There may be over 700,000 black bears that occupy most states in the U.S. plus Canada and northern Mexico. Since sightings have been on the rise in a few states (Washington state has hundreds of reported sightings per year), be aware of your surroundings whenever you are in forested wilderness.
Where You are More Likely to See a Bear
Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, Colorado, Wisconsin
Where You are Least Likely to See a Bear
Appearance and Abilities
N. Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Delaware, Rhode Island, Indiana, Iowa
Black bears are not only black, but also can be blonde, cinnamon, chocolate, reddish, blue-gray or blue-black in color. The bridge of their nose is straight and they have a fairly straight shoulder to rump profile. They are 4 to 6 ft. long and are 2 ½ to 3 ft. high at the shoulder. A male can weigh anywhere between 125 and 600 lbs. (average weight is 250 lbs.) and the female weighs between 90 to 300 lbs., mostly depending on the availability of food. Bears have very good hearing and sense of smell (detecting food scents from over 2 miles away). They can see fairly well in the dark and have an impressive long-term memory, finding their way around many square miles better than most GPS deprived people can.
Diet and Hibernation
Black bears need at least 20,000 calories per day in the fall to build fat stores for their time of hibernation or torpor (where their heart rate and breathing slow and body temperature drops a bit). Since bears do not technically hibernate, they can be roused out of their sleep during the winter during warm spells and may look for food briefly. So encounters at any time of the year are possible, but most human-bear contact is during the summer months. The duration of a bear's torpor is usually about five months, but it depends on the growing season and food availability of each region. So bears in Florida may not hibernate at all whereas bears in Alaska are nestled in their dens for many months. You can find dens in caves, tree roots and in piles of logs and brush.
If you see a black bear and it sees you and stops what it was doing, you have invaded its personal space. Back up slowly, holding your jacket or something over your head to look larger. Speak softly to help the bear distinguish you as human. Give the bear lots of room to go where it wants, stepping off the path if necessary.
Many bears will get on their hind legs and sniff the air to gather more data on you. Then they may just walk away. Agitated black bears often clack their teeth, make loud blowing noises, and swat the ground. Both young cubs and adults may charge a person when feeling threatened, then stop suddenly and turn to one side, in an attempt to intimidate you and make you back off. If charged, stand your ground to meet the bluff, then keep walking slowly backwards. Whatever you do, don't run because that can embolden the bear and it may chase you. Since a black bear can run up to 30 mph, you don't stand a chance in that scenario.
If the bear keeps heading toward you, it may be considering you as prey (usually just those that are starving or injured will think of eating you). Start hollering and get aggressive, throwing things. You can try climbing a tree, but the bear could follow right after you. If physically attacked, fight back with any handy object. I once read about a young woman who escaped the claws of a bear because she stunned it by elbowing it in the nose. You have a chance of surviving.
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