Hey, Bear!

Black bear along the road

“Hey, Bear!”  That’s the phrase we call out while hiking though the forest in bear country.  Bears are great to look at from a distance, but you don’t want to surprise a bear, especially a mamma with her cubs.  A surprised bear is likely to react to your presence in unwanted ways, such as by eating you. 

The best way to avoid bears in the forest is to let them know of your presence.  Bear bells were popular many years ago, but park rangers say they aren’t loud enough for bears to hear over the natural din of the forest.  Normally you want to speak softly or keep quiet while hiking to preserve the peace and enjoy the natural sounds around you.  But in bear country, loud talking is best bear warning system.  So when we don’t have anything to say, every minute or so one of us will call out, “Hey, Bear!” or something similar to make our presence known.  This is especially important in thick brush, around blind corners, or next to a bubbling brook where a surprise bear encounter is more likely.

"Does this fur coat make my butt look fat?"

We also bought our first can of bear spray for $40.  We’ve been hiking in national parks for 20 years and have only encountered bears twice on the hiking trail.  (Note that we’ve seen bears from the safety of our vehicle many times, such as the cute young black bear shown above).  One encounter in the wild was from a safe distance, but a second encounter of a grizzly mom and cub in Glacier National Park was too close for comfort.  They were about 50 feet off the trail in dense brush and heading quickly our way.  Fortunately there were many tourists around, and our collective noise caused the bears to change course and avoid what could’ve been a very dangerous encounter.

An uninformed tourist stopping too close to a black bear

These photos are of black bears (yes, black bears can sometimes be brown) in Kootenay National Park in British Columbia, Canada.  The photo above shows an uninformed tourist stopping too close to a bear feeding along the road.  Park officials recommend that when people see a bear along the road, slow down to take a photo if necessary and to avoid hitting the bear, but do not stop for a long time.  Not only does it create a traffic hazard, but hanging around can annoy or harass a bear that is just trying to beef up after a long winter hibernation.

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