Surviving A Close Encounter With A Bear

This article is all about what you should do if you ever have a close encounter with a bear in the great outdoors. And more specifically, what you can do to stay alive in that situation. That said, I’m no bear expert. But I’ve had LOTS of close encounters with black bears in my life. LOTS. All of which have taught me a few things about how you’ll want to react when you inevitably encounter a bear in the woods. Moreover, I’ll gladly share with you what I’ve learned by giving you my BEST TIPS for dealing with a bear in the wild, which should ensure your safety and survival. When your time comes…

That said, to give you your best chance of survival. Your best shot of saving your a$$ from that big ole bear, ladies and gentlemen. You’re gonna need to understand what it’s really like to stand and face a large predator in the wild and survive. Like I have. A bunch of times! So let’s get started with keeping you alive in the great outdoors by reliving a few of the most harrowing encounters that I’ve had with these wild black bears over the years…

So just a few days ago on Buffalo Mountain near my home, much to my surprise, I had yet another close encounter with a bear in the wild. I was hiking on the White Rock Loop trail somewhere past Sunset Point, heading for Tip Top peak. When suddenly, I heard a noise, like a deep hissing sound, or a dog’s threatening growl. For some strange reason, that noise filled my guts with a sense of dread and impending doom. However, my mind was too busy thinking about how the breeze must’ve been rubbing some tree limbs together, or something. So I halted on the trail, staring up, like an idiot, into the canopy.

Then I smelled something. A heavy musky scent. The unmistakable scent of a wild animal.

Next, I heard a large animal shift its position behind a glade of trees about ten or fifteen feet away. God, this thing was so big, it had to be a moose, I thought. But then, I immediately realized that we don’t have any moose in East Tennessee. So it must be a bear. Cause I’m as sharp as a knife, as you can see.

That’s when curiosity also got the best of me. Yet, another fine example of my overall intellectual acuity. So I stepped backwards a few paces, staring into the shadows of that glade. And there it was. Glaring right into my eyes. Its mouth dripping with saliva and spit. In a crouched position, it huffed and puffed at me, twice.

And I felt the fear of staring into the eyes of a predator, once again…

Black bear's eyes
American black bear picture is from free images and was uploaded and taken by photographer Datarec.

No, I did not have my bear spray with me. In fact, I had nothing to defend myself against an attack, other than a writer’s pen in my pocket.

Figured, I might poke ’em in the eye with it…

.. Funny thing is, when I told this story briefly to a cute girl, who I met on this same trail a few days later. When I got to the part about the bear glaring at me. She just said, “So, what did you do?? You’re supposed to act tough.”

“But, I didn’t act tough,” I swore emphatically, shaking my head…

Still, I wasn’t gonna hang around any longer to find out if this bear really meant business or not. Meanwhile, my instincts were screaming. RUN AWAY! But no, I didn’t do that. Heck no! Nor did I flop down on the ground and play dead, like a total moron.

Instead, I slowly turned, getting a tree between the bear and me, and very slowly walked a few paces down the trail. Looking over my shoulder, I snatched a fist-sized rock up in my right hand. But the bear never followed me.

Still, I felt shaken. Despite the fact that I’ve had many close encounters with black bears over the years. And the reason for my unease was that black bears typically just run and flee away from you…

In fact, this Spring while fly fishing on the upper Laurel Fork at Frog Level, I spotted still another black bear in the wide open fields there. For once, I had my bear spray with me. So I pulled it from the holster. But once the bear got a whiff of me. It turned, looked at me from afar. Then, started loping off into the woods.

Then again, a few years ago, when a friend and I were exploring Cayuse Creek in Idaho, we also ran into a bear. I saw it first, as I was hiking in the lead. So I stopped in my tracks. The black bear was just ambling along on the far shore, while sniffing at some rocks on the beach, paying no mind to anything else. Certainly not to the two dumba$$ two-legged apes on the opposite shore.

I alerted my friend, saying, Hey, there’s a bear.

Meanwhile, it continued ambling closer, still unaware of us.

I already had my bear spray in my hand. Meanwhile, my friend had pulled out his gun. No, I didn’t mind if the bear got a little closer, cause it was an amazing sight. Something like you might see in Alaska, or something.

This big black bear, just wandering along the sandy shore of one of the most beautiful creeks I’ve ever seen, all of this nestled beneath those rugged steep-sided mountains that descended right down to the edge of the beach.

Still my friend was having none of it and quickly shouted, Hey, bear! Hey bear!

Oblivious, the bear turned its head left, then right, wondering where this strange sound was coming from. Then, at last, he spotted us, upstream. Got scared and immediately fled up the mountainside.

