Spence Field Bear attack from a few weeks ago

1:20 p.m. on May 27, 2016 (EDT)
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Yeah I know, "another bear thread" .....

This has been widely reported here in East Tennessee but I just saw the first- hand account from the hiker it happened to; it's unusual to get the first person story in this much detail so I thought I would share it.

https://peachpeak.wordpress.com/

The place he camped was a spot I've tent camped a half dozen times over the years; my favorite spot at Spence.

 

1:21 p.m. on May 27, 2016 (EDT)
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oh BTW, they euthanized a bear they thought was the attacker but DNA tests later proved that it wasn't. The attacking bear is still out there.

Common sentiment is that once the mast crop ripens bears should have plenty to eat and not be such a danger to hikers. At least that's what the local experts are saying.

1:45 p.m. on May 27, 2016 (EDT)
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Scary..

3:01 p.m. on May 27, 2016 (EDT)
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There are two times a year when there is great tension in the woods.  The first is early spring when the country has not greened up yet and bears are fully up and around. The other is the fall when they go into hyperplasia and put on as many calories as possible.

Most black bears are not dangerous but a few are and you don't know the order they come in.  Pepper spray would have been perfect as a deterrent in this situation.

7:10 p.m. on May 27, 2016 (EDT)
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I just got chills! That is so scary. This makes me a little nervous about my upcoming trip to Glacier and Grand Teton. 

I really hate that this happened,  especially the wrong bear being euthanized. What a shame all around!

I'm really glad that you shared this. It had a lot of good information that I'd never thought about. I'm pretty sure this is the first first-hand account I've heard. 

8:00 p.m. on May 27, 2016 (EDT)
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I have several observation after reading the accounts, especially by the hiker who was attacked. As ppine says, spring and fall are the dangerous times for bears and humans. For bears, remember that they only eat half the year or so in order to stay alive. That means that when food is not plentiful, bears get cranky and look for sources they may not normally eat. A second observation is did the hiker have bear spray or an air horn? Both or either would have helped. A final observation. While it is enticing to stay in the tent to avoid a direct confrontation, it would have been better to exit the tent after the first attack, rather than wait and hope the bear got the message. Remember, this bear had already shown predatory behavior. In that case, it wants you, and the best thing to do is to fight. While there are opinions that you should play dead with a brown bear, I argue that with any predatory bear, you are in a  fight for your life. If you can make the bear understand that a fight with you will not go well for either. Of course, a hasty retreat or gathering others around you is always the best alternative. Again the latter will impress upon the bear the risk of confronting humans. Finally, though none of the articles mention it, this bear may have grown up associating humans with food. Shelters and long established camps often have bear problems, so much so that there may be two or more generations of bears that have learned that there are often good snacks to be had around human camps. Consuming toothpaste, thrown out mac and cheese and the like, even if buried, is far more agreeable to a bear than a few unripened berries or grass. Ashleigh, most bears will avoid contact with humans. Except for sows with cubs, bears are very solitary foragers, and avoid contact with other large animals, including their own kind. You'll do fine in Glacier and Jackson Hole, just be bear aware. One thing I always do when selecting a camp, is look for bear sign. This hiker didn't mention doing that. I look for tracks, scat, fresh scratch marks on trees, etc. At the risk of making this too long, I'll relate a story. In 2007, I was on the Pelly River in central YT. We pulled into a seasonal hunting camp of the Selkirk FN. They use it to teach their youngsters about hunting, preparing hides, etc. There was a cabin, untouched, except by some claw marks at the door and window. Maybe bear, maybe wolverine or fisher. There was also a lot, and I mean A LOT of bear scat and bear fur. BIG bear scat. Brown bear. We all sat down to discuss the situation. It was getting late in the day and we had a canyon to run. None of us could find any bear scat that was fresh, it was all several months old or older. And no fresh tracks. On the Finlay in 2011, we came to the confluence of a large creek with a lot of grayling in it. As a couple of the others got out to fish, I explored the ruins of an old cabin. An old rusty can showed signs of bear claws/teeth. Then I saws  fresh track, brown bear. the sand at the fine edges had not yet dried so it was fresh. So the bear had been there within a few minutes. I alerted the others and we moved on. the bear was no doubt in the bush, watching us. We all had bear spray, but an encounter was not something any of us wanted. And the danger of introducing an already caught fish to a bear, would have started the cycle of a bear looking to humans for food. Be bear aware, as you should be with all wildlife, and you will be fine. Learn to recognize their tracks, their sounds, their scat, and you will be fine.

