Top Ten Black Bear Safety Tips

I was graduating from college and my senior thesis that I had chosen was to hike the Appalachian Trail for one week. The plan was to document the people we would meet along the way. Also, the wildlife and the adventures we were to encounter. I had planned this for over one year and hiked regularly to prepare while wearing backpacks. The planning was intense along with the research and knowledge gained during the preparation of this hike. To start the trip up to the main trail we had selected the Goshen Prong Trail. This trail is 7.7 miles long with an elevation starting at 2,600 hundred feet ascending to 5,800 hundred feet. Our goal was to visit Clingmans Dome on the 2nd day.

The first day was wonderful with the sounds of the creek running beside the trail. A gradual hike in elevation but the biggest mistake that I could have made was to be over excited about seeing black bears during this hike. I wanted to get pictures and as close as possible to observe and document.

Our first encounter was walking along side the creek with a slight wind in our face. Along with the noise from the creek this created a unique situation. All of a sudden 100 feet in front of us, a black bear came on the trail at a 45 degree angle and never looked back at us. Can you imagine a black bear walking the trail right in front of us? Wow, this was my opportunity of a lifetime to get the pictures. Suddenly, the bear looked back at us as I was reaching for the camera and the bear darted off along side the creek in thick brush.

I approached the brush wishing to get the perfect picture. As I entered, the bear stood straight up in front of me while standing on its hind legs staring me right in the face only two feet away. I slowly, and I mean slowly, reached for my pepper spray. The bear quickly darted down the creek. The entire experience was under 15 seconds but seemed much longer. Looking back this was a very stupid stunt on my part. Thus the article’s intent is to avoid bear, not reach out and touch them.

Below are some valuable lessons that I should have known beforehand to protect myself, fellow hikers and the bear.

If you come this close with bears, below are some tips on what to do:

  1. Stop, stay calm and quiet, and make no sudden moves.
  2. Break eye contact – do not stare in the bear’s eyes, this can be a sign of aggression.
  3. Stand your ground – do not turn your back on the bear.
  4. Be ready to utilize pepper spray or bear deterrent spray.
  5. Back away slowly.
  6. Keep cool, calm and collective.
  7. Be aware of recent bear activity that park rangers have documented.
  8. Be careful with food. Never cook close to camp. Store all foods in plastic at least 14 feet up a tree hung five feet away from the trunk.
  9. Watch for fresh bear signs on the trail or near possible camp sites.
  10. If possible, make plenty of noise on the trail, especially on blind curves, in dense vegetation or areas with limited vision.

If a bear approaches your campsite aggressively chase it away. Make noise with pots and pans, throw rocks, whatever you can find. Do not let the bear get any food. They have a very keen sense of smell and coming around the campsite can be a very dangerous experience. Always hike during daylight hours and stay on the trail.

Happy hiking,

Ken