Return To AT TrailQuest Home Page
Return to PCT TrailQuest Home Page
Return to CDT TrailQuest Home Page
My ebooks A Dark Wind of Vengeance, Blood Beyond the Abyss and The Second Layer of Hell (apocalyptic fiction) are now available for download. They are the first three installments in the Path of Survival series. To see additional information, click here .
This page will be used to provide information concerning bears, specifically their behavior and habits. Emphasis will be placed on learning to travel as safely as possible through bear habitat while on foot.
Bear stories, incident reports, links to other articles on the Internet and any other information, opinions or advice about bears or safe travel through their territory can be posted here.
Send your contributions to me as e-mail at
Articles About Bears
What I Know About Bears - Written By Rainmaker
Bears & Bright Colors - Submitted By Rainmaker
Human Fatality In Smokies - Submitted By Rainmaker
Bear Encounter At Eagle Creek - By Carol Wellman
"Nightmare" The Yosemite Bear - By David Mauldin
My Encounters With Grizzlies - By John Reed
Why I No Longer Talk To Bears - By David Mauldin
My Alaska Grizzly Encounters - By David Mauldin
Yosemite Bear Encounters - By Randy Miller
John Reed's "Save The Black Bears" Site
American Black Bears
Appalachian Bear Center (ABC)
American Bear Association (ABA)
International Assoc. Of Bear Reserarch & Management
North American Bear Center
"Nightmare" The Yosemite Bear
-- By David Mauldin
From My 1999 PCT Journal:
Jul 24 - Left Tuolumne Meadows and hiked past meadows, granite peaks and waterfalls to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp. There are several couples camped to my left, and a young Japanese couple camped to my right. Just before sundown, a very large cinnamon colored black bear tried to enter the camp of the couples on my left. They yelled and threw rocks, but the bear wouldn't leave. Finally, one man charged the bear, yelling and throwing rocks as he ran toward it. I held my breath. Its not something I would have done, but it worked. Instead of attacking, the bear ran away. Knowing that this bear could be bluffed would be important later. I've had a few bear incidents; about 10 years ago I was bluff charged by a female black bear with cubs in the Smokies. And a few years ago, a grizzly and I surprised each other in a thicket near the McKinley River in Alaska (I tell folks that I was the most scared, but he jumped the highest). And, I've lived in black bear country for 12 years, and I frequently observe them on and near my property during summer when the berries are ripe.
However, up to this point, I had spent hundreds of nights backpacking in both grizzly and black bear country without ever having a bear enter my camp in the middle of the night. Although I didn't know it at the time, my luck was about to run out.
Jul 25 - Last night was exciting, to say the least. Soon after the couples on my left had chased the bear away, I went into my tent for the night, trying to convince myself that the bear had been driven off, and that he wouldn't be back. The mesh door on my tent was zipped because of mosquitoes, but it was a warm, clear, moonlit night, so the storm door had been left open.
Just as I was dozing off, I thought I saw the head and shoulders of a bear enter my line of vision from the left. Instinctively, I slapped the side of my tent, and yelled "Hey!!". The shape I'd seen disappeared, and I thought I might have heard something brush my nylon tent. Fully awake, I looked around. Nothing. Had my mind conjured up the bear image? Had I been dreaming? Had it just been a shadow cast in the moonlight? I wasn't sure. I tried to convince myself that my eyes were just playing tricks on me, and managed to go to sleep.
Just before midnight, I was awakened by loud "sniffing" noises. I looked outside, and hoped that I wasn't seeing what I thought I was seeing. I blinked, rubbed my eyes and looked again. No doubt about it, the second largest black bear I've ever seen was at my door, and sniffing my pack that was lashed to my tent frame (there's no room for the pack inside). All food items were safely stored away from camp, but there were probably all kind of odors on and in my pack. I could have easily reached outside and touched the bear, it was less than two feet away from my head. I knew that I was probably only a few seconds away from having my pack or tent slashed. Without really thinking about it, I quickly opened the zipper on the mesh door as loudly as I could, slammed by hand down on my pack, and yelled, "GET OUT OF HERE!!" as loudly as I could.
Regardless of what one thinks of bears, their startle reflex is something to behold, easily double that of a human. It jumped straight up in the air, ran a short distance and stopped. I didn't realize until later that when I slammed my hand down on my pack, that my hand and the bear's mouth had been only inches apart. I don't remember getting out of my tent, but the next thing I remember, the bear and I were facing each other from a distance of about 15 feet. He was clearly visible in the moonlight. Nothing happened for a few seconds, then he took a few steps toward my tent. Hoping it was the same bear that had been chased off earlier, I made a kind of "lunge" toward it and shouted at it again. It worked; the bear ran away and disappeared.
A few minutes later, I heard a woman scream, and then a man shouting what sounded like insults and threats in a foreign language. I figured that the bear, whom I dubbed Nightmare, was giving the official "Welcome To Yosemite" to the young Japanese couple camped on my right. Nightmare was indeed making the rounds. Things quieted down after that. I believe the bear went to everyone's camp, satisfied itself that no food was available, then took the rest of the night off. Thankfully, no one was injured. When I packed up and left camp, the Japanese couple was still in their tent, all their shoes neatly lined up just outside their door. They would have quite a story to tell to their friends and relatives in Japan when they returned home, which would probably be very soon.