10:14 p.m. on May 27, 2016 (EDT)
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Pat, where was he camped exactly? Was he up on the field? It's a beautiful area right where you turn to head to the shelter but thought if he was screaming from there others would have heard him. Scary way to wake up!

10:52 p.m. on May 27, 2016 (EDT)
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I agree with Erich, about leaving the tent. Keep a pocket knife handy and unzip it and get out.

Avoid areas with fresh sign. It is spooky to realize they could be watching and sniffing you from the alders. It happened to me in Alaska more than once.

I pulled into Sheep Camp on the Chilkoot Trail late one evening in the rain. That same morning a lady was rolling up her sleeping bag at 0900 when a black bear unzipped her tent with his claws and came in the tent with her.  She was unhurt but both were shaken.  Be ready out there.

It is a mistake to think that all black bears are harmless.

11:17 p.m. on May 27, 2016 (EDT)
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Grand Teton has a page devoted to bear safety  https://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/bearsafety.htm   

That's good advice - like all or most bear environments, food storage and a clean camp is paramount.  More people are killed by honey bees than by bears by a ratio of about 50 to 1.  I don't hae stats at hand, but I'll bet bear fatalities in grand Teton fall way behind deaths from falling or drowning, etc.

9:56 a.m. on May 31, 2016 (EDT)
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Frank,

yes it was up in the field nearer to the trail than the shelter

 

just FYI, some have mentioned avoiding fresh sign, that is nearly impossible in the Smokies which has designated camping; only so many places allowed and way too many bears.

 

 enjoyed reading everyone's comments...thanks

5:51 p.m. on May 31, 2016 (EDT)
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impossible in the Smokies which has designated camping; only so many places allowed and way too many bears

That's what makes me have such a love hate relationship with the Smokies...one of our real treasures of natural resources in the southeast, with good justification for the restrictions due to how many visitors it gets. But every time I think about going back, I end up somewhere else that allows me a bit more freedom to roam and camp where I want. I do miss it for the most part, and would probably spend time there if I lived as close as you Patman. Need to get back up there for some winter hikes this year.

7:18 p.m. on May 31, 2016 (EDT)
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Well said Phil! You've hit the proverbial nail on the head with your observations. I like my dog, she likes hiking trips. I like camp fires, I also enjoy the freedom of being able to build one while backpacking. I love the freedom of pitching my tent where I want without reservation/restrictions. 

At the risk of upsetting some, I would like to know the ratio of bear attacks or troublesome bear reports in the Smokies vs Cherokee/Pisgah/Nantahala where there is a hunting season. I am not in favor of a lot of the practices utilized in these hunts, but I view them as a necessary! Yes we are invading their back yards and entering their habitat, but aren't we doing the same thing  with each new road and housing development that's built?

8:53 p.m. on May 31, 2016 (EDT)
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I am not sure just considering hunting vs not hunting would catch all the factors. Designated vs dispersed camping may have more influence on bear encounters than the overall population. I think I mentioned this on another thread, but a friend with our wildlife agency said one of my favorite areas to hike is one of the most populated bear areas in NC, although not as well known as others. It will remain nameless but I have not even seen a bear in six or seven trips there...just some sign. I camp in a new spot each time using LNT principles and have even been lazy with my cooking etc, although conversations on this site made me get efficient with that again.

