On a beautiful sunny day you're enjoying a secluded hike in the wilderness. As you round the bend of the trail, you notice three small, rather dark looking rocks ahead on the trail. After a few more steps, your brain tells you "Those are not rocks." With another step it hits you..."bear". Next comes the realization that those are baby bears, and that their mother is directly behind them. Your heart, now lodged somewhere in your throat beats audibly. Your eyes are huge, and your mind is racing. "What am I supposed to do again?" ...."Why didn't I pay more attention at the ranger station?"..."What do I do next?"
Encountering a bear in the wilderness presents problems for both you and the bear. Being more concerned about your self than the bear, let's look at what you need to know.
If you are in Arizona, you need not be concerned about polar bears, obviously, or even grizzly bears (although they used to live here). The black bear you encounter may not be black in color, it could be brown, or what is described as a cinnamon color. Put it this way, if you see a bear, it's a black bear, regardless of its color. The bear could be almost any size. It can weight between 125 and 450+ pounds. If the bear is on all fours, it will be about 3 feet tall at the shoulder. If it happens to be upright, it could be more than 6 feet tall. The bear could be as old as 20 years old. This bear will be faster than you, it will be able to climb trees better than you, and could kick your butt swimming. Black bears are excellent swimmers, can climb trees, and have been clocked at up to 35 miles per hour. How fast are you? Not even close. Where do they live? Primarily in pine forests and chaparral zones. Think Four Peaks, think Rim region. But, under certain conditions, don't rule out Northeast Mesa. During the summer of 2000, a dozen black bear were captured in Northeast Mesa, having wandered down in search of food and water.
Encountering a black bear in the wild is a rare occurrence. Chances are you could have one visit your campsite if you leave food around. Bears are attracted to human smells...human food, human garbage, and even dog food. So when you camp, take some simple, easy and yet sometimes overlooked precautions. Keep camp clean. Don't cook in your sleeping area. The smell will linger. Your food and your garbage need to be secured in bear safe containers or to a less effective method, hung from a tree away from camp. To be safer, any scented items should be stored away from camp. Deodorant, soap, shampoo, scented lip balm. Yes, it's a pain to schlep this stuff away from camp. But, it will help protect you and the bear. Before you go to bed, if you need to clean up or change your clothes, do so before getting into the tent. To be really safe, don't wear the clothes you cooked in to bed, store them away from camp. Need a midnight snack? Drink water. Don't keep food in your tent, you're asking for trouble.
Never offer food to a bear. Ever. It is not Yogi. It is a wild animal. DON'T FEED BEARS. If you feed a bear, it will no longer fear humans, which means it will become a nuisance bear. It will associate humans with food. Nuisance bears are destroyed. They are killed. Never even approach a bear. Stay away. You could cause it to have to be destroyed.
Not a big camper, but like hiking? You still need to be prepared in the event of a bear encounter. First key fact to remember, bears are wild animals. Predicting their reaction to you is difficult, as each situation is different. Do not run; although this may seem the prudent thing to do. Stay calm. Back away slowly while you continue to face the bear. If your kids or pets are with you, keep them very close to you. Make as much noise as possible! Yell! Whistle (especially if you can do that really loud whistle that all parents wish they could do). Bang stuff together or break sticks. Make yourself look as "big" as possible. Don't bend over or kneel. Wave your arms above your head, lift your pack above you, and wave a jacket. You want to appear way bigger than the bear. Do this while you back away slowly. Chances are, the bear will take off into the woods. If you are unfortunate enough to be approached by the bear continue being loud and big. If it attacks, fight back as if your life depends upon it. It does. Kick, bite, claw, do whatever you have to. There is no way to predict what will happen. Each incident of bear encounters is different. But if you follow these cautions, you have armed yourself with the most powerful of weapons...knowledge.
This information is taken from the National Forest Service. For additional information, consult the following sources.
USDA Forest Service (505) 842-329
Arizona Game and Fish Department (602) 942-3000