Hiked 15 miles to Matterhorn Canyon and camped near a creek, up in some rocks. Its almost as beautiful as Yosemite Valley, however, its total lack of RV campgrounds and development of any kind make it even more attractive, to me, than Yosemite Valley. There are no metal food lockers or bear poles in this section of the park, and since I have no bear resistant food container, (they are too heavy, and don't hold enough food for long-distance hikers) I will be in violation of park rules the rest of the time that I am in Yosemite. I will probably spend as much time avoiding the rangers as I do the bears. I will bury my food bag under rocks tonight about 20 feet from my tent. Far enough away to be safe, but close enough to defend my food if I have to. I can't even imagine getting caught out here with all my food gone. The simple fact of life is this: Any hiker who is not prepared to defend his or her food shouldn't be out here. I don't expect to get much sleep tonight.
Bear Encounter At Eagle Creek
-- By Carol Wellman
From Brawny�s PCT journal of August 7, 2001 (Eagle Creek Trail, south of Cascade Locks, OR):
We got on the trail by a normal 7:30 a.m. after hot steaming coffee and cream cheese on a bagel. Strolling along past waterfalls, ahead of Rainmaker, both of us were enjoying the ripe thimbleberries along the edge of the trail.
I rounded one curve and thought I heard some noises down in a small canyon, thinking it was people and what on earth were they doing down there. The trail was narrow ledge, dropping off into the canyon, the wall rising straight up on my left. I continued munching trailside berries, rounded a bend, when suddenly heard something going swish by my right sholder. I thought something had brushed my pack and turned to look. Glancing back, I saw a black shape just next to the tree at the trail's edge. "David, a bear!" I looked up, and saw her cub in the tree that was so close I could touch it.
I began backing up, clicking my hiking poles together as a million thoughts raced through my mind. What on earth? Is that a bear? How on earth did I not see her? Oh my god, I just walked right past a mother bear and cub. Not wanting David to walk past her as I did, I called several times, David, a bear! She raised up, looking very angry and began to huff and woof at me. I kept backing up, looking behind at the trail so I wouldn't fall off it, hoping also that I wasn't backing into another bear. I couldn't yell, I have no idea why not, but just kept watching as I anticipated her bluff charge. A bluff charge, I asked myself? Is there any room for a bluff charge? All my senses were getting ready for it, and I was determined not to run.
Rainmaker (David) around the bend, was calling to me, "Carol, don't run! Don't run." Because of the waterfall we couldn't hear each other, and we had no idea what the other was doing. He had seen the cub scurry up the tree, and knew I was just up ahead. He kept advancing on the mother bear, yelling to me, hoping I could hear, hoping she would become confused, perhaps be distracted, and even turn her attention to him. Finally, she dropped on all fours, and ran off down into the canyon. Her cub soon followed. Then Rainmaker came around the bend.
We held each other close for awhile, reliving it, telling our experiences over and over. I have never had anyone risk their life for me before. I don't think I ever had anyone who was willing to. It�s something I will never forget.
Safe and sound we continued on the Eagle Creek Trail, a marvelous section which brings one past Tunnel Falls, and unpaintable beauty.
Yosemite Bear Encounters
-- By Randy Miller
In September 2000, a group of us Louisiana hikers treked from Toulumne
Meadows to Yosemite. Taking all bear precautions, we used bear canisters, and kept our tent sites and backpacks void of odor giving sents while camped.
On the second night out, as we slept, bears roamed through our tent sites sniffing backpacks, with one pack being torn and another being nibbled on.
The following day, after finishing another wonderful day on the trail we set up camp for the night. Tents pitched, dinner cooked and consumed, we sat around the campfire to discuss our day on the trail. Then, as if she owned the territory, a black bear stealthily sneaked up behind us, grabbed zip lock bags of sugar, coffee, and cocoa and ran off.
She did not go far, approxamately 30 to 40 yards. She then laid down and tore into (and eagerly licked) the sugar and cocoa while passing on the coffee.
Physically we were not harmed, but the thought of such a bold bear coming into our campsite near the fire caused this hiker and some others to be concerned.
It appears that they have no real fear of humans.
Respect should be given to them, and continued use of bear canisters is a must.
My Alaska Grizzly Encounters
-- By David Mauldin
After thru-hiking the AT in 1992, I was still having some foot problems in 1993. I wanted an adventure that summer, but I didn�t want to hike too far with my backpack to get it. So, I decided to spend a month in Alaska, taking a series of short backpacking trips to wilderness areas. When my trip was in its planning stages, I intended to put myself in grizzly country, but I had no intention of actually seeking out the grizzlies. In the end, though, that is exactly what happened. I wanted adventure and I got it.
I intentionally saved Denali National Park for my last destination in Alaska. The way I figured it, the place is so beautiful, and has so much wildlife, that if I had seen it first, I might have been disappointed in the other areas I visited. So, I arrived in Denali only a few days before my scheduled departure back to the �Lower 48�. By this time, it was late August. The mosquitoes were mostly gone, but snow was slowly creeping down the sides of the mountains. As a resident Alaskan told me, �By the time the snow gets down to the valleys, you�ll want to be back in Atlanta�. The days were getting shorter and the nights cooler. Fall really isn�t much in Alaska, but there was some color out on the tundra. As one of the bus drivers said, �Fall is beautiful in Alaska, especially if it occurs on a week-end�.