10:15 p.m. on May 31, 2016 (EDT)
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Phil, I totally agree with my analogy not catching all factors. I think the designated sites in the Smokies lead to "food conditioning" with the bears. That in itself, along with the sheer number of people vs area is probably the biggest factor.

6:39 a.m. on June 1, 2016 (EDT)
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Food conditioning is the biggest issue I think. I know where I go in NH is full of bears, but I've never actually seen them, though I have been close enough to smell a few (blech!). Even without hunting they avoid human contact. The AMC sites in that area use steel bear boxes because they are visited a few times each season generally, even the higher elevation camps where you wouldn't expect to find bears. If they know food is there the urge to avoid humans isn't always enough to stop them from trying to get it.

Not sure how they can resolve the issue down there in the Smokies. With so many people wanting to get out there and many of them already chafing at the rules there is no easy solution. It looks awful pretty from the pics I've seen, but I think I'll stay up here where my bearproof tent provides all the safety I need :p

10:48 a.m. on June 1, 2016 (EDT)
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Pat, while there are designated campsites where this attack occurred(and in many other places around the country) the victim in this case had other options if he found bear sign. I'm making the assumption that he could have camped close to the cabin, even if that is not ideal, or perhaps hiked to another site. I have not hiked in the Smokies. However, while I don't advocate breaking the rules in most circumstances, a person's first responsibility is to use his or her experience and brain to decide what is the best alternative. This applies not only to bears, but to other circumstances. If I were to find bear sign around a designated campsite on the Wonderland Trail on Mt. Rainier, I'm going to hike farther and camp where I can. If the area where I camp is not a designated site, so be it. The key here, is that ever trail user needs to be responsible regarding cooking and food, so bear do not become habituated. Hunting is a controversial issue. While I don't advocate hunting bears, I do acknowledge that we need to work hard to make it clear to the bears to avoid humans.

1:43 p.m. on June 1, 2016 (EDT)
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What if the guy just did everything right and chalk it up as bad luck no fault. I suspect bears are naturally curious just like a dog and a human laying in a tent probably looks like easy pickings to him (I.e.: just another carcass ) like Patman said there are so many in the area and so many people that these encounters are inevitable. Especially when the casual tourist does what I saw about a month ago in SMNP 20 car stopped everybody out looking at 2 bears and one dumb a_ _ in particular was easing up to the bear with in 15ft what the  hell was he gonna do pet it. These bears have no fear of us and Im not sure but I don't think our southern bear hibernate at all so they are out foraging year round. You can do everything right and there will still be times when overlapping worlds colided and it's not always pretty. We can compartmentalize these events all we want but just because we've been lucky or blessed time and chance happen to the best.

ps. LS- I'll trade you a Helleberg nammajt 3gt for you bear proof tent LOL

5:07 p.m. on June 1, 2016 (EDT)
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Erich,

Excellent point and well taken; always safety above the rules.

Interestingly I made a choice last Friday night to leave a wild camp (generally speaking I've had far fewer encounters at non-typical camps) and go to a designated camp because of a bear encounter. I made a navigational error on an off-trail section and wound up ascending the wrong drainage which caused me to traverse an intense rhododendron thicket; that thicket beat me to death taking nearly two hours to go about a quarter mile. I was so exhausted and cold from being saturated by the wet understory that I pitched my tent on the fist semi-flat spot I found after reaching more open forest. I settled in for a couple hours and started dozing off; a bear came up to my tent and start sniffing around. I yelled at it and it did indeed run away.

However, the story linked above was very fresh in my mind (and I was about four miles from the place in the story) so I admit I got spooked and packed everything up and proceeded to night hike to a designated camp another two miles away. I still pitched my tent but felt safer with others around (whether or not I actually was).

7:01 a.m. on June 2, 2016 (EDT)
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Bill Garlinghouse Posted a picture of his AWol guide of his notes from what he saw at Spence field when he hiked through in 2013...It had the word "Bears"..He didn't stay at the shelter he just moved on....

