In truth, none of the larger mammals in New England woods want anything to do with us. As long as we’re far enough away from them, they’ll likely take off in the opposite direction before we know it. But if they feel threatened or cornered, it’s a whole different story.
The only bear you’ll encounter in New England is the black bear (even though they are sometimes more brown than black in color). Black bears, like its forest roommates, are trying to adjust to shrinking habitat. As a result, they are becoming more and more brazen around people. They’ve been known to enter cabins and automobiles to raid food storage bins and make off with whatever they can.
In general, black bears are far more afraid of you than you are of them, and if you make a lot of noise as you hike or set up camp, you’ll very likely drive any nearby well away. But if you do come upon a bear unexpectedly, you need to know what to do.
Situations triggering aggression are usually surprise encounters. For instance, you round a corner only to find a black bear standing nearby with two cubs, and–uh oh–you’re between mom and her babies. That scenario is probably the worst of any other meeting in the woods. Bears will attack anyone who comes between a sow and her cubs.
Second, there’s great danger in hanging around a bear’s kill site. If you’re hiking or looking for a good place to camp, be on the lookout for carcasses and scavenger birds, such as ravens and crows, congregating in a specific area. If you see them, you may be near a kill site, so keep moving on well away from it.
Finally, bear leave any number of signs that they’ve been around, which means they’re likely to show up in a specific area a number of times. The signs range from tree scratch marks to scrape marks in or near a fire pit. Should you see any of these signs, or if you’re near a game trail, find another spot to camp.
When you do set up camp, make sure that you set up your outdoor kitchen well away and downwind of your campsite. While bears cannot see well, their sense of smell is many times stronger than that of mankind’s, so when you cook a meal, it’s a good idea to:
1. Cook only as much food as you plan to eat. Anything left over can be a bear magnet.
2. Change your clothes after cooking and double bag them in heavy-duty plastic bags. Bears can pick up the scent of food from the clothes you were wearing when cooking.
3. Never store food in your tent or your car. The best way to store it is to use a bag fastened to a rope that you throw over a tree branch that’s too high for a bear to reach.
4. If you see a bear, but it has not seen you, quietly back away from it. Do NOT run! Never turn your back on a bear. If it’s headed toward you on a trail, get downwind of it and let it pass, or take an off-trail detour, again downwind.
If a bear does see you and it’s a good distance away, you want to make sure it knows that you’re human and not a threat. Speak calmly to it and slowly wave your arms above your head. That makes you look bigger and tells the bruin you’re human.
To learn more about hiking off trails and wildlife encounters, go to the eZine page on: www.NewEnglandTimes.Com.