Wow! That was so cool, I exclaimed.
My hiking companion, Todd, agreed, very cool.

See, that’s the thing. Seeing a black bear in the wild is so cool. Since most of the time, you just see them, then they’ll run and flee. But it’s not so cool, when they don’t run away, like the bear I saw a few days ago.

No, she didn’t flee. In fact, she huffed and puffed at me, flexed her shoulders and made it abundantly clear that I wasn’t welcome anywhere near her. Yes, I’ll admit that I was shaking in my boots, a bit.

And my guess is that she was a she. Moreover, there might’ve been some cubs nearby. Which would explain why she didn’t run away. And why she also threatened me, hissing, huffing, puffing. And that’s also why I think that I was fairly lucky that she didn’t charge me. But who can say?

But guess what? No, this isn’t the scariest close encounter that I’ve ever had with a bear. Not even close…

Now the most annoying bear encounter that I’ve ever had was when a bear wandered just inside the perimeter of our backpacking camp on a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho.

I wasn’t even there when it did. But when I returned to base camp after fly fishing, I found my friend looking unnerved. He said there was a bear, poking around. And sure enough, through the trees, there he was.

Son of a gun.

I had my bear spray out. So did my friend. So we started yelling and screaming at him, pounding pans together, and such. Eventually, he left camp, crossing the hiking trail, then headed up a hill.

But there he was again, a little while later. Still in those trees about 50 feet away.

Yelling and screaming, I threw rocks at him.

Again, he left the vicinity of camp only to return again about ten minutes later.

Still hanging out in those trees about 50 or 60 feet away.

By now, it was getting later in the day. And the sun was starting to sink. Definitely, the bear would have better night vision than my friend and I. Plus, we’d be tired and sleepy, while he might not be.

So we elected to quickly pack up our camp. Talk about a pain in the rear.

What if he follows us? My friend asked, as we got ready to depart on the trail.

Then we’re gonna blast him right in his f#$%g face with the spray.

But I guess that bear was smart. Indeed, he’d stayed just far enough away so that we couldn’t really blast him good with the spray. And in the end, he got his way.

As we left camp. Not sure what he wanted. Maybe he’d buried a carcass somewhere close to our camp. That said, he didn’t pursue or follow us. Good thing, cause that old can of bear spray that I had said that it could blind. Another reason that I didn’t spray him down, in addition to that bear staying a bit out of range. The whole time. Plus, once you use it; you lose it. To me, you use it in an emergency. As in, the bear approaches and gets within a good range. So you don’t miss when you spray.

But bears have come much closer to me than that one ever did, indeed. Here’s probably my second scariest close encounter with a bear…

So I was gonna fly fish Jeremy’s Run in Shenandoah National Park. I’d just hiked all the way in. About 2 or 3 miles. Had crossed the stream. Where there was a slight rise on the trail. Here, I bent down to re-adjust the straps of my Chacos. And when I looked up again. A bear stood about six feet away at the top of the incline. Blinking, looking at me in curiosity.

However, this was not just any bear. Oh no. It was a cub! My heart froze in fear. And boy was it ever so cute. But inside, I’m thinking that this little guy is gonna get me killed.

Where the hell was Mama? That, I didn’t know. Nor did I want to find out.

Slowly and quietly, I stepped backwards. The only sound I heard was my heart pounding inside my chest. At the edge of the stream, I turned, wading back across it, while staring over my shoulder. Leaving Mama bear and her cubs alone. And let me tell you that the trip that day was over. Totally. I simply hiked all the way back to my truck. Got inside, and headed home. Seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

However, my scariest close encounter with a bear was on the Jackson River in Virginia.

Below the dam, there’s an island. A little further down the river, there’s a huge private property sign, informing you that you can’t fish any further downstream, because of Crown Grants. I was somewhere above this sign. Fishing with my back to the island.

In front of me, there was a lot of deep swift water. Rapids. That were strong enough that a trained whitewater kayaker, like myself, couldn’t wade back across. And I was in deep. Almost up to my chest in spots. Behind me, the bank rose to my shoulders, I think.

But I was focused on casting my nymph rig in front of me, hoping a huge trout would take it in the fast moving water. Sometimes, they do that.

But it was me who was being stalked.

Suddenly, from behind there was a tremendous commotion in the brush. No big deal, I thought. It’d happened to me many times before when I’d startled up a deer, while fishing.

But when I turned, I saw a large black bear. Looming over me, a few feet away!