I spent my first few days getting familiar with Denali. The place is huge; about 8 million acres, 4 times larger than Yellowstone National Park. No cars are allowed in the interior of the park, only park service buses. At the time, a one week park admission fee of $3 also bought unlimited rides on the buses. During one bus ride to Wonder Lake (about 85 miles one way), I heard the driver tell a park ranger, �The bears are all coming down to the gravel bars for the soapberries�. Gravel bars are large open areas on either side of glacier fed rivers.
On my map, the largest gravel bar in the park was a few miles from Wonder Lake, along the McKinley River. Navigation appeared to be fairly simple; get off the bus at the end of the line (Wonder Lake), take a trail a mile or so until it ended, then use my compass to find the river and gravel bar. I would then camp in the trees near the river, with the beautiful Alaska Range and Mt. Kinley shimmering in the distance, about 12 miles away. The stuff of which backpackers dreams are made.
The next day, I had my permit, USPS bear canister and food for 3 days in my Kelty backpack. When I told the bus driver at Wonder Lake that I was staying, and going down to the McKinley River for a few days, there was a long silence. This was the same driver who�d told the park ranger about the bears and the gravel bars. Very quietly and seriously he said, �Watch for bears�. I told him that was exactly what I was going to do.
I found the �trail� without too much difficulty. Actually, it was an old roadbed that ended in a bog after about a mile. I took a compass bearing on the river, which ran from left to right two miles directly in front of me, and resumed hiking. Navigation was actually easy; Mt. McKinley was pretty hard to miss, and I knew the river was between me and the mountain. After a while, I put away my compass and just hiked through the sparse woods toward the mountain.
An hour later, I was at the edge of the woods, and very close to the gravel bar. The view was expansive and panoramic; a vast open area lying directly in front of me, then the McKinley River, and then several miles of tundra. Beyond that, the vast Alaska Range of mountains, with Mt. McKinley near the middle. It was a rare, clear day. I could see Mt. McKinley from top to bottom.
As I walked along the edge of the gravel bar looking for a place to camp in the trees, I noticed lots of ripe soapberries. I also noticed many grizzly tracks. As I put up my tent, I remembered that old sage, �Beware of what you ask for in life, because you might just get it�. This was going to be fun, or so I hoped.
After making camp, and as I walked downwind about 100 yards to find a place to stash my bear canister, I nearly stepped in the largest pile of bear droppings I�d ever seen. They were fresh, too. After stashing the canister, I walked back to camp, then out onto the gravel bar. I had walked only about 10 minutes when movement caught my eye. Off to my right, about 125 yards away, a grizzly was running away from me. I watched the magnificent creature until it disappeared in the brush. I looked around. No other bears. No other people. It was just me, the bear and the vast Alaskan wilderness. I�d had my first �grizzly encounter�, and I could feel the rush of adrenalin. Little did I know that the �fun� had just begun.
I actually slept pretty well that night. All my food was stored safely downwind of my camp. I probably should have been more concerned than I was, since my little camp was made directly in the vicinity of bear tracks and droppings. However, after watching the sunset and alpenglow on Mt. McKinley, I had a feeling that things were going to be fine. I snuggled into my down bag and was quickly asleep.
The next day, I explored several miles upstream and then downstream from my camp. I saw lots more tracks, and one additional grizzly. It was a very similar encounter to the one the previous day, except the bear was farther away. It scented me or heard me before it saw me, and ran away. I felt the now familiar adrenalin rush as I walked back to camp.
In grizzly country, I store my food canister at least 100 yards downwind from camp, and cook another 100 yards downwind from the where the canister is stored. The canisters make nice backcountry stools, and I was sitting on it as I fired up my trusty old Svea 123 and began cooking supper. I was in a little clearing, surrounded by alder bushes and small trees. While my stove was going, I heard a twig snap. Then another. I turned down the stove so I could hear better. A chill went up my spine as I heard massive footsteps moving slowly toward me. I had to think quickly. If this was a bear, and it wanted me for dinner, it probably would have charged. Most likely, it had heard the stove or smelled the food and was just coming to investigate. If it walked into the clearing, it would be too close and could be startled when it saw me. A few long seconds passed, and I made the decision to stand up to see what was there, and also, if it was a bear, to alert it of my presence before it got any closer. I stood up, and found myself looking at a large grizzly, about 50 feet away. Actually, the bear and I saw each other at about the same time. I have said later that I was the most scared, but he jumped the highest. It jumped straight up in the air at least a foot. Anyone who says animals don�t have expressions has never faced a perturbed (and probably embarrassed) grizzly from a distance of 50 feet. After he glared at me for several long seconds, he gave out a loud �Woof!�. At that point, I think all my bodily fluids headed for the nearest exit. I tried to remain calm and remember everything I knew about bear encounters. I knew not to run, though every fiber of my being was trying to make me do just that. I turned my head away so the bear would know that I wasn�t challenging it. I also began slowly backing away. In this situation, the park rangers had said hikers should wave their arms and say something, which should help the bear to identify me as being human, so I did that, too. As I was backing away, the bear slowly began to walk toward me. After taking a few steps, it �woofed� again. Then, it stopped. A few seconds later, it turned and ran away. I just stood and watched where the bear had been. About 30 seconds later, my head was pounding and I was feeling faint. It was at that point that I realized I had stopped breathing. I tried to start breathing again, and my first effort failed. Finally, and with much effort, I was able to resume breathing. Oh, boy, was I breathing; hyperventilating is more like it. It took several minutes for me to get my pulse and breathing back to anything that approached normal. However, I later finished cooking my supper and even managed to eat.
