It may be true that black bears aren’t as dangerous to backpackers as grizzlies, but there are many cases of black bear attacks – some of them fatal. So even if you are in black bear country, there are a few things you need to know. The first, and perhaps most important thing, is to know how to avoid an attack.
How To Avoid A Black Bear Attack
Be noisy. Generally, a black bear will get out of your way if it knows you’re coming down the trail. Surprise it, however, and it may attack. If you are hiking with a friend, a conversation is enough noise to advertise your presence to the local animals. If you are alone, you may want to wear some “bear bells” or sing a song.
Be less flashy. You’re easily spotted from a long distance when you are in bright, colorful clothing. In Alaska, it has noted that bears see the bright colors and come closer to investigate, while they often won’t see hikers in darker colors. It isn’t clear that this is the case with black bears, but it is something to consider when buying that rain jacket – especially if you’ll be backpacking in open terrain.
Don’t cook where you sleep. Instead, stop along the trail to cook dinner, and then continue hiking for a while before stopping for the night. If you have already set up camp, hike a short distance away to cook dinner. The idea is to keep the odors away from where you are sleeping.
Hang food out of reach. This generally means ten feet high and four feet out from the trunk of a tree – difficult in some areas that don’t have many large trees. Rather than using twine, it is often easier to lift the food bag up with a stick (I use my walking stick) and hang it from a knob on a good branch. While some backpackers keep food with them, in zipped plastic bags inside other plastic bags, unless every last odor is contained, bears are likely to come visiting.
Two Kinds Of Black Bear Attacks
Bears, when surprised – especially if they have cubs nearby – attack to try to scare you away. These are called “bluff attacks,” and may end without contact, or the animal may hit you a few times. With this type of attack, the bear will growl a lot, and seem very angry. Try talking calmly as you slowly back away, or if the attack continues, interlace your fingers behind your neck to protect it, and curl up on the ground. The bear might just bat you around for a few seconds, and then leave.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only type of attack. There are also those where you are being stalked and hunted. It isn’t common, but black bears will sometimes hunt humans for food. When this is the intent, you don’t want to “play dead,” or you will be soon. Fight for your life!
With this type of attack, the bear will likely be quiet, have his nose down, ears folded back, and be watching you closely as he moves towards you. He is trying to determine if you are easy prey, so don’t be. Yell, swing your trekking poles, and do anything else you can do to convince the bear that you’re too much trouble for a meal.
Putting something between you and the bear can help. A man who was being hunted by a black bear in Michigan continued to push his video camera at the bear as the attack continued for almost half-an-hour. The camera and his yelling kept the bear a few feet away, until his friends arrived (and it made for an excellent video as well). Running generally doesn’t work, but if you have no other choice, remember that black bears are slower when going downhill.
Use whatever you can for a weapon, but be careful about bending over to pick things up. Bending over may trigger a charge. When there are two or more backpackers, try a sustained defense using rocks, sticks and yelling. This can change the black bears mind. Other things that can help include, bear spray, a freon horn and whistles.