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What to Do If You Encounter a Black Bear in the Wild

Getty: Wendy/Jeff Sparks/Torquemada

With black bear encounters on the rise, having this information at your disposal could save your life.

What is the best course of action when a black bear approaches you in the field?

Preparedness and the ability to remain calm are your best weapons now, but we have some more options for you.

Bear behavior can change with the season, as it is dependent on food and especially offspring. So, these are a few things worth keeping in mind the next time you travel through bear country.

Black Bears

Black bears are actually the smallest of the North American bear species, are also the most widely distributed. They are known as omnivores that will basically eat anything that they can get their paws on, which means they can get aggressive at times.

You'll find most of them in forested areas with widespread vegetation, but also near population centers in search of food.

Black bears inhabit a wide variety of different habitats, including famed mountainous regions as well as crop country that's covered in corn fields.

Any bear hunter will tell you they'll generally shun any human presence, making them quite difficult to approach for a shot. However, they'll become fairly dismissive if there's a food source nearby, putting areas such as parks and campgrounds at risk.

This is where human and bear interactions can become deadly.

When You Encounter a Bear

It should be said that black bear attacks are very uncommon, but they do occur every year, most commonly in a sow's aggressive response to protect her cubs.

Black bears often make what is known as a bluff charge, which is basically its way of saying that it doesn't want an encounter either, but could change its mind in a heartbeat. They sometimes do this by making blowing noises and swatting the ground with their forepaws to say "back off."

This is where you need to make sure the animal has an escape route, as a cornered bear may become aggressive.

Seeing a Bear That Sees You

You may encounter a bear doesn't know you're there, in which case, your best course of action is to quietly put some distance between the two of you. Chances are, however, they'll smell you or hear you long before you ever see them, which means they'll likely flee before you ever see them.

In the case of a mutual sighting, there are steps you can take to belay a dangerous situation from unfolding.

Stand still, but prepare to move away quietly and slowly. Running in the opposite direction can and will cause a chase response so slow movements are key.

Seeing a Bear That Approaches You

The universally accepted survival tactic here is to stand your ground. This does not mean to make aggressive movements towards the bear, but rather show that you aren't intimidated by its presence. As bears generally do not wish an encounter with a human, they'll usually just move away from you.

Loudly exclaim, "Hey bear!" and attempt to make yourself look larger than life by raising your arms, opening your jacket and clapping your hands. Some say standing on a rock or a stump can help as well, but just in the case you thought of climbing a tree, keep in mind that black bears are excellent climbers.

And, always be prepared to use bear spray or a firearm, just in case.

When A Bear Turns Aggressive

None of us will honestly ever know what we would do in a bear attack unless it ever actually happens. But, for those of us who frequent bear country, it's best to devise a plan beforehand.

Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and that's where basic pepper spray comes in clutch. If a bear charges you, you need to be ready to defend yourself, and bear spray is your first line of defense.

It's still a possibility that making noise, becoming larger and spraying won't stop a bear. At this point, you may find yourself in a battle with a wild animal and you need to keep your mind on one thing: survival.

Virtually all resources now say to fight back and to not play dead, despite outdated theories that implied a bear would leave a dead-looking human alone. Use whatever you have available such as a walking stick, a branch, a pair of binoculars, rocks, a backpack or whatever else you can reach.

Kick, bite, scream or go for its eyes; this is not a refereed fight.

Avoiding Bear Encounters

Hikers and campers can prevent unwanted encounters with wild bears by forming a few simple habits. Carrying bear spray or even wearing a bear bell can help to keep a wild animal at bay if the moment of truth arrives.

Always travel in groups when possible, even if it's just two at a time. If traveling with children, keep them close enough to see at all times. Keep your dog on a leash since they are slaves to their noses and can smell when something is different in the air.

The camping rules easy to establish, too. Do not store food in your tent; keep your campsite free of leftover foods; store your food, trash and other items that might smell good to a bear inside the truck; and use the campground's bear-proof bins whenever possible.

Tent campers should take even more caution, going as far as changing out of the clothes they cooked in before going to sleep.

A black bear is a wild animal and it has a tremendous sense of smell. This is what usually creates most of the issues with humans.

You should always carry a firearm in bear country if it's legal in your neck of the woods, but you do everything you can to keep that as a last resort.

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What to Do If You Encounter a Black Bear in the Wild