Bear Tips for Hikers

Bear. Photo by David A Mitchell/Flickr

Have you ever seen a bear while out hiking?

It can be an exciting and rewarding experience to glimpse our area's wildlife in its natural environment. While black bears are by nature wary of humans, they are also intelligent and curious, and bear sightings have been reported in every county in New York and New Jersey. Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts have a special responsibility to protect themselves and the wildlife they love. By following some common-sense rules--the first being: Don't feed the bears!--all members of the woods community can share the forest and the trail.

 

BLACK BEAR FACTS:

  • Bears are a common and important part of our area's ecosystem.
  • Black with a brown muzzle, the average male black bear weighs 300 pounds. The average female weighs 170 pounds. They get that big by eating berries, seeds, and bugs, but also carrion, trash, and pet food. Their sense of smell is much better than a dog's.
  • Feeding a bear actually harms it by ruining it's natural foraging behavior.

 

BLACK BEAR TIPS:

  • Don't EVER feed a bear! It's dangerous, illegal, and it's what makes bears problematic and aggressive.
  • Pay attention for scat, tracks, and claw marks. Take special care when hiking off-trail or in areas with berries. Clap, sing, or otherwise make noise to alert bears to your presence. Keep your dog on a leash.
  • Use a bear canister to store camp food and garbage. If you must use a hang, use a dark rope at least 15 feet from the ground and 10 feet from trees. Don't burn your garbage; bears can still smell it. Don't cook near your tent. Keep your campsite clean. Always keep all food (and garbage) away from your tent.
  • Don't run if you see a bear. Instead, back away slowly. Try not to make eye contact. Make noise instead, and wave or raise your arms so you look bigger. When a bear raises up on its hind legs, it is usually just trying to get more information, not issuing a threat. If a black bear swats the ground, huffs, or bluffs a charge, you are too close to it.

Remember, bear attacks are really very rare. But if a black bear does attack you, fight back. (This advice does not apply to encounters in other regions with grizzly bears; in those cases you should curl up and play dead.) Learn more about black bears in our region at http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/bearfacts.htm

Comment: Please be relevant, civil, non-commercial.

Seen 2 Bears in 2 months

I have encountered black bear twice while hiking in the Storm King Mountain area.  I am wondering what I am doing wrong.  I hike with my dog, and tryy to make noise every few seconds.  The second encounter was on a ranger road around a blind turn,  I slowly turned around (now I know to back away) with my dog and he did not pursue me, but I was scared you-know-what-less!!!!

I've encountered bears twice

I've encountered bears twice in the park, both at extreme fringe times when they wouldn't normally bump into people.   One was fishing just before sunrise.  Bear ran away as soon as I made a motion to pull out my camera to take a picture of him.   Second time was hiking in to fish around 9pm...paused to appreciate him...walked right past him...bear never moved. Now raccoon...I've had one of those little buggers slash my tent and loot me.  All cannister since that.

I've encountered bears twice

I can't imagine taking a picture!!!!!  Aren't you afraid of provoking an attack???

Big bear

It's unnerving to run across a bear when you're out alone on a deserted trail on a weekday.  Up close, they look at a lot bigger than 300 lbs!  Lucky for me, the one I nearly ran into didn't see me so I backed off without an issue.

bear spray

This stuff is on my belt on EVERY hike. I'd rather  be $100. poorer if I get fined than totaly defenseless in a bear attack. ..But that's just me. ( image of Counter Assault Bear Spray 8.1 oz.)

Bear tips

Maybe we should add, "Stay out of possible denning sites (caves) during denning season (now)... or is that just common sense?

Bear Spray

The largest size pepper spray that is legal in NJ is 3/4oz. You are allowed one container. I've heard this is not enough to be effective against a disgruntled bear and luckily have not had to put it to the test. Bear Spray is illegal in NJ to posess and from what I've read, the penalties are similar to that of an illegal firearm. So keep your wits about you because you are not allowed any other defense than that.

Thought Bear Spray was Illegal in NJ

In response to people who recommend bear spray please correct me if I am wrong about it being illegal in NJ. I heard those tiny key ring cans are the largest legal...

bear spray

I bought Counter Assault bear spray at Campmor in Paramus last year just in case I come across that one bear thats having a bad day and wants to take it out on me. As far as I know its completely legal.

Wow, you can buy that here? I

Wow, you can buy that here? I am happy to think its more a psychological boon than an actual necessity in the Eastern forests. Black Bears are very different than Grizzlies.

yes its available for sale here..

Like I said, I keep it on my belt in the unlikely case I suprise a sow with her cub along the trail and she decides to get overly protective. I've come across 2 bears over the last 2 years ; a lone cub and a full grown male and both continued on their way with no confrontation whatsoever. They male was very  impressive to see and made me quickly realize that I am just a little gnat in his world....

