The Bear Facts: Coping With Overpopulation and Problem Bears In Town and Forest

BDS had an article a while back about how to survive a wild animal encounter. While I had dealt with plenty of animal incidents, my first true run-in with a bear happened recently and I want to share my experience and what it brought to mind in terms of prepping, survival, and bugging out. First, let’s look at the current situation in my area.

Bears are common enough and smart enough that they successfully live in the cities. Some of you might have heard of the town of Black Mountain, NC by reading the One Second After series. Well, it is a great little town that I have lived in myself and my husband spent ages 10 and 22 living there.

We go there quite often because his parents are still there and they give us a lot of bear reports. Bears know the schedules of the restaurants and really like the Coach House restaurant dumpster for obvious reasons. The thing that gets me is that even years ago I observed these bears actually looking both ways to cross the street. This shows the level of familiarity they have achieved.

Unfortunately, some people feed them on purpose and that creates a dynamic where some bears feel they can get food by going to peoples homes.

Bears are costing a huge sum of money due to poor management practices and the deliberate acts of people treating them more like pets.

A big Bear population costs money. I live in a rural area and have dogs and fences and a lot of hunters around me so my trash doesn’t get raided.  I can use a $40 Brute Trash can for many years. In town, the city or the individual must pay around $250 for a single roll-away trash bin. Keep in mind that all houses have two of them. That is a lot of money. I am sure the county and town trash services get them for less than the $250 they cost at Home Depot but you can still see how much this adds up.

This means that each house in a bear-infested neighborhood has $500 worth of trash bins in front of their house! In a town with 5,000 homes that equals $2.5 million initial cost and then the inevitable replacements over the years. That is a lot of money to spend that could do a lot of good in a community.

Tourism and recreation is a major revenue source in the area I live. The Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville, and surrounding towns get a lot of visitors.

When people don’t feel safe they are not going to want to bring their families to an area. Reports of bear attacks or food aggressive bears do not encourage recreational activities in the great outdoors.  When very popular areas are closed for months and years at a time, it has an effect on the local economies.

People want to have at least some areas where they can take a hike without feeling like they are constantly risking their lives or those of their children.

Bears are somewhat protected, and this is sometimes unfortunate.

You have a lot of explaining to do if you have to shoot a bear out of season or without a hunting license. This can make people hesitant when they really shouldn’t be. Laws vary by state so I advise checking your local laws to see what the protocol is if you feel you have to shoot a problem bear.

There have been cases where property owners found a bear raiding and damaging their property so they went back inside, got a gun and shot the bear before it could do anything worse. Here is a link to a case where a man in Asheville did just that and had a lengthy court battle before eventually being found not guilty of taking a bear out of season or unlawfully discharging a firearm in city limits. The case should never have gone on as long as it did.

The argument was that they just could have stayed in their house and let the bear do what it wanted to do. That sounds so insane to me. A bear can do a lot of damage to your place in a short period of time and poses a major risk to pets and livestock.  Farming is hard enough without these types of losses.

There are too many bears and it will just get worse.

I understand that there needs to be a balance and sometimes that balance means that control measures must be taken that some sensitive types do not approve of. Largely those that believe this way have not had much exposure to the natural world beyond the city park and Disney movies or they at least have a very idealized perspective on it.

Some believe that ignoring the issue of large predators and not responding to animal incidents promptly is part of the plan. Part of this is based on the attitude of Fish and Wildlife Services. They will tell you that the problem with bears was completely created by people moving into bear habitat. There are several things wrong with this statement.

  1. Bear populations are much higher than they were. People have a lot of delicious food that gets thrown out, pet food gets left out, and a lot of people have bird feeders.
  2. Bears were hunted in a lot of the town areas a long time ago. This surge in population is much more recent. A lot of Bear attacks happen in old neighborhoods.
  3. I find it highly unlikely that the Native Americans did nothing to encourage bears to stay away from near where they were living. Towns along rivers like Asheville, Black Mountain, and Swannanoa had plenty of native villages near them so by saying that people are moving into bear habitat, are they saying that Natives were not people? This is the same logic that causes people to say “before there were people here” when talking about Pre Christopher Columbus. It really gets me when people completely write off the 64,000,000 people that lived here before major European settlement.

I am sorry to make this slightly political but the fact that you pay taxes to cover using land like National Forests should make you feel that you should have a say in how they are managed and feel like your safety is somewhat considered in said areas. Those living in town should be able to walk outside without a bear walking in their house too.

