Thursday, June 16, 2011

Black Bear Encounters

Last year my family and in-laws were excited about looking for black bear.  I carried them to one area in the mountains and we all started looking for bear signs.  My oldest son spotted some tracks about thirty minutes into the search.  Just moments later, my daughter found some droppings and asked me if they were from a bear.  Once I replied with the answer and also remarked they were somewhat fresh, my wife nearly pushed my daughter down as she sprinted out of the woods toward the vehicle.  You have to love that parental survival instinct!
Bear sow and cubs caught on trail cam in Pitt county, NC.
Of course that was not the first time I had seen that type of reaction.  I was on a bear hunting trip in the coastal plains of North Carolina several years ago where a 700 pound bear had been taken just prior to the hunt.  Each evening we would radio the guide to come pick us up at set locations.  Two of us were bowhunting, and had several hundred yards of hiking thru the woods from our stand location to the point where the truck would pick us up.  The gun hunters on the other hand, were set up in box stands just a few dozen feet from the path.  One evening when picking up the different hunters, one fellow ran at top speed to the truck, throwing his rifle into the back with a thud.   Sweat was pouring from his brow when he got in, and he was in a heavy pant.  “I saw a bear over there.”  My immediate response to everyone’s laughter was “If you think all you have to do to get a bear to come out in the open is go out there yourself, then walk out in the middle of the field in the morning.  You have a gun for goodness sake and you are hunting for bear after all!”
The fact is black bear and human conflicts rarely happen.  Black bear tend to shy away from humans, but can become aggressive if they are provoked or feel their cubs are in danger.  Recently there have been a number of sightings of black bears in areas you would not expect, prompting a press release from the North Carolina Wildlife Commission on coexisting with bears.  Bears are currently looking for mates as well as food sources and may roam as far as 50 to 100 miles in their quest.  With an estimated population of 11000 to 14000 black bears in North Carolina, it becomes inevitable bear may be spotted, especially in the Eastern and Western parts of the state.

Bear beside Hwy 264 in Wilson county.

North Carolina also holds the record for the largest black bear, one taken back in 1998 weighing 880 pounds.  The bear in North Carolina can weigh as much as 650 to 700 pounds, with a common adult male weighing over 400 pounds.   They can be very intimidating at this size.  But do not panic.  If you encounter a bear, consider yourself fortunate.  Stay calm, and do not run.  If it is closer than you are comfortable with, make loud noises and back away slowly.  Do not surround or corner the bear and do not offer food.
Be observant of bear signs as well.  A quick search on the internet will show what bear tracks look like.  A notice at one park in Canada where black bears and grizzlies coexist made an interesting point as grizzlies (which are not in North Carolina) are more aggressive.    Pepper spray and bells are encouraged when in the area to ward off bears.  It also tells of the difference between the two bears and what to watch out for.  For instance, black bears eat mostly berries and small animals, whereas grizzlies will eat anything.  If you happen to find bear droppings, you can determine which type of bear is in the area.  If the droppings contain berries and squirrel fur, it is likely a black bear.  However grizzly droppings have a strong scent of pepper and contain bells.  Just be glad we do not have grizzlies around here.


  1. Thanks for the great stories, Bill. Just found your blog through the OBN. Great stuff! I always love using that last line about the bells and pepper spray. Ha! I am looking to arrow my first black bear here in SoCal this year. Going to be tough, as usual, but fun, too.

  2. The grizzly bear is really a large predator that's not the same as black bears because of a unique difficulty on its shoulders. Grizzly bears have concave faces and lengthy claws about the size of an individual finger. Their coloration is generally dim brown but could change from very light cream to black.

    moose hunting is also fun too.

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