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Bear Safety

The question most asked by my non- hiking friends is "What about the bears?". Often they will ask if I carry a gun, presumably to defend myself from man eating bears. My stock reply is "I'd rather carry a steak, at least I get to use it".

My lack of fear for marauding bears may be from spending years in the back country without a single (bad) incident. I've encountered black bears numerous times without any problems. Unfortunately, a recent event in the Smokies has changed my attitude forever. 

A 112-pound mother bear and her yearling cub attacked and fatally injured Glenda Bradley, a 50-year-old East Tennessee woman May 21, near Cosby in the Smokies.


Coming too close to a mother bear and her cubs is another common reason for bear encounters. Often, hikers don't notice the presence of cubs until it's too late. I was walking to Charles Bunion a few years ago and accidentally happened upon a mother bear and two cubs. I was hiking at a fast pace and before I knew it there were two cubs in my path, just a few steps away. Suddenly, I heard a popping and snorting sound. Just to the right of the A.T., mother bear was objecting to my presence. Before she had a chance to charge, I started backing away slowly. I did not turn my back on her and didn't stop backing up until I was out of site of the bears. I hiked back to the car at a much slower rate. Solo hikers make very little noise, so there is a far increased possibility of wild-life sightings.

Back Away

The best practice to use when a bear crosses your path is guarded and slow retreat. Don't ever run from a bear because it is sure to chase. It is better to stand your ground. Most often when a bear charge occurs, the startled hiker "stands his ground out of sheer terror". The bear almost always breaks off its' charge. When backing away, be sure to always face the bear. It is also a good idea to make noise as you hike. This is not hard for a group of hikers, they are usually talking any way. Solo hikers don't make too much noise, so the possibility of a bear encounter is much greater. The bear can run much faster than a man so out running a bear is not an option. Bears can also climb trees incredibly fast. These creatures are very nimble and very strong. They could easily kill many animals but they choose to graze on forest vegetation. 

Bear Tips

Campgrounds, picnic areas:

* Keep a clean site by properly disposing of garbage, aluminum foil, jars, cans, plastic wrap and bags.

* Pick up food scraps.

* Never leave food or coolers unattended unless inside a vehicle.

* Wipe down table tops before vacating your site.

* If a bear approaches, pack up food and trash. If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud noises, or by throwing rocks and sticks. If the bear is persistent, move slowly to your vehicle or a secure area.

In the backcountry:

   Hang food and anything with strong odors (toothpaste, bug repellent, soap, etc.) at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet from a tree or limb, or use special food storage boxes and cable systems if available.

   Do not cook or store food in or near your tent.

  If a bear approaches, frighten it by yelling, banging pans together or throwing rocks.

  Pack trash out; don't bury it.

  If you encounter a bear:

  Do not feed or toss food to a bear or any wild animal.

  Keep children close at hand.

  Keep pets indoors or in a vehicle or camper.

  Do not approach a bear. If it changes its natural behavior (feeding, foraging or movement) because of your presence, you are too close.

  Never surround or corner a bear.

  Never run from a bear; back slowly away and make a lot of noise.

   Weapons? Which weapons?

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