I am not saying that the government is responsible for your safety in the woods but they should pay attention when there is an aggressive animal issue. In my area, they really seem to be ignoring it and doing little to control the bear population. Sometimes a bear is euthanized or relocated but that is not a great long-term solution.

So what about hunting? Don’t people hunt anymore?

In my area, a lot of bear hunting is done with dogs. This presents some challenges since there is so much private property and the terrain where hunting is allowed is pretty rough.

Bear hunting has a bad reputation among some people too because of the way some hunters treat their dogs. A lot of dogs are tied up or kept in small kennels when not hunted. I am not saying that all those that hunt bear with dogs treat their dogs this way but there is a large enough proportion of them that it throws a dark aura around the whole pursuit.

Those that do not have their property fenced have to face the prospect of bears being driven by dogs onto their property. This area is simply not as open as it used to be and the population density has grown significantly over the years so fewer people hunt.

Hunting is not allowed in towns and some recreation areas

Bears learn fast where they can get away with hijinks. In areas where hunting areas border big expanses of National Park or other areas where hunting is prohibited, it is easy for them to go to protected areas and harass people.

Controlled and planned hunting could help.

When faced with a huge population of deer, the residents of the affluent town of Biltmore Forest voted to allow a controlled bow and arrow hunt within the area. The meat was donated to feed the needy and homeless. I think we can learn from this.  If residents and hunters learn to work together perhaps we can have a reasonable solution.

One thing is clear; what is going on now is not good for people or bears in the long term. Nature is about balance and when populations get out of control, violence and disease follow. Starvation and populations moving to areas like towns, where food is more abundant can also occur. If the food is not out there in the woods, then why not head to town or parks and recreation areas? This year was a bad one for acorns so there is not a lot of mast. That is going to have an effect.

Tourists and locals feeding bears is a major problem. At the point we are at now I almost feel like there should be a civil fine for feeding them off your front porch on purpose.

Sure Bears are cute to a lot of people but if you or someone you know is actively feeding them and treating them like a pet in some ways, please do the bears and yourself a favor and stop immediately! Feeding bears lead to problem bears, and if you care about the ones you are feeding, you will not want them to get euthanized and have it on your conscious that you caused it by making them a problem with food!

Bear attacks in town

I wanted to share these articles because they highlight the fact that people are getting attacked just walking outside to get in the car or let the dog out.

The lady, in this case, was approaching her car and spotted three bear cubs and then the female bear. She yelled, and that was enough for Mama bear to attack. Luckily she was not killed.

In yet another incident a woman opened the door to let her dog out, and a bear walked right in. 

The same lady claims her life was saved by their 5 lb dog that barked and got the bears attention, driving it outside. Children in the house were hiding behind locked doors. I am so glad the kids listened and didn’t come running out. Unfortunately, the dog was killed defending its family.

I don’t think it is unreasonable to want to have a dog in a fenced yard in town but in small towns in the Southeast, it is starting to be more dangerous. Leaving children to play has to be approached with caution at this point.

Our Night Of the Bears In Shining Rock Wilderness

In August we decided to hike up into Shining Rock Wilderness area with some family/friends that were staying with us for the month. There was supposed to be a meteor shower and we thought it would be a good trip to show them the higher mountain areas and views.

It started out to be a very nice trip. We had no idea what we were in for once we got to our camp!

 Bears have become determined, and they keep coming back again and again

Not very long after getting our camp set up our friend Irina was standing with our dog Leroy and spotted a bear. At first, it walked on after we started yelling.

I was hoping my husband was joking when he said: “he’ll be with us all night”. We had hiked for around 5 hours to get to the camp and later on in the night I regretted not just hitting the trail and heading on back, even if we slept near the truck at the trailhead.  It was constant bears all night long.

Timing our water/food

Here is one of the more determined bears of Shining Rock Wilderness sizing up our food bag!

This video shows one bear entering our camp for the 2nd time. The first spotting was less than 5 minutes before this video was shot. We had not been at the site very long. We had just settled in and were enjoying some food. This whole experience showed me that the bear problem in this area is bad enough that I think having any food on you for any length of time is a risk. Of course, if you are camping you have to eat sometime so this is a big problem. At some point a few of these bears are going to figure out they can just take what they want from people walking down trails. 

We were not the only ones in the woods. We decided that it would be wise to time when we went to eat or pump water through the filter. If others were yelling about a bear in their camp, we used that time while they were being harassed to take care of our food and drink needs.

The Boy Scout Troop camping near us appeared to have no protection besides a few knives and whistles.

