If you see a black bear, your first thought might be to immediately evacuate your bowls and pray to whatever god is listening. But while it can be a scary (and even deadly) experience, black bear attacks are very rare, with an average of just 1 fatality per year in North America.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the fluffy mountain of meat in front of you is probably not as friendly or approachable as Rudyard Kipling or Walt Disney would have you believe, and he’s almost certainly not in the mood for a song and dance.
What Do You Do If You See a Black Bear?
If you see a black bear in your yard, near your tent, or on the trail, don’t panic and fear the worst. The animal could just be curious. It could be looking for food or safety. If the bear sees or smells you, it may flee, so you don’t need to resort to drastic actions.
The old adage of, “He’s probably more scared of you than you are of him” applies here, as black bears are more likely to flee than attack.
Here’s what you should do if you see a black bear:
- Face the bear. Don’t run away and don’t go near.
- Spread your arms and make yourself look big.
- Make a lot of noise by yelling or banging things.
What Should I Do If A Black Bear Approaches?
If a black bear doesn’t run away when it sees and hears you, it’s time to reach for the bear spray. Give it a squirt as the bear approaches and that should send it for the hills.
If not, and the bear attacks, don’t play dead.
The recommendation that you should play dead comes from grizzly bears and not black bears. Grizzlies are bigger, stronger, and less likely to attack if they don’t think you’re a threat. It won’t help with black bears, though.
Try punching or poking the bear in vulnerable places, including its eyes and nose. If you can get to safety, do so, but only if it’s nearby. The last thing you want to do is turn your back on an angry bear that’s quicker, stronger, and within striking distance.
How Do You Scare Off A Black Bear?
You can scare away a black bear by making yourself as big and loud as possible. If all else fails, make sure you have your bear spray to hand.
Black bears are curious and may scavenge for food in homes, cabins, and campsites, but they usually leave when they see human activity. You just need to make it clear that you’re there, you’re big, and you’re not a victim.
If a bear has wandered into your yard in search of human food or pet food, grab some pots and start banging, but make sure you keep a safe distance.
What Happens If You Play Dead With A Black Bear?
A grizzly bear is more likely to stand and fight. If it wants to protect its cubs or its food, it will attack. If you stop being a threat, such as when you play dead, it usually moves on and leaves you alone.
A black bear is different, though. As noted above, black bears usually leave when there is trouble. If they stick around and fight, it means they want to do you harm, potentially because they see you as food or want to protect a food source.
Curling into a ball and playing dead probably won’t stop them, so start kicking and punching. Make the bear regret laying a paw on you!
How Can I Guard Myself Against Black Bear Attacks?
If you’re heading out into bear country, whether you’re hiking, walking your dogs, or moving into a cabin, you should invest in some bear spray.
Bear spray is a highly pressurized substance that’s loaded with capsaicin, the same compound used in pepper spray and the one responsible for making your mouth feel like it’s on fire when you eat chilis.
Keep the bear spray to hand at all times, use it as a last resort, and be sure to check the expiration date as it will lose its potency over time.
Black bears, much like humans, don’t like being sprayed in the eyes with hot chilis, so it should scare them away. It’s non-fatal, so you won’t be killing or maiming the bear, but that doesn’t mean you should reach for it and start spraying every time you get a whiff of a bear.
Summary: Black Bear Safety Tips
Just to make sure you don’t start punching black bears on the nose or playing dead when attacked, let’s review some of the basics:
- Stand your ground and remain calm
- Make yourself big and make loud noises by shouting and banging pots (or whatever is to hand)
- Take bear pepper spray with you whenever you’re in bear country
- Keep a safe distance and be aware
- Don’t run and don’t provoke the bear
- Clear an escape route for the bear, as its first reaction will be to run
- Don’t forget that black bears can climb trees faster than you
Last but not least, remember that grizzly bears react differently to black bears. They are bigger, stronger, and tend to react defensively when they believe their cubs are under threat. A grizzly mother bear will be very protective of its cubs, but it’ll also likely stop attacking you if you play dead and remove the perceived threat.
Understanding bear behavior is key if you’re a keen hiker, camper, or live near bear country.
It could save your life one day.