The Tennessee Smokies are filled with curious creatures, but are notoriously known for their population of black bears. In fact, many people perch themselves in the perfect spots to get a view of the glorious species. Although our black bears are rarely aggressive and there has been a low number of reported human injuries associated with them, it is important to follow outdoor safety tips that will help you stay safe and avoid encounters with a bear.
Always Carry Bear Spray
This tip is pretty universal. You should always have bear spray accessible, as it is the number one way to effectively deter a bear that may threaten you. You also need to make sure that you know how to properly use it. It should only be used in the case of emergencies, so be sure to never spray it yourself, your belongings or your campsite.
2. Camping Tips
If you plan to camp in the smokies, there are definitely many precautions you need to take. For starters, make sure that you never leave food, trash, toiletries or clothes that you wore when cooking in your tent, as all of the following can attract a bear or other wildlife. You can store these things in a locked vehicle, bear-resistant containers or suspended 10ft above ground and away from any part of the tree. Make sure you always cook downwind and far away from your tent, that you never burn food scraps or trash and maintain a clean camp overall.
3. Hiking Tips
Do your best to not hike alone and always be aware of your surroundings. This is easier said than done, but it is a must. Common distractions can be cell phones and/or music. Keep children near and keep any dogs or pets leashed at all times. Another not-so-well-known tip would be to make noise as you hike. Bears are less likely to come around noise.
4. Hunting and/or Fishing Tips
You are more likely to encounter a bear when hunting since you are quiet and sneaky, traveling either in early or evening hours. Bears are more active during this time, so it important to consider the tips mentioned above, like making noise, properly storing food/trash, carrying bear spray, staying aware, etc. If a bear happens to make it to your catch/kill before you do, let them have it. Trying to reclaim it will aggravate the bear and can put you in severe danger.
IF YOU DO ENCOUNTER A BLACK BEAR…
… It’s not impossible and your chances are more likely than you’d think. If you see a bear and it doesn’t see you yet, do NOT approach it. Quietly back away slowly. Same thing goes for if a bear notices you. Now if a bear starts to approach you, it is important that you stay with your group, hold your ground and have your bear spray ready to use. Yell at the bear and if it continues to approach you, utilize your spray. Although it is unlikely, if a black bear makes contact with you, fight back aggressively and never ever play dead.
For more information on black bears, visit bearwise.org.