I remember feeling very calm several hours after the bear encounter. I believe that I thought I had successfully alerted every grizzly in the area of my presence, and that they had chosen to leave me alone. Maybe they thought I was foraging for berries, too, and that there was enough to go around. At any rate, surprisingly I again slept very well.
The next morning when I was cooking breakfast, I saw two young grizzlies walk out on the gravel bar about 125 yards away. They were identical, and I judged them to be brothers, probably recently cut loose from their mother. I watched them forage for a while, then they got into a kind of wrestling match. It was just rough play, the way dogs will do, mock combat with some growling and snarling. It was a delight to watch. I could have watched them for hours, but I had to break camp and get back to Wonder Lake in time to catch the bus back to the hikers campground near the park entrance. So, I decided to alert the bears of my presence to avoid any more surprises. I stood up, whistled, said, �Hey, bears!� and waved my arms. I immediately got the attention of both bears. They stared in my direction for several seconds, then went back to their wrestling match.
I kept an eye on the them while I was packing up, but it was obvious they had no interest in me and wanted no trouble. They were still there when I took one last look at the beautiful setting, turned back into the woods and walked away.
My Encounters With Grizzly Bears
-- By John Reed
In late June 1996 my wife and I were staying at a cabin in B.C. Canada
on Shetler Lake, where Stewart's Lodge and Camps have a wilderness
outpost cabin. They fly out of Nimpo Lake where the main lodge is located.
One day I boated to the end of Shetler Lake and hiked up to Cruise Lake,
which is several miles from Shetler. The Stewart's have placed a row
boat there for fishing in Cruise Lake. My plan was to take this boat to the end of
Cruise Lake and then hike up to a third lake called Teepee. I had my
small one-man inflatable boat that I was going to use at Teepee to fish.
When I got to Cruise Lake I found that the row boat was chained to a tree and I had forgotten
the key. To salvage the day I decided to launch my one-man boat and fish Cruise Lake. After
doing so for an hour I returned to the shore and ate my lunch on the
overturned row boat. Later I decided to fish a while longer before returning to
the cabin. I went down to my boat and got in, and with my two hands on
the oars I looked up and there was this sow Grizzly and two yearling cubs poking their heads
over a small rise about 25 feet from me. How they got so close to me
without me knowing it is still a mystery. Instantly the two cubs went up a tree, and
instantly I rowed out into the lake about 75 feet from shore. The
mother Grizzly kind of looked confused, but she never showed any hostility toward me.
The cubs came down after a bit, and the three bears dug for roots and
played on the shore. I watched them for 45 minutes. Once the mother
came down to the water and put her rear end into the lake to get wet. The mother would
forget about me, and then sort of rediscover me. This happened several
times. They slowly worked their way around the lake about 200 yards. I followed them
cautiously in the boat and watched them with amazement. Then they
started to work their way back. At which point I started to worry a bit, because I did not want
them to get between me and the trail back to Shetler Lake.
I paddled back to the shore where some of my gear was, got out of the
lake, deflated and packed my boat. The bears were about 150 yards from
me. All of a sudden the mother bear went up on her hind legs, and I think smelled
me. She dropped down, and all three bears ran up the hill into the
woods. I left, but came back several days later (there was a big rain storm that lasted for
several days), but no bears were around. I had originally forgotten to
take my camera with me, and I wanted to take some photos of the site. I also had the key to the
boat chain and went up to Teepee Lake (the fishing was great!). I
should have known that there were Grizzly bears around as I saw lots of bear scat on the trail near
Cruise Lake back toward Shetler Lake.
My emotional state at the time of seeing the bears was pure
exhilaration. Except for my worry at the end, when I was concerned that
the bears would get between me and Shetler Lake, I had very little fear. Afterwards, it has been a
different story. I replay the whole scene over and over again like a
motion picture. I feel like I had this rare once in a lifetime opportunity, but I worry that I was
just lucky not to have gotten hurt or killed.
Then again in June 2000, I was fishing on Whitton Creek. (near Nimpo Lake)
and I looked up and there was a huge Grizzly bear about 100 ft. upstream
walking slowing toward me and looking down. My instant reaction was
that this bear doesn't know that I was there. So I yelled "Hey" and the
bear immediately, without looking up, turned and slowly walked into the
bush penpendicular to the steam. The whole incident lasted about 10
seconds. That was the last time that I saw him, as I quickly left the
area and went back to the cabin on Davidson Lake where I was staying.
In July 2004, My wife and I stayed at a wilderness cabin that Stewart's Lodge has on Davidson Lake, British Columbia. After my wife on the dock took my photo while I sat in a boat I looked round and saw a grizzly bear sniffing the grass on the lake shore about 150 yards from us. I yelled to my wife to take a photo of the bear which she did, but the bear took off and wasn't seen again.