Bear Spray

If its above 3/4 ounce its illegal in NJ.   The Trail Conference and its members should petition the state to change the law.     N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5 establishes the offenses and penalties related to the unlawful possession of weapons. Exceptions to that law are set forth in N.J.S.A.2C:39-6. Section i. of N.J.S.A.2C:39-6 provides that “Nothing in N.J.S.2C:39-5 shall be construed to prevent any person who is 18 years of age or older and who has not been convicted of a crime, from possession for the purpose of personal self-defense of one pocket-sized device which contains and releases not more than three-quarters of an ounce of chemical substance not ordinarily capable of lethal use or of inflicting serious bodily injury, but rather, is intended to produce temporary physical discomfort or disability through being vaporized or otherwise dispensed in the air.” The law further provides that any person who possesses any device in violation of that section is a disorderly person subject to a fine of not less than $100.

Also a solo female hiker

I carry pepper spray that is attached to a key ring that swings from my backpack. It has an easy release that I can grab with my dominant hand, pull off and spray in one swoop. Fortunately, I haven't had to use it. I carry it more for bad humans than bears. I hope to never have to actually pull it and use it.

More info

The golden rule of wildlife encounters: leave them in peace, and you might leave in one piece...don't expect them to treat you as you want to be treated, even humans have problems with that... These two pages are worth reading, as they cover many things to think about in bear country: http://www.bearsmart.com/becoming-bear-smart/play/bear-encounters, and http://www.udap.com/safety.htm (although the latter link is a pepper spray company, they have some interesting insights)

Thank you for this

Has there been any discussion or suggested guidelines presented to the NYS or NJS department of parks and recreation to build kiosks about bears, leave no trace, etc. at popular trailheads at Harriman and other popular parks that don't currently have them? I've noticed a lot of inexperienced folks wandering around Harriman lately--theTuxedo area especially--and often they are lost and confused as to what type of "park" they've stepped into. Almost every time I'm up around the Bear Mountain area, there's some parent trying to find a child who wandered off into the woods.This will only worsen if those dreaded casinos get built. You can't guarantee people will read the information posted or even care, but some who are not aware of what they could encounter might at least stop and consider the risks and the enjoyment of other hikers. In addition to bears, information on how to read blazes, a map of the area, tick detection and prevention, warnings to not harrass threatened species like the timber rattlesnake or any wildlife and the fines involved, packing garbage out rather than just throwing it on the ground, number for rangers, etc. might be good to provide. All the stuff we might know, but the causual adventurer might not or realize is harmful to their fellow hikers, wildlife and the environment in general. Maybe even a sign-in book too.

Bear Spray

Since a trip to Yellowstone (during which time there had been 2 fatal attacks), I've had "Counter Assault" bear spray - and thus been carrying it ever since. The recommendation is, that regular pepper spray, in the mix/dosage intended against humans, would not be as effective against bears. They do sell it with a holster that works well. But, I had also ordered a "practice" bottle (same mechanism and full, but without the actual ingredients) directly from the manufacturer - which every family member  used to practice how to draw it from the holster, how to remove the safety, and to get a first-hand experience how far and how much you can spray it. Fortunately, I have yet to use any - but I've had pulled it out the last time I ran into two cubs (and not seeing "Mom") frolicking only feet away for about 15 minutes (very close to the green trail, NW of Bear Swamp Lake of Ramapo Reservation, but already in the Ringwood State Park portion). This year I've had 3 times as many encounters than ANY other year - and I've noticed more scat right on the trails (through blueberry patches) than ever before.

thanks

Andy, I maintain that section of the green trail. I am up there often but have not had any ursine encounters. I consider your post a warning.   Tom

Bear Safety.

In addition.......if you're with a Group.....STAY TOGETHER, don't run whatever you do, you then appear as Prey. The point is to appear as large an entity as possible. Besides not feeding a Bear, handle your food and wrappers carefully to avoid leaving a scent on your person or pack. Wrap up your leftovers securely so you don't become bait. Bears are Omnivoirs and although Berries and Forest mast are the largest part of their diet, they will eat carrion and small & medium aniimals if hard pressed for food. And keep your Cool......I've had numerous occasions hiking where I've passed a Bear and they have never shown any aggresion, just the opposite.....they just want to be left alone. So please don't avoid hiking in our beautiful forests, just show respect for the environment and it's wild inhabitants and don't do anything stupid. That's worked for me for 40 years or so.

Bear Spray

I hike alone, and in lonely areas. In my experience, most bears run away very fast when they see humans, but I'm wondering if further precautions are warranted n light of the recent tragic (and perplexing) incident, I wonder how many hikers carry pepper spray ?   Is there a particular brand or variety that can be carried easily (say in a holster), and is unlikely to go off accidentally ?    I doubt I would ever have reason to use it, but still .. And there seem to be more bears around this year than ever before.     

RE: Bear Spray

As a solo female hiker, I carry pepper spray and a small knife. Mainly for the humans, but I suppose it could work on bears too. The kind I have came in a faux-leather case with a flap over the top that prevents it from accidently leaking or spraying. I've never had any problems, and carry it in my pocket.