18

I am hiking in black bear country (no other kinds of bears there). It's dark, I have a whistle hanging around my neck to scare away such a potential bear and I'm using my torch light to be able to see the path.

Now, for some reason, the light and noise I made till now were not enough to scare away a bear. It stands on the path, 10 meters away from me.

I'll blow that whistle soon, but what do I do with my torch light? Do I

  • shine it into the bear's eyes to blind and frighten it?
  • activate the stroboscopic mode on the torch and / or wave it around wildly to create a lot of shadows and confusion?
  • shine it on the path between me and the bear so that the bear is able to keep its night vision and run away?
  • shine it at myself to appear brighter and more impressive?

I've been hiking like that recently, so I was wondering what the best reaction would have been in case of an encounter.

  • Where do you hike? In my outdoor playgrounds (NE US, specifically NH and central Mass) the bears are extremely shy. – orangejewelweed Sep 17 '14 at 21:06
  • Sierra Nevada. I've never encountered a bear, but I could imagine they have become less shy in areas like Yosemite National Park. – helm Sep 17 '14 at 21:16
12

I don't have personal experience with black bears, but only brownies.

If you encounter a bear in 10 meters away from you that means you surprised it or the bear is coming after you. In a night scenario with a whistle and flashlight the surprise cannot be a real life case. That means bear is actually after you and that's very bad.

Black bear may want to hunt you down and eat or flashlight itself attracted the bear to check on you. Bears are curious animals and many things may attract them. At least I saw many bears coming to camp just to check out who's had a fire going.

With any bear in any encounter the key is not to anger the beast. Your flashlight will not blind the bear, neither will strobe. It will just make you to look like a threat and enrage the bear. And the gold rule is to never ever to piss off the bear.

Using the light to make you look bigger is the way to go. Since bear came to you backing away will not work, the bear will follow. That means you need the bear to loose interest in you. If bear decides to abandon you because you are big and scary or it satisfied its curiosity that's a win. If that didn't worked and it gets aggressive and especially charges throw you flashlight. To the ground next to bear or in to a bear targeting nose if it's already charges. It will have bear occupied for a while. And you can slowly back off. Or if the bear was after the flashlight it will go away once it chewed it.

If that didn't work apply standard self defence. Pepper spray and fighting back with that ever means you have.

  • 2
    This is a great answer, and addresses the question. I too have encountered curious bears. – treeNinja Sep 18 '14 at 15:40
17

By "black bear", I'll assume you mean Ursus americanus, the North American black bear.

These bears are opportunists and aren't looking for a fight. In all the encounters I have had with them in the wild that I know of, they have run away as soon as they noticed me. I probably had many more encounters where the bear noticed me and took off before I noticed it. Encountering wild black bears while hiking is usually not a problem.

There are three cases where you can be in some danger:

  1. The bear is a mother with cubs. Black bear mothers are very conservative in protecting their cubs. They will attack if they think you are a threat to their cubs. If you see cubs, back up slowly while keeping eye contact. Do not appear threatening and make it clear that you are yielding to the bear and backing off.

    You have to be careful in this situation, but if you do the right thing there is not much danger. If both of you notice each other at 10 meters, then you should be fine as long as you don't do something stupid. The bear isn't looking for a fight, just wants to make sure her cubs are safe.

  2. The bear is a large predatory male. This is very very unusual, but it does happen on rare occasions. There have been only a handful of reports of this in the last century. These bears will follow and stalk you, with the aim of taking you down as prey. This usually happens when the bear has been pushed to its limit by it being very hungry and it's gotten way down on its list of options.

    Again, this is very very unlikely. Quite a few more people have been hit by lightning in the last century than have been attacked by a predatory black bear.

  3. The bear is accustomed to humans. This is really the worst case, and also the most likely cause of a black bear hurting you. Truly wild bears will run away from you. However, those accustomed to people will have learned that people are a source of food and not a source of danger. If the bear doesn't run away when it discovers you, at least in daylight, this is probably what you have. That's bad. Yell and wave your arms around and see what the bear does. If it doesn't run away, you have a problem. This is a little different at night when the bear doesn't really know what it's dealing with. Again, yell at it, wave the flashlight, and shine it in its eyes. If it still doesn't move, brace yourself for a encounter. Don't turn and run away, since that will trigger the persuit instinct. Back off slowly and see what happens.

    If the bear walks towards you, you want to convince it that the risk/reward of messing with you isn't worth it. Grab a large stick and whack it against the ground. Throw rocks. That will probably work. If it doesn't, you're in trouble. Use pepper spray if you have it when it gets close enough. Fight back in any way you can. Try to convince the bear that fighting with you isn't worth whatever it might get from you.

  • Okay, I wrote that comment then found this article. Would like your thoughts. news.discovery.com/animals/zoo-animals/… – Russell Steen Sep 18 '14 at 17:27
  • @Russell: The numbers on predatory bears is higher than what I remember from a earlier study, but you still need to keep that in perspective. As the article says, there are millions of encounters between humans and bears, and only a very small fraction result in injury. Since 1960, the average has been one such death per year. Compare that to over 40 deaths per year in the US from getting hit by lightning. – Olin Lathrop Sep 18 '14 at 18:11
  • @OlinLathrop: Great observations about their typical behavior that, the Truly wild ones will run away from human and the accustomed ones will have learnt that people are a source of food and not a source of danger.. +1. – WedaPashi Sep 19 '14 at 8:23
  • 1
    @OlinLathrop: I added the link to the wiki page of the American Black Bear. Revert back if you think that its not needed. – WedaPashi Sep 19 '14 at 8:25
  • @OlinLathrop -- Oh, don't get me wrong, the risk presented by bears is miniscule. Miniscule may even be an exaggeration. My thought was more with regards to the behavior and that the article challenges some of the 'facts' about bear behavior that we've all come to accept. – Russell Steen Sep 19 '14 at 13:38
9

You don't even need to worry about a bear mugging you while you're hiking. It doesn't happen. Bears want your food. They're going to try to get your food when your food is out of your pack and they can smell it. The effective countermeasures involve:

  1. Making it hard for them to smell your food (e.g., using ziplock bags)
  2. Making it hard for them to get your food (e.g., by using a bear canister, which is legally required in a lot of the Sierra anyway), and
  3. Avoiding the places with the most problematic bears (such as Little Yosemite).

If you take all of the above precautions, then the only way this kind of interaction with a bear is going to come up is basically if you have some food out of the canister, like at dinner time, and a bear strolls up and takes your food. At that point, you're losing that food. Just accept it.

  • 1
    NyloBarrier is a better smell-resistant alternative than ziplocks. – ppl Sep 18 '14 at 0:42
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    In many areas bear resistant canisters are required. They don't help eliminate smells, but they keep the bear from actually getting into the food. – nhinkle Sep 18 '14 at 3:50
  • @BenCrowell: I edited the answer to reformat it in list form. Kindly revert if you don't think its needed. Thanks! – WedaPashi Sep 18 '14 at 6:27
  • 4
    "You don't even need to worry about a bear mugging you while you're hiking. It doesn't happen. " -- Yeah, it actually does happen, though not often. news.discovery.com/animals/zoo-animals/… – Russell Steen Sep 18 '14 at 17:27
  • Some sources say there has never been a black bear attack on a human in the whole state of Florida ever. I do not believe it and neither does anyone else who hikes. rt.com/usa/229371-florida-black-bear-hunting-proposal If a bear gets that close to you you have a problem. We were chased out of a national park by a bear and as their population grows and they get accustomed to man this is going to happen more and more. – bobbym Sep 6 '16 at 23:20

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