We were back to Davidson Lake in June/July 2005. There was a big fire last year in the canyon to the north, which displaced the animals so the area around Davidson Lake had many more critters roaming around. I saw grizzly bears (2), moose, deer and eagles. I got some photos of one of the grizzly bears (see URL:www.johnreedfamily.com/GrizzlyBear/). I was in a boat with a 6 HP motor so I felt relatively safe. The second grizzly I saw at Reed lake which is a small lake located upstream from Avalanche Lake. I had gone there three times and saw some relatively fresh bear scat early in the week. On my last trip a 5-7 yr. old grizzly jumped out of the meadow near the lake and let out a painful screech as it bolted downstream. It was chocolate brown with silver streaks in its collar.
Why I No Longer Talk To Bears
Mount LeConte, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is one of my favorite places. I made my first trip there in 1956, when I was 9 years old. Despite the loss of the once magnificent fir trees because of acid rain, the place still has a magical and haunting beauty that keeps drawing me back. However, this is not a story about me or a mountain. It's a story about a bear.
I was on a fall backpacking trip several years ago and staying at the shelter on Mt. LeConte. The shelters in the Smokies are native stone on three sides with a tin roof and a chain link front and gate. Just before dark, the largest black bear I've ever seen arrived with three very small cubs. While the large female was searching for food scraps, I opened the gate just far enough to take some pictures. With startling speed and agility, the bear made a sudden lunge for the open doorway, apparently trying to get inside the shelter for the food she knew was there. I managed to get the gate closed and locked in time, but just barely. At that point, I figured I had about all the bear pictures I wanted.
Early the next morning, I was picking blackberries in the thicket adjacent to the shelter. Movement caught my eye and, at the same time, sent a chill up my spine. I saw the three cubs first, then their mother. She was 50 feet away and my heart sank as I realized that she was positioned directly between me and the shelter.
I had heard that talking in soothing tones could be helpful in this type situation, so I said, "Good morning, darlin" in the cheeriest tone I could muster. When I saw her lower her head and put her ears back, I knew I'd made a mistake. Without further warning, she charged. To this day, I do not know if I was being brave, stupid, or was just frozen with fear, but I didn't move. At the last second, though, I did close my eyes and turn my head. The dreaded impact did not occur, however, and slowly I opened my eyes and looked around. "Darlin" had pulled up short and was standing about five feet away. My fellow backpackers, safe and secure in the shelter, watched the unfolding drama with keen interest and a sense of detachment, sort of like spectators at a tennis match. The cubs were also watching, one even standing on his back legs, apparently to get a better view of Mama's Latest Caper.
Clearly, the next move was mine and I considered my options. Most of the other backpackers were young and inexperienced, and I sensed they were anxious to see how an adept and seasoned veteran handled this situation. Perhaps that is why I did not curl up in a fetal position and begin begging for help. I thought about it, but felt that my best bet was to get back inside the shelter as soon as I could. I also remember thinking that I was THROUGH talking to bears. I slowly made a wide detour and walked toward the shelter as calmly as possible. The good news was that the bear did not attack. The bad news was that she followed me.
The door had been opened for me and, as I walked in, I quickly slammed the gate in the bear's face for the second time in 12 hours. I was locking the gate when someone yelled, "Look out!" I instinctively jumped back, just in time to see the bear's paw, complete with three inch claws extended, slashing the air where my leg had been a second before. She had reached inside through the six inch gap between the chain link fence and the gate. The large bear glared at us for a while and then paced back and forth in front of the shelter for a few minutes. She then gathered her cubs and left. I was shaken, but unhurt.
That could have been the end of the story, but it wasn't. Several years later, I read an article about a large female black bear that had been terrorizing backpackers and hikers near the shelter on Mt. LeConte. The park service had trapped and relocated the troublemaker to a Wildlife Management Area in north Georgia where bear hunting is popular. The old girl had not lasted long in her new domain, but she had gone out doing what she loved most. She had been ransacking a bear hunters' camp in the middle of the night when one of the surprised and very frightened hunters had ended her rampage and her life with a shotgun blast.
The pictures I took of her and the cubs, which are shown below, turned out pretty well. When I look at them now, I can't help but notice the large bear's defiant stance. I really like the photo that shows all three cubs. Time, and a few more bear encounters, has mellowed my feelings about what happened that morning. From the bear's point of view, she came home with her three children to find a stranger in her kitchen eating her and her hungry children's food. Looking at it from that angle, it could be said that she showed a great deal of restraint in dealing with the problem.
Going to Mt. LeConte in the fall is sort of a ritual with me, though with the absence of "Darlin" the place doesn't seem quite so wild. I actually miss the old matriarch and the wilderness experience somehow is not the same without her. I no longer have butterflies in my stomach or the dryness in my mouth when I approach the shelter. My pulse no longer quickens, and I'm probably not as alert to my surroundings. Sometimes, though, when I'm picking berries early in the morning, I can't help looking around, making sure the coast is clear. At times, I feel there's something out there watching me. Maybe there is and maybe there's not. However, there may just be "cub" out there, full grown now, perhaps standing on his back legs for a better look, watching this strange creature stealing his food and not liking it one bit. One can only hope.
