Close-up two angry brown bear fight in winter forest. Danger animal in nature habitat. Big mammal. Wildlife scene

Do Black Bears Pose a Threat?

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that seeing a black bear on the path may be startling no matter how prepared you are for such an encounter.

Perhaps it’s because their claws are four inches long. Or, how they can fracture a bowling ball with their teeth. Or maybe it’s because their size is more noticeable up close than it would be from afar.

Black bears are omnivores and generally peaceful, although when challenged they may resort to protective behavior. Knowing what to do if you see a bear is important for hikers or anybody who frequently travels through bear habitat.

To paraphrase what I’ve always said, “A black bear is nothing to be terrified of, but you should still treat them with respect..”

Is it safe to go near a black bear?

Black bears are the preferred wild species you’d want to see on a trip over grizzlies and mountain lions. They don’t have an aggressive attitude and are surprisingly cautious.

About 800,000 black bears are thought to inhabit the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the rest of North America. Although thousands of hikers encounter bears annually, only a small fraction of these encounters end in serious injury or fatality.

The National Park Service estimates that the odds of being hurt by a bear are 1 in 2.1 million, with fewer than one black bear assault per year in the United States. There have been 67 deaths in North America attributed to black bears since 1900.  One death every two years, roughly.

Why would a black bear want to attack me?

They often avoid contact with humans and only react violently out of a sense of fear or threat.

This animal’s keen sense of smell means it is frequently attracted to human settlements by the aroma of cooking or garbage.

Most black bear assaults happen when a person surprises or approaches a bear too closely, prompting the bear to defend itself or its cubs. Predatory behavior by a black bear is quite uncommon.

How dangerous are they, really?

A charging black bear is no laughing matter. These creatures may be as light as 300 pounds for a female and as heavy as 700 pounds for a male. Standing up, they may reach heights of 7 feet. Bears’ small, curved claws may inflict serious scratches when they swing their paws in an assault. Their bite is somewhat weaker than that of a grizzly bear (about half the force), yet under the right circumstances, it might still be fatal.

“You don’t have to be afraid of black bears, but you better respect them” – Blaine Anthony