Beanery Online Literary Magazine

April 2, 2008


—written by Carolyn C. Holland I heard black bears have already been sighted in the Laurel Ridge hills of eastern Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. NOTE: The rules for black bears and grizzly bears are different. Grizzly bears are not found in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

The color of black bears, usually shades of black or dark brown, can also be chocolate brown, cinnamon or blonde. Some are actually white. Their snout is long—ears are well-rounded—and eyes are small. A short tail accents their big body that weighs in at 125-550 pounds for males and 90-300 pounds for females and measures about 5-6 feet head to tail and 2-3 feet high at the withers.

The pictures linked to below were taken by a camera mounted outside during one night. It took regularly timed shots of a birdfeeder, catching a bear in the process. I thank Debbie for contributing these photos to my FLICKR site:

It populates forests in North America, and frequently climbs trees. They generally fear you more than you fear them and will do anything to avoid humans. WARNING: Sows, during the breeding season and while raising their cubs, are the most dangerous since their behavior will be erratic and dangerous if they detect a danger to their babies. Otherwise, black bears are generally wary, timid and retiring, and try to avoid or escape human beings.

Bear confrontations can occur in any setting, from town to isolated country. Although nothing will guarantee your safety in bear country (their one predictability is their unpredictability), knowledge of bears and proper behavior will reduce your risk. Below are suggestions on preventing black bears from crossing your path, or on minimizing the danger when you are confronted by a bear (NOTE: Fending off attacks by grizzly bears is different. A later post will cover that topic.) (NOTE: The information below was gathered through Internet sites and a conversation with a Pennsylvania Game Commission rep.)


—If you see a bear, leave. Walk backwards at an angle. Do not disturb it. Always leave the bear an escape route.

—Don’t panic or look the bear in the eyes. He perceives your eye contact as a threat. He will stand on its back legs, sniffing the air to analyze his situation. (He has bad eyesight but a keen “sniffer.”) He may “eye” you intently. Once he identifies you as a human, he will leave.

—Pepper spray made from the juice of red hot peppers is a bear deterrent, incapacitating him and teaching them a lesson. Use it at six to eight yards.

—Do not feed them. In Pennsylvania it is illegal to do so. Feeding them makes them “food-conditioned:” A fed bear is a dead bear, according to John Hechtel, a biologist in Alaska who studies bears. He notes that 95% of food-conditioned bears eventually become nuisances and must be killed.

—Do not throw rocks or other items at bears to get their attention, even if you are after that unique bear photograph.

—If the bear is charges you, DO NOT RUN! Unless a tree is beside you, do not climb a tree, and then don’t do so unless you can climb 30 feet quickly. You cannot outrun or out-climb a black bear. Instead, stand tall, wave your arms and make loud noises—speak in aloud, deep voice.

—STAND YOUR GROUND! Often charging bears veer off within a few feet of their target, veering off in a different direction.

—If the bear attacks you, play dead*. Assume the fetal position. If he perceives you as food, continuing to attack, fight back, get angry. Throw your arms up in the air, yell and scream in a deep voice, throw something at it, all showing you are in control. *There is controversial evidence on “playing dead.” Some references say never do this, others say do it and only fight back if the bear attack continues.

—Never come between a sow and her cubs.


—First, do nothing to attract black bears. Don’t feed birds between mid-April and late fall. Clean up the area under the bird feeder.

—If you must feed the birds in the summer, and a bear’s presence is detected: Remove your bird feeders for at least ten days. This eliminates food on the ground, thus further removing the food supply. Be proactive: make “water balloons” about the size of grapefruits, filling them with household ammonia or vinegar and smearing them with peanut butter. Hang them where the bird feeders were hung. When the bear goes after the peanut butter, he will get a distasteful mouthful.

—Keep garbage in air-tight containers; double bag; add ammonia to the garbage container.

—Keep pet food inside the house at night.

—Clean and store outdoor grills.

(To receive a sample copy of the Beanery Writers Newsletter, E-mail with the words “NEWSLETTER SAMPLE” typed in the subject line. The Newsletter will give directions for subscribing to the monthly newsletter.)


—To avoid surprising bears, hike in groups, make loud noises and stay in the open where possible.

—Avoid berry patches and dead animals, food for bears.

—Be on high alert if hiking into the wind, or when near dense bushes or rushing water—where bears cannot smell or hear you.

—Dogs often infuriate bears, so leave your dog at home.


—Choose a campsite carefully: in a spot away from animal and walking trails and sounds of rushing water.

—Avoid camping where signs—fresh diggings, bear droppings—indicate the presence of a bear.

—Don’t eat or cook in or near your tent or trailer, or get food odors on your clothes or bedding—lingering odors invite bears. Sleep in different clothes than that worn for cooking. Keep absolutely no food, gum or eatable items inside the tent.

—Store food and garbage safely—locked in the vehicle or hung at least fifteen feet off the ground between two trees thirty feet apart. Lock up coolers, cooking equipment and utensils.

—Use a flashlight at night, which may warn the bears of your presence.

—Avoid smelly cosmetics, cosmetics, perfumes, hair sprays and soaps. Bears may be attracted to menstruating women.

—Use bear-proof storage containers for food and garbage.

Read a post on black bear stories at:

Visit the Pennsylvania Game Commission web site:

Read a collection of bear stories by clicking on: BEAR STORIES ACROSS THE NATION

Find photo illustrations by clicking on:

1 Comment »

  1. I have been an avid backpacker for 40 plus years and have never had a bear encounter even though I have hiked many times in bear areas.We have always taken reasonable and sensible precautions though as probably most serious backpackers do.I am curious about one precaution out there and that is over not using deodorant,tooth paste etc.while in bear country.It seems to me that a bear would be more attracted to and possibly follow the scent of a perspiring human than it would one who has applied deodorant for instance.I’d appreciate others opinions on this subject.Thanks

    Comment by David Petrie — February 9, 2010 @ 2:18 pm | Reply

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