Fatality In Great Smoky Mtns. Natl. Park, USA
Submitted By Rainmaker
In May 2000, a human fatality occurred in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,
apparently caused by two black bears. This excellent article was forwarded to me by
Swinky. He saw it at the "A Walk In The Woods" site, and it was written by Erik Plakanis.
"According to Park Service trackers, what probably happened was the sow
and her cub came across the woman while she was laying down, maybe
napping. They made contact, and then the woman got up and ran a short
distance. The sow caught her and brought her down. She got up again,
and was cornered by the two bears when the fatality occurred.
Her daypack was untouched. The bears were not large. The sow weighed
112 lbs and the yearling weighed 40. The average summer weight of a sow
in the Park is about 175, but 150 is pretty much expected in May. This
particular sow had three cubs heading into last winter, but was down to
one this spring. The fall acorn crop was poor and a lot of bears went
into den underweight. However, many bears starve to death in the Park,
and there has never been a case of human predation before in the entire
People have reported that the bear's posturing over the body was proof
of predation. I am not an expert on black bear predation, but I will
say that when a bear gets a hold of a backpack, it claims it. It is a
very foolish and difficult task to retrieve a backpack from a black bear
once it begins eating the contents. From what I heard about the
behavior of the animals while they were trying to recover the body, it
is in line with the behavior I have seen surrounding a claimed pack.
Outside of the loss to the family and community for this very respected
teacher, one of the most disturbing aspects of this is that by all
indications, this was a truly wild and natural bear. We are all taught
that in its wild and natural state, a black bear associates human beings
with death, destruction and all things bad. When made aware of the
presence of humans, a black bear will leave the area. Normally what is
required to alter this behavior, is for the animal to be corrupted by
exposure to human food or garbage. After a few positive experiences,
they begin to associate humans with food and lose there fear. This is
when they usually become a nuisance and pose a danger to people and
property. Once a bear gets habituated to human food in the Park, their
life expectancy drops to less than a year.
Historically, however, somewhere around 90% of black bear caused
fatalities are from animals completely in their wild and natural state.
In fact, when it comes to fatalities, it seems that lack of experience
with human beings is a bigger contributor; they simply do not know what
dangerous animals humans are.
Does this incident mark a change in black bear behavior to human
beings? No. With somewhere between 500,000 and 750,000 black bears in
North America, and at least 350,000,000 humans, fatal black bear attacks
are still one of the rarest events in nature. In recorded history,
there have only been a total of 43 fatal black bear attacks in all of
North America. In the Great Smoky Mountains NP alone, we get 10 million
people a year coming through an 800 square mile area with a black bear
population of over 1,800 animals. Feeding bears food from their hands,
chasing cubs through the woods with video cameras, mobs surrounding
trees a family of bears has taken refuge in, restaurants baiting bears
for the viewing pleasure of their guests ... these are just some
examples of ridiculous behavior that takes place every year with
surprisingly little cost in human lives.
Do we need to change our behavior towards black bears? No. Black bears
demand respect, but not fear from backcountry users. While in the
backcountry we are visiting their home. Taking proper precautions with
food, enjoying sightings of these animals from a respectful distance,
leaving bear cubs alone, these things will continue to provide safe
enjoyable backcountry experiences for millions of users. Please do not
take firearms into the Great Smoky Mountains NP. It is against the law,
and you will be bringing in a real danger to battle imaginary ones. If
you are too concerned to feel safe in the Park without a gun, you
probably do not need to be there.
The ongoing rumors concerning foul play stem from three sources: 1. The
fact that a fatal black bear attack had never before occurred in the
Southeast. 2. The fact that the woman was out with her ex-husband (in
the process of reconciling). 3. The long time interval between initial
contact and contacting the Park Service. These rumors will persist for
at least a couple more months; on Friday the coroner announced he will
not release any preliminary findings from the victim's autopsy until the
final report is completed 2 to 3 months from now.
A committee of Park Service employees, the trackers, and bear experts
from around the country will study the results from the woman's autopsy,
the bear's necropsy, and the tracker's report to produce a final report
on the incident later this year."
John Reed's "Save The Black Bears" Site
American Black Bears
Appalachian Bear Center (ABC)
American Bear Association (ABA)
International Assoc. Of Bear Reserarch & Management
North American Bear Center
Cruelty To Bears In China
Bears & Bright Colors
Submitted By Rainmaker
The following is an excerpt from a magazine article concerning how bears seem to be attracted to bright colors. I believe the original article appeared in "Backpacker" in late 2000 or early 2001:
Some nights, Tom Smith has counted 30 bears around his tent. Granted, he works in Alaska's Katmai National Park, a sanctuary more densely populated with grizzlies than anywhere else on Earth. He has instinctively sensed the value of "blending in." He feels that bears are extremely curious animals, therefore, any novelty in sight, scent, or sound is likely to grab their attention and tempt them to investigate.
Smith's logic was dramatically confirmed when his boss ordered a switch to camouflage shelters because he didn't like the "visual scar" their garish tents painted on the quiet landscape. Bear visitation to the camps decreased markedly. He noted that it didn't take a genius to realize that the bright, yellow and blue tents had been attracting bears.
