Black Bears and Safety Tips
The dangers of a bear encounter are always possible when you travel in Canada. I highly suggest that you add some bear reading material to your trip planning.
There are many resources available about black bears in Canada and my information pages are only an excerpt.
Although they are called black bears, colours can range from black to cinnamon brown, silver-blue and occasionally even white. The white bears are called “Spirit” or” Kermode” bears. The black bear has a straight face profile and NO shoulder hump, he has shorter and darker claws. Look for a combination of characteristics, colour and size between black bears and grizzly bears, colour and size are sometimes misleading.
Black bears have lost over 60 % of their historical range in North America. As human settlement increases, preserving large areas of undeveloped land where bears and other animals can thrive is vital. Other problems include a lack of food sources and water and denning sites.
Both black bears and grizzly bears hibernate in the winter. They eat enormous amounts of food in the autumn to prepare for this, to provide enough fat content to survive denning through the winter. When they emerge from the den in the spring, they are very hungry. Cubs are born in the winter den, so females in spring might have cubs with them, which they will defeat vigorously.
Black bears – what you should know
- eat mostly berries, nuts, grasses, carrion and insects
- have colour vision and a keen sense of smell
- are good tree climbers and swimmers
- very intelligent and curious
- weigh an average of 125 to 600 pounds
- go without food for up to 7 months during hibernation in northern ranges
- usually, give birth to 2 to 3 cubs during the mother’s sleep energy another year
- can live over 25 years in the wild (average age in the wild is 18)
- are typically shy and easily frightened
Avoid “Nuisance” Encounters in Bear Country
Black bears are highly intelligent and adaptable. They have a great capacity to live in close proximity to people and soon know, where there are people there is food. Led by a keen sense of smell, bears will naturally move to potential food sources found in the unsecured garbage, bird feeders, orchards, farm crops, pet food and compost piles. Food and fear drive black bear behaviour.
Prevention and how to be safe
- Properly store or secure all odorous food/non-food items when you’re in the backcountry. Use plastic bags to seal in odours and store garbage inside buildings. Keep the camp clean and burn all the garbage. Never store food inside a tent. If you must store food outside, hang it up to a tree at least 10 feet high, away from the tent.
- Don’t camp near a pathway, this also could be a pathway for bears
Should you encounter a Black Bear
Black bears usually avoid contact with humans. Any wild animal which is threatened, cornered or wounded will attack, so the best bear safety is prevention. Learn about the area and its wildlife before heading out. Black bears can run about40 km/hr so you can’t outrun them. You can’t out-swim them either. Learn before you go!
- Stay calm – Do not Run (running may trigger a chase response by the bear)
- Do not scream: Restrain your dog, don’t look the bear in the eye and talk in a soothing voice
- If the ber stands up, he is NOT going to attack but is curious and wants a better sniff and get a view
- Back away slowly, if bear chomps jaw, lunges or slaps ground or brush with paw, he feels threatened
- Slowly retreat from area or make wide detour around bear, don’t crowd and never block bear’s escape route
Bears are very strong and powerful animals, bears should always be treated with caution and respect. Bear attacks on humans are extremely rare. Most injuries from black bears occur when people try to feed, pet or crowd them.
The Night in the Chilcotin Mountains
During my years living at the edge of the wilderness, I have many bear stories to tell. Which makes me think about the time up in the Chilcotin Country.
Riding into camp after a full day in the saddle I was pretty pleased to see that there were enough tents for our group. I throw my saddle bag into the first tent I came to, while my fellow riders choice theirs and we all headed down to the campfire where we cooked some grub.
It was getting dark in the mountains, the two guides leading our trip were out moving the horses to some green pasture and stayed away for quite some time. It was quiet out there, with the horses gone we could only hear the water in the creek and our fire burn, and it was the ideal scene for some bear stories. As everybody started to realize that we were out there in the wild, without bear spray or gun, everybody got frightened.
The night ended when all of us, apart from the guides, were sharing my tent. Next morning I moved out and settled into a tent a bit distance from the rest. I convinced my tent buddies, that they were safe by themselves for another night.