act aggressively and scream at the bear. Pick up a large stick or rock to use as a weapon if you do not have bear spray or a gun. Continue to retreat and try and get away or make contact with other people who may be able to help you.

Note: Black Bears are very good climbers, therefore climbing a tree is not advised when trying to get away from an aggressive black bear.

A note about Fido

Some might assume that the presence of a domestic dog during a bear encounter would be an advantage. Unfortunately the opposite is true. The presence of a domestic dog during a bear encounter actually can aggravate bears and greatly increase the chances that they will attack the dog or you. If you value your dog it is also smart to keep your dog on a leash. Dogs generally react to bear encounters by barking and giving chase, which can often lead to their death.

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