Spring is well underway and family vacations in the out-of-doors are just around the corner. Along with all the seasonal fun come some risks as well. Sunburn, bee stings, and yes – even bears make up some of those risks. Do you know what to do if you encounter a black bear?
My Experience with Bears
I saw my first bear at age 14 from a backseat window while on vacation in Tennessee. Being a suburban kid from Indiana I was thrilled at the sighting. As time went on I saw many bears, and in my long 85 years I have spotted them from Virginia to California, from Florida to Alberta, Canada.
A Close Encounter
Most of my bear experience has been seeing them from an automobile. But in the summer of 1971 while on vacation with my wife and eight children, my admiration from afar turned up close and personal. My wife and I were taking a stroll on a trail in Yosemite National Park in California, when we spotted a large black bear heading down the same trail in our direction.
I quickly appropriated a large stick and scanned the area for trees that might be climbable. Remembering that bears are excellent tree climbers as well, I decided that our best plan of escape might be to just go a different direction. There was a smaller, less-traveled spur which exited the main trail that we decided to take. As we back away from the bear’s route, we came within about 10 yards of brushing elbows.
Looking back, I feel a bit foolish that I wasn’t more prepared. After all, at that time, black bear encounters in Yosemite were a frequent occurrence.
What to Do When You Encounter a Black Bear
The National Park Service recommends these actions if you should find yourself face-to-face with a black bear:
* Do not run. Back away slowly.
* If the black bear follows you, don’t back down. Stand your ground and try to intimidate the black bear by shouting or throwing rocks.
* If you are actually attacked by a black bear, fight back aggressively.
Injuries from most black bear attacks are minor and are caused by the bear trying to obtain human food. To protect others, be sure to report all bear encounters to park rangers or appropriate authorities.
Also note that black bear behavior is decidedly different than that of a grizzly bear. Therefore your defense should be different as well. For grizzly bears, check out these recommendations from the Public Broadcasting System.