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Shenandoah’s Bountiful Bears

While visiting Shenandoah National Park, you may see an American Black Bear. Adult black bears are approximately four to seven feet long from nose to tail, and two to three feet high at the withers.

Black bears are typically most active at dusk and dawn, but can be active any time of day. They are often found in areas with relatively inaccessible terrain, thick understory vegetation and large quantities of edible material.

July is mating season for black bears  in SNP. Male bears, called boars, mate with as many female bears as they can find. Female bears are called sows.  Males typically weigh between 130 to 500 pounds, have wider heavily muscled heads, necks, and shoulders, smaller ears set farther apart, and big looking front feet. Females typically weigh from 90 to 250 pounds, are generally smaller, leaner, have flatter foreheads and have longer muzzles.

Most bears prefer to avoid contact with humans. If you spot a bear, remain as composed as possible and follow these simple guidelines whenever you are in bear country:

  • Maintain your distance from the bear (preferrably 200 feet or more).
  • Make noise to make sure the bear knows you are present.
  • If the bear moves closer to you, move away slowly but do not turn your back to the bear.
  • Make noise and stay in groups
  • Keep children close by.
  • Take a detour in your route of travel but do not surround the animal.
  • Consider retreating to your vehicle (if it is nearby) until the bear moves on.

If an encounter occurs…

Remain calm and don’t run. Like dogs, bears will often chase fleeing animals. You can’t outrun a bear. They have been clocked at speeds up to 35 mph! Climbing a tree is futile since black bears excel at climbing trees. Jaw popping by the bear is a signal to you that it is uncomfortable.

Let the bear know you are human. Talk to it in a normal voice and wave your arms. If a bear cannot tell what you are, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious – not threatening.

If the bear does not leave the area – move away slowly. If leaving the area is not an option, or if the bear gets too close, you should make yourself appear as large as possible. Lifting your arms and a pack over head, moving to higher ground or, if in a group, huddling together will help discourage the bear. Make louder noise by banging pots and pans or using other noisemakers. Throwing objects at the bear may be appropriate but only when you are “cornered.”

Avoid eye contact with the animal.

If a bear charges…

Don’t run! Bears often make bluff charges, sometimes to within 10 feet of their adversary, without making contact. Usually, if you hold your ground they will back off.

Discharge pepper spray if you have it. Make sure you know how to use pepper spray. Discharging pepper spray improperly could make matters worse if you incapacitate yourself or others in your party.

If a bear actually makes contact…

Fight back! In rare instances black bears perceive humans as prey – if you are attacked by a black bear always fight back. Try to focus your attack on the bear’s eyes and nose. If you are involved in bluff charge situation or an actual contact incident – report it to park staff immediately via the emergency line: 800-732-0911