I gasped. Saw the bear’s jaw drop. And so, we stared at each other. Eye to eye. Heart to heart. Inside, I heard this dialogue.

This bear can kill you. But he doesn’t know it.

No, you’re not supposed to stare at them. But this was one staring contest I wasn’t going to lose.

Not only that, but since I was buried in water up to my waist and the bear stood higher than me on the bank, I wasn’t exactly presenting myself as a menacing and threatening target.

Yet, the bear’s eyes still dropped. Those dark eyes.

And he backed off. No, he didn’t just leave. Instead, he just jumped behind some reeds about six feet away, staring at me from in between them. Terrifying. Moreover, I was still trapped. The whitewater in front of me was too treacherous to cross. Slowly and carefully, I waded downstream. Until I came to some slower, shallower waters where I could safely wade back across the Jackson, back to the road on the other side.

And when I reached the road. No, I never ran. I just slowly and steadily headed back to my truck. But the bear had not pursued me.

That said, I still packed everything up and headed back to the hotel, where I drank a few beers out on the porch. And figured that the bear had heard me wading, probably thought that I was some kind of tasty waterfowl. Had rushed in. About to pounce! Only to discover a funny-looking ape, instead of a goose. I was just glad that my goose hadn’t been cooked.

So here’s the thing, I hear all these hunters saying, man, you better have a gun, if you’re doing the type of stuff you’re doing, Gary Alan. Hiking and fishing, all of the time. But guess what? In the last case, if I’d had a gun, it wouldn’t have mattered at all. Because that bear had rushed in so fast, bursting out of the brush, that no one on this earth could’ve pulled quick enough to shoot it.

And that’s the case on a lot of these Appalachian Mountain hiking trails. There’s just so many blind curves. So much heavy underbrush, trees, and thick rhododendron.

And suddenly, when you round the bend or step into a clearing, there it is. A black bear. Just like the other day on the trail.

So I think that bear spray is your best defense.

But even that has its limitations. So the best defense, when you stumble unto a bear on the trail, is really to just keep your wits about you.

Accept the fear.

And the best defense of all is to be aware of your surroundings.

So DITCH the headphones, the earbuds.

And when you inevitably see a bear. NEVER RUN. NEVER FLEE.
That would almost certainly trigger the bear’s predatory instincts. You’re not outrunning a bear.

(That said, you may be able to outrun your stunned hiking companion. Or better yet, your nagasaurus wiffopotamus.. if ya got one. Which is one of the only safe and legitimate paths available to men in this country for a free, easy, and stress-free D vorse!)


ACT TOUGH. Like that girl, who I met the other day on the trail, advised.


In one of my fly fishing guide books, the author tells the story of stumbling onto a black bear and her cubs on Meadow Run in Virginia.

The sow immediately started toward him on the trail in an aggressive fashion. But he raised his hiking staff. Pounds it into the stones on the trail and hollers at the top of his lungs, which scares the cubs. And the bear stops, turns, and heads back the other way, following the fleeing cubs.

No, I’m no bear expert, as I’ve stated. But I have no doubt that I’ve had more close encounters with black bears in the wild than most folks.

And another thing, it doesn’t really matter what the experts say that you should do to some extent. An expert isn’t going to materialize and save your a$$ when you’re standing face-to-face with a bear in the wilderness. But you can.

That’s when awareness is everything. Cause that’s all you’ll have. The beating of your heart and awareness.

And if you listen to that awareness in that infinite moment and what this bear is trying to tell you. Then you’ll surely walk away from the bear, unharmed, without a scratch. Maybe a little shaken, but still alive and well in the end.

And especially appreciative of the fact that you were actually able to see a black bear up close in the woods. Without ending up coming out of its butt the next day! Which means a heck of a lot to me. So that’s just my take on how to save yourself if you ever have a close encounter with a bear in the wild.

Having a Close Encounter With a Bear From the Safety of Your Home:

I don’t personally know of any great adventure books about bears. But if you’re interested in getting up close and personal with some bears from the safety of your own home. Then, I highly recommend watching these two movies, both of which I really enjoyed. That said, Grizzly Man is not a movie that I’d recommend for viewing with younger children. Although, The Bear is family safe, for sure.


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Feature Picture:

Feature Image by PublicDomainImages from Pixabay

Actual Footage of a Close Encounter with a Bear:

Man escapes close encounter with a bear, using bear spray.

After a long career in the publishing industry, Gary Alan left his corporate job to pursue his next adventures in life as a blogger, writer, investor, fly fisherman, hiker, and traveler. He is the author of the adventure fiction book, 'Big Thunder-Hearted River'.

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