Updated: Aug 17, 2021
Awww...bears are so cute. Cubs! Squueeeee!
Until you meet one in the woods. That creature you cuddled as a child, that character getting his nose stuck in a honeypot...well, that *ain't* real life.
Bears are not welcome companions on our hikes. To be fair, they don't find us great company on their walks either. So how do we avoid conflict? We turned to Cooper's Rock State Forest's Jan Dziezak for advice.
Bears In Our Area
The good news is that the bears in our area (WV, PA, roughly) are black bears, and are not as aggressive as grizzlies. Nor are they as big.
They are around, though. There are sightings not only in the woods, but in city and suburban neighborhoods. So how do we avoid "poking the bear"?
If you are walking along and see a bear at a distance, move away at a normal pace. Don't run, just move in the opposite direction.
If you turn a corner and find yourself way too close to a bear, and the bear is not moving away from you, make noise. Yell, use your whistle, bang your knife on your flashlight, whatever loud noise you can make. Back away but do not run.
Try to avoid ever being between a mom and her cub...this is very dangerous. If you see a cub, STAY AWAY and try to determine where the mom is. Move out of the line between the two.
Campsites are huge candy shops for bears. The smells of leftovers, wrappers, and your steaks for tomorrow's grilling are just too enticing. Keep ALL food, drinks, personal products (like toothpaste, deodorant, lotions, etc), snacks, trail mixes - essentially everything but water - in your car (with windows totally closed) or in a properly strung up bear bag (away from the tent).
Inside Your Tent
Of course, you've got nothing in there but water, right? No snacks, no empty soda cans? Perfect, then sit tight, stay quiet, and wait for the bear to move along. If the bear sticks a nose into the tent wall or otherwise tries to see what is going on in there, make noise. Do not strike out at the bear. Their claws are long, powerful, and deadly. If the bear swipes back, you'll lose.
Bear Spray, Useful Or Not?
Turns out, although it may make you feel better to have some along, it most likely won't do you any good. Depending upon the wind direction, the spray can easily blow right back on you, and into your eyes. Bad time to impair your vision, eh? Also, you have to be close to the bear before deploying the spray...and you've certainly backed away and started making noise way before you got this close, right? Fumbling for your bear spray is not the best use of your time.
As exciting as it may be to spot a bear, don't try to make friends. Don't try for a selfie with the bear photobombing in the background. The best solution for both bear and human is to stay the heck away from each other.
Bears Don't Want To Meet Us Any More Than We Want To Meet Them
Be Aware, Stay Away, Get Loud