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Black Bear Safety

June 14, 2017

Written By: Jordan Tatro

In our area of Central Virginian wilderness, it is pretty common to come across the Blue Ridge’s largest predator, the black bear. On average male black bears on the East Coast will weigh between 125lbs-550lbs, while female bears top the scales between 90lbs-375lbs.  Researching this post, I could only find one documented unprovoked black bear attack in Virginia (Roanoke Times, 2015). It occurred in Douthat State Park, which is towards Lexington.  A woman was bitten and clawed by an unprovoked black bear. Thankfully she survived and only received stitches for her wounds. Though these attacks are rare, it is always important to prepare yourself for this type of situation.  In case you ever encounter a black bear, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

"Respect wildlife by giving animals their space and you will have a better chance of staying safe."

Running can trigger a bear’s predatory instinct, and by running you assume the role of prey. If the bear does not seem to be aggressive, you can slowly walk away facing the bear at all times.   

If a black bear is getting too close for comfort, or charging, make yourself as big as possible by putting your arms out and spreading your legs. Grab anything that can make loud noise (i.e. pots, pans, etc.), and bang them together. If there is nothing for you to grab, yell at the bear. Black bears are known to be scared away by loud noises.

Out of all the species of bear, black bears are the most proficient climbers. I personally have heard stories of black bears going up trees to get to hunters in tree stands! If you must climb to escape, try to climb to where the branches are too weak to hold the bear.

A black bear may "bluff" charge multiple times before actually attacking and may decide to not attack if they deem you not worth the effort. If the bear rears up on it hind legs, it is checking out the situation rather than preparing for an attack. Stand your ground, but be ready with bear spray or sticks to fend off the bear if it does decide to attack. 

This method may work in situations with brown bears, but if you are being attacked by a black bear you should fight back. If you play dead during a black bear attack you are as good as dead. Black bears are very skittish, and fighting back might be enough to scare them off. 

Bear spray may seem like overkill in Virginia mountains, but it is the most effective method for deterring a bear from attacking. Bear spray can be purchased at most outdoor stores from about $25-$50. Most bear sprays can shoot from 20-30 feet. The spray is more effective than a handgun in stopping bear attacks and also can be used to protect yourself from people if necessary. 

These guidelines are not the end all be all on what to do during a bear encounter. Every situation is unique and no method is guaranteed to work. Just remember to respect wildlife by giving animals their space and you will have a better chance of staying safe.

Please do not let his article scare you from getting out into nature! Most bears avoid confrontation when possible, bears have ample opportunities to attack humans and they choose not to. You can help yourself and others avoid bear confrontations by following these safetey guidelines:

  • Do not feed bears.
  • Do not encourage them to come into your campsite (store food hanging in a bear bag and away from camp).
  • Keep your dogs on leash when in bear territory.
  • Travel in groups being sure to make plenty of noise.

Black bears have been seen on Liberty Mountain and due to lack of food have been known to roam into Lynchburg. There was even a bear sighting on Wards Rd! If you spend enough time in the mountains you will definitely come across a black bear, and when you do we hope it is safe and inspiring!