While clapping, blowing whistles, and singing loudly are all recommended when a bear comes around, this trip proved to me that all it really did was cause the bear to check out the next camp over and then come right back to the camp it was run out of.

Fire

We kept a fire going throughout the night. It might have helped a little but bears are smart and they have figured out that fire is not necessarily a danger and it might even mean that there are delicious camper snacks nearby.

Throwing Rocks

We hurled a few rocks when the bear or bears got too close. This helped send them on their way briefly. If you find yourself in a situation, it is better than nothing if a bear keeps coming towards you.

Hanging the bear bag

We hung our bear bag several hundred yards away from the camp just in time to save our provisions. Now friends, in the past, hanging it not too far away was okay. The bears up there were clearly of a determined nature. They were having fun with this and had little fear. We had to guard the food bag as best we could without escalating the situation.

We also took the precaution of hanging a few backpacks from a tree within our camp circle. These had no food in them at all nor anything smelly or inviting, and the bears still chomped through branches to get to them.

This was probably around 7 in the evening. I was already at the point where I felt I needed protection within arms to reach if I was going to take a minute to rest. At this time we also realized that we were likely facing 2-3 bears because we heard yelling from the Boy Scouts camped a short distance away and had a bear in our camp at the same time.

My nice notebook from Germany our old friends brought me, and I have been writing in for the past month, was viciously assaulted by the mouth of the most determined scoundrel.

Here is a video of a bear trying for our food bag. Again, this was hundreds of yards from our actual campsite. Tagir and my husband Matt were keeping a watch just to see how determined this bear was. He was just not going to give up. 

Enter: Firearms

Personally, I wish that Matt and I had each packed something larger than the Bersa .380s. I still felt substantially better about my odds of surviving the night that was quickly having too many similarities to a cheap teen horror camping film.

I am seriously considering not going camping again without a .44 Magnum and a bearproof canister. People can talk about bearproof canisters all they want, but that is not going to protect me or those with me. These bears are very curious

 Not the most flattering picture of me but at this point, the bears had been consistently coming to our camp for many hours regardless of all the food being hundreds of yards away.  When this was taken, I was pretty tired after a long hike and constantly having to be on edge. Irina in the background had Leroy Brown, our dog with her most of the time. He did good letting us know when danger was near.

Other Weapons

Some of you might have read my review of the 72-hour pack I received. In this pack, there was a survival knife. Since only two of us were armed and we had a bit of time on our hands, our friend/member of the family Tagir decided that making a spear was a good idea. The paracord from then handle sure came in handy when it came to tieing the knife onto a spear. We didn’t want them to be totally unarmed if they were walking around by themselves on a trail or if we faced a more serious attack.

Tagir putting situational awareness to good use!

Alternatives to Firearms for Bears

I want to be clear that when I am suggesting alternative bear deterrents, I am just talking about Black Bears. Brown Bears (Grizzlies) are not near as easy to scare and a lot easier to anger. A suitable firearm is the only thing I would ever suggest for a Grizzly. I lived in Alaska for several years, and people relied on guns mostly. I worked for the Forest Service briefly, and they were so strict on someone carrying a firearm that most people were sent out with a whistle!

Even pepper spray required training and certification, and they were not very forthcoming with it. Sorry, but it was not worth $15 an hour back in 2005 to repel out of helicopters into remote areas with no protection and no way out to count trees and do observations that didn’t help with management in the long term.

About Bear Sprays

Pepper spray can be effective, but it is not foolproof. If you spray it the wrong way and get a face full of it due to wind or movement, then it can be a fatal mistake. There is also the chance that you just make them angry, especially if you are close and can’t move fast or don’t get your aim right.

Some people swear by pepper spray, but I don’t trust it for anything that big. Don’t get me wrong; pepper spray is better than nothing by far! I want to keep a bear further away from me than the range that a spray is most effective at.

Here is an alternative to traditional sprays. It offers a much longer range so you can keep a safer distance.  The paintball/pepper ball gun is not a cheap option, but if you are going to camp a lot and don’t own a firearm or don’t want to carry one, it is an option that lends you some protection. As far as I know, these are legal to carry in recreation areas.

The Tippman is a better value than a lot of the guns that are labeled as being specifically for use with salt or pepper balls.

The “ammo” for this type of gun not cheap either.  The pepper spray rounds below are an amazing $5 per round.

Air Pistols and Darts

Air guns have come a long way over the years.  When dealing with a Black Bear, a dart fired from an air pistol of sufficient strength, could deter them. It would not be lethal, but it would pierce the skin and cause them to be fearful. Of course, you would need to use some common sense and make sure you were not so close that the bear could lash out before running off.