No scientific studies had been conducted to test color vision in brown (grizzly) bears. However, another wildlife biologist, Kellie Pierce, had been told by Yupik Eskimos not to wear red, orange, or other bright colors, or else the bears would cause him problems. So, Smith conducted some field trials. His findings indicated that grizzlies can indeed distinguish colors.
Out on the tundra, he erected several brightly colored panels. While research is still going on, preliminary results are consistent with earlier indications; he believes that camouflage is the safest choice. Since he knows that some wilderness wanderers view brightly colored tents as a safety necessity, he suggests a compromise. He believes the best choice for tents is a camouflaged rainfly with a brightly covered tent. With the fly in place, the tent is camouflaged; without it, the tent becomes a rescue symbol that can be easily spotted.
He's also found that bears do indeed investigate novelties within their environment. A large, unbroken color pattern, such as a tent, even in natural colors, stands out as odd and may pique a bear's curiosity. In the forest, visual cues aren't so critical, he feels. But out on the tundra, where you see for miles, they are. Worse yet, we love to camp on high, exposed places with a view, thereby offering bears a panoramic view of us.
Along with testing their vision, Smith is also looking into the auditory curiosity of bears. After constructing a blind atop a 70-foot cliff, he connected a line to a bear bell he tied in a bush beside a game trail directly below. When bears came by, he yanked the string, and the bell rang. He reports that in 15 trials, not a single bear investigated the bell, or even turned to look at it. However, when Smith snapped a twig from his hiding place, it got the immediate attention of every bear, with reactions ranging from freezing in place and being acutely alert, to running away. Similar responses were observed when Smith vocalized a "huff!", yet the bell was consistently ignored, no matter how loudly it was jangled. Smith feels that the bears mistake the bells for some kind of weird bird, but that the twigs snapping suggest the presence of another bear. He says that bears are very much concerned about the approach of other bears. He also added that if others want to assume that every grizzly that is encountered will have had enough contact with bell-wearing hikers to make the connection, that was their choice, but that he wasn't so trusting.
Smith relies on shouting and hand-clapping to alert bears of his presence. He feels that clapping is especially effective because it approximates the sound of a stick breaking, and your voice and hands are always with you, cost nothing, and can be used only when needed, rather than constantly disrupting the natural soundscape with bells.
So, to sum up grizzly-country safety, evidence is mounting that tinkle bells, bright colors, and conspicuous campsites are likely bad choices.
But what about the shy and ubiquitous black bear? (Note from Rainmaker - If this guy thinks black bears are shy, he's never been to the Smokies or to Yosemite.) While few hikers go belled in black bear country, or need to, color and location still count. When setting out "camera traps" during field studies for the Colorado State Division of Wildlife, black bear biologist Tom Beck mounted the delicate infrared transmitters in lengths of sky blue plastic pipe for protection. Repeatedly, Beck reports, he saw black bears spot the specks of color from a distance, abandon what they were doing, and come to investigate. In close, they seemed even more interested in the odd color and shape of the pipe than in the rotten fish that was used as bait.
Also, the researchers say they've seen both species of bear visually lock onto brightly dressed humans from a half mile away. While granting that most black bears are less bold than grizzlies, both researchers agree in advising that blend-in camps, gear, and clothing are good bear-country safety precautions, and that they definitely improve the scenery.
What I Know About Bears
My first bear encounter came when I was 9 years old. My aunt had taken me to Mt. LeConte Lodge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Back in those days, the lodge had a garbage pit behind the dining area, and they dumped their food scraps there. The idea was that the guests could watch the bears during dinner. Times have changed. Anyway, not knowing any better, I tried to sneak up on a bear to get its picture. Things went pretty well for a while; I got to within about 30 feet of a medium size black bear before I snapped the shutter. The sound of the shutter startled it, and it jumped. The bear's sudden movement startled me, too, and we ended up running in opposite directions. But I got the photo.
Since then, I have had a kind of fascination with bears, and I've noticed that if we are in the same area, usually we will find each other. I've spent hundreds of nights camped in both grizzly and black bear country, and I've lived in prime bear habitat since 1988. During berry season, they frequently take "shortcuts" across my property, which is located in a national forest, only a short distance from a federal wilderness area.
I'm no bear expert, but I'd like to pass along some of the things I've observed, and some of the things that I've learned "the hard way" (okay; the first thing I learned was NOT to try to sneak up on bears to get photos).
I've noticed that people tend to stereotype bears, and I think that's a mistake. Bears are individuals, just like people. Most bears are "Woody Allen" and "Mother Teresa" bears, but there are a few "Clint Eastwood" and "John Wayne" make-my-day bears out there, too. It seems to have nothing to do with age, size or sex. I've seen some scrappy little yearlings, and I've seen some 300 and 400 pounders that would run at the sound of a tent zipper being opened.
Bears are not born with the knowledge that humans carry delicious food, and their mothers do not teach them that humans are something that they should eat. They don't think of humans as being a part of their diet. In addition, they don't know that hikers carry food unless the hikers get careless. Bears basically do only three things; they sleep, look for food and make little bears. If a bear is awake, it is hungry and looking for something to eat. Once they learn about the hiker / trail food connection, their life expectancy generally is less than a year. A fed bear is indeed a dead bear.
Concerning injuries to humans caused by black bears, the incidents usually involve one of four reasons:
1 - The bear was protecting its food
2 - The bear wanted the person's food
3 - The bear was protecting its cubs
4 - The bear was startled, and reacted instinctively
If you find yourself up close and personal with a bear, the worst possible thing that you could do is run. Think of it this way; the bear is the cat, and you are the mouse. Ever see a cat pounce on a mouse that tried to run from it? Basically, its the same thing. If you run, you are "prey". You stand a much better chance of avoiding physical contact with the bear if you slowly back away.
I'm convinced that bears take direct eye contact as a challenge. Ever see two dogs get ready to fight? They get nose to nose, and stare at each other. Its probably best to turn your head away, so the bear doesn't think you are challenging it.
Bears have an uncanny sense of smell. The Native Americans say that if a leaf falls in the forest, the eagle will see it, the deer will hear it, and the bear will smell it. You can't be too careful with food odors in the back country. Especially in areas where bear activity has been heavy, its best to keep nothing in your tent at night that could possibly attract them. This includes not only food, but deodorant, tooth paste, hand lotion, talcum powder, perfume, body lotion and anything else that could possibly smell unnaturally good to a bear.
A technique called "stealth camping" has evolved. Basically, this involves stopping to cook the evening meal late in the afternoon, then hiking several more miles before getting well off the trail and finding a campsite that is not used on a regular basis. I think its a great idea. If a bear has made the association between food and people, it will go where the people are. In my opinion, stealth camping will greatly reduce your chances of having a bear encounter. In fact, I believe it will just about eliminate it.
Bear canisters are probably the future concerning safeguarding food while hiking. The western black bears around Yosemite National Park have already figured out ways to defeat all systems that involve hanging food, and its just a matter of time until the rest of the bear population gets "educated", too. For now, hanging food in trees is still popular in the eastern US, but I expect that to change in a few years.
In my opinion, bears have a kind of "street mugger" mentality. If they have made the hiker / food connection, they may want what you have, but they don't want any hassles getting it. If a bear comes any closer than 10 - 15 feet, I think its time to let it know that I not going to be an easy mark. Its time to start shouting, waving arms, and throwing rocks and sticks. I would make exceptions only for a female with cubs, or if a bear was preparing to defend its food. In both cases, I would slowly back off. In the highly unlikely event that a black bear actually makes physical contact with you, you basically have two choices. You can roll up in the fetal position with your arms clasped around your neck with your back to the bear and play dead. Or, you can fight back. The choice is yours, but personally, I'd fight back. However, with a grizzly, fighting back would probably be futile; no one really knows for sure.
One other point, if a bear gets your food, the bear feels that it is no longer your food; it is his. If you make any attempt to retrieve it, the bear will defend the food just like it had been his from the beginning.
I've had 3 rather "serious" encounters. I was bluff charged by a female with 3 cubs in the Smokies years ago. It is truly amazing how fast they can move. In 1993, a grizzly and I surprised each other from a distance of 50 feet near the banks of the McKinley River in Denali National Park. I tell folks that I was the most scared, but the bear jumped the highest. It "woofed" at me twice, took a few steps in my direction, then turned and ran away. If I had run from it, there is no doubt in my mind that it would have come after me. In 1999, while section hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in Yosemite National Park, a large black bear came up to my tent door sniffing around in the middle of the night . I managed to scare it away, while being pretty darn scared myself.
In addition, at my present home, I've had bears on both my front and back porches. The one on the front porch apparently wanted only a drink of water from my dog's water dish. However, my dog, a large Black Lab named Stonewall, didn't wish to share. The resulting fracus was something between a Keystone Cops movie and a Three Stooges episode. However, there were no injuries, and to Stonewall's credit, the bear didn't get any of his water. The incident concerning the bear on the back porch was not so funny. It was after catfood, and did about $200 in damage to the screens and the porch contents when the catfood ran out. I was away on a trip at the time, but I learned my lesson about bears and keeping food outside.
When hiking or walking in bear country, be aware of wind direction. If the wind is at your back, your chances of surprising a bear are pretty small. However, if the wind is in your face, making some noise would be a good idea. I used to wear small bells, until I heard a Blackfoot Indian near Glacier National Park refer to them as "dinner bells". Now, I just sing or count out loud. I've also heard that hand-clapping is effective, but I haven't tried it.
We all know not to come between a mother bear and her cubs, however, on occasion, I have seen mother bears do nothing except send their cubs up trees and run away when they know humans are around. Probably an equally dangerous situation is unintentionally getting close to a bear's cached food supply. For instance, if you ever come upon a rancid dead animal half buried in leaves and dirt, I'd leave the area immediately. Bears will defend their food with just as much vigor as they will protect their cubs; maybe more.
In my opinion, education and respect are the keys to traveling safely in bear habitat. Bears think they "own" their turf, and if they live in a national park, they have never had any reason to fear anything, including humans. In their mind, we are "trespassers" who must be tolerated. However, the wilderness is a very safe place. You are 180 times more likely to be killed by a bee than a bear, and thousands of times more likely to die in a traffic accident. Most likely, your only bear "encounter" will be seeing the rear end of a rapidly departing bear in the brush someday. However, its best to know what to do, and what to expect. They are truly magnificent creatures, and they deserve our respect.