Crosman P1377 American Classic Multi Pump .177-Caliber Pneumatic Pellet Air Pistol, Black

 

This air pistol is less than a 1/4 of the price the Tippman paintball/pepper ball gun. The darts below are less than $1 a round.

My choice for bear protection is a real gun.

The expense of bear protection alternatives tells me that in my case a .44 Magnum is the best option. I already have one, it is big enough to stop the biggest Black bears out there, and the ammo is $35-$40 for 50 rounds.  While I have a .35 Marlin that was given to me for an Alaska bear gun, it is too impractical to carry or conceal when hiking and the ammo costs over $1 per round.

Other basic rules for bear safety

Mama’s and cubs are the most dangerous 

The most dangerous bear situation is accidentally or intentionally coming between a mother and her cubs. If you see a cub then get out of the way and to safety as quickly as you can. Don’t panic. Sudden movements or panic that leads you to run between cubs and mother can be deadly.

Don’t take too much risk to save your dog

When it comes to wildlife encounters, a lot of people lose their lives trying to save their dog. I love my dogs dearly but sometimes you have to make very tough decisions in a survival situation.

If your dog won’t back down then do not try to take on a bear. If you have a gun you may be able to shoot it but I have read too many news reports of ladies with little lap dogs they love dearly getting mauled or killed by wild animals because they refused to leave them behind.

Fortifying your property against bears is worth it.

I have 4 ft high woven wire field fence and 3 Great Pyrenees dogs running around. Good fencing and large dogs that are bred to guard against large predators go a long way towards keeping things safe. If you have livestock you have to be very careful

Matt and I raise Shetland Sheep, Emden and Toulouse Geese, and we have cats and laying hens.  A bear can do a lot of damage. If I lose a single pregnant sheep then I am losing a lot. No two lambs to raise and no ewe to breed next year.  The lambs are tiny when born. They are no more than 10 inches high and very vulnerable.

I love having dogs that will protect these little sheep. This is the sheep I just keep as a pet because I raised her on a bottle. Clover thinks she is more of a dog now. The last photo is some of our Pyrenees dogs guarding a sheep that has just given birth in the woods alone.

Backdoor Survival has some posts on fencing and fortifying your perimeter that are worth looking at for some ideas. Not all of them may be the best for bears but there are still some good ideas in there you can use.

Best Perimeter Security Practices For Preppers

Best Perimeter Fences: Establishing Boundaries with Fences

For these posts and more on an easy to use USB drive, check out our Lifeline Archive.

All your favorite BDS posts on a small drive. Now you can easily print and search our entire collection of posts!

What do you carry for bears? Have they become even more of a problem in your area than you ever imagined? There have been a lot of incidents where older people have tried to save their dogs from bears in town only to be severely injured.

Samantha Biggers can be reached at [email protected]

 

  1. The only thing I can tell you is to live where human life is above bears lives and the removal of them isn’t looked upon as a bad thing provided it is a defense matter. Down here an investigation will be done but it’s usually easy to tell if it’s a danger, destroying property and defense.
    My Indian ancestors didn’t deal with the immense bear population that we have now nor were bears trained that humans are a source of food. There was not as much “garbage” nor for food waste as there is today. Even my grandparents didn’t waste leftovers, grease or cuts. There were 2 buckets that were used and one was for the dogs and the other for the chickens.
    In many places, such a Colorado, hunters are reporting that bears are now responding to shots looking for an easy target. This is because the large carcass is usually left with only a portion of the meat carried out on the first load because the trophy antlers are considered more important in todays society. Very few will quarter and hang the remainder of the meat.

  2. Great article! That was sure a memorable hike. Have a story to tell my students now. Hope to do it again one day (more the hiking part, not so much the bears). And yeah, were there any falling stars anywyay?

  3. A very nice article and I agree with many of the points you made. In truth, little good ever comes from interaction between wild animal and human. As you stated, misguided people in bear country should be held somehow accountable, many of whom probably never hit the trails. I visit there to hike and camp and, being retired now, have decided to move to west NC. When in bear areas, I carry my wrist-rocket, and while I have never had to use it against a bear, I am quite good with it and feel it should be useful, offering a good sting at a good distance. It’s compact, light , ammo is cheap ( 1/4 inch steel shot), and works every time, albeit the rubber bands have a shelf life of maybe 2 years. Your thoughts and again, great article.

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