10:38 a.m. on June 2, 2016 (EDT)
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Thank you, Pat. I'm glad the bear only sniffed. I think you did exactly the correct thing to leave the area and hike to an established site with others. You didn't get much sleep, but then you wouldn't have dealing a bear all night. John, regarding the hiker's encounter, you are correct that bears are curious. However, the fact that the bear actually reached into the man's tent and proceeded to bite him, demonstrates that this bear was/is a predatory bear. The bear did not think that  the man was another carcass. Bears have an extremely sensitive olfactory system. The man did make a number of mistakes which I detailed above. By his own admission, he yelled at the bear, which went away temporarily and he remained in the tent until after the bear returned. He should have left the tent immediately after the first attack. Tents do not provide any protection, but more importantly this bear had already demonstrated predatory behavior. One thing to be clear on this, is that bears can and do somewhat lose their fear of humans in some areas. This is dangerous. That can escalate into bears learning that humans may be a food source, as in, providing garbage etc. That is very dangerous. However, even these bears have not become predatory. In this instance, the bear attacked a live animal, nearly its own size. Black bears, generally do not hunt large animals. Certainly, this man had some bad luck, to camp in an area with a predatory bear. However, he was not thinking about bears or what to do in an encounter. Where was his bear spray, why did he remain in his tent? Yes we can second guess what he should have done, in retrospect. That is why these discussions are useful.

10:58 a.m. on June 2, 2016 (EDT)
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Erich- good points, your experience with them makes a difference I simply viewed all of them as predatory apex carnavors. And that if he made any mistakes it wasn't leaving the tent after the 1st attack due to possibly being frozen with fear

Ill go back and reread your previous posts I must have missed something when I read them

12:07 p.m. on June 2, 2016 (EDT)
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John, I don't doubt that the man was frozen with fear. As i have mentioned, this bear had already exhibited predatory behavior when the bear grabbed him. This is very unlike the bear that sniffed Pat's tent. That bear was curious and looking for food. The predatory bear had already attacked the man. He was in a fight and needed to show the bear that he was fully committed to defending himself. If he was in area with lots of bears, he should have had bear spray. And to clarify, bears are omnivores, not carnivores. They are opportunistic feeders and eat anything. Even the brown bears will eat marsh grasses and berries, as well as ground squirrels and other small animals. Despite what you might have seen in movies, bears, especially black bears, will not commonly go after large prey. Attacking a large animal is very risky behavior. A bear, like most animals in the natural world, will not risk injury which would lead eventually to death, by attacking a large healthy animal.

12:25 p.m. on June 2, 2016 (EDT)
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Ashleigh said:

I just got chills! That is so scary. This makes me a little nervous about my upcoming trip to Glacier and Grand Teton. 

I really hate that this happened,  especially the wrong bear being euthanized. What a shame all around!

I'm really glad that you shared this. It had a lot of good information that I'd never thought about. I'm pretty sure this is the first first-hand account I've heard. 

 

I know what you mean.  Last September we had planned to backpack nine days in Glacier, but the air quality was so poor (wildfires) we instead diverted to Grand Tetons only a week before our jump off date.   It was a wonderful, memorable trip to Tetons,  BTW.

Anyway, I was planning to carry a .44 magnum for the Glacier trip, but didn't feel it was necessary in Grand Teton due to the much lower threat/risk.  They are significantly different environments, IMO ... and each environment should be evaluated on its own. 

It is rare that I conceal carry while backpacking, but when you go to an environment like Glacier or Denali, ... you're really descending the food chain.

4:31 p.m. on June 2, 2016 (EDT)
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Chimney,

Huh, Exact same situation for me; I canceled last years Glacier trip due to the smoke and wound up in the Elk Mountains of Colorado instead. If all goes well I'm going to Glacier for 9 days this year with the same route. I will definitely bring spray but doubtful that I'll carry a gun. Last year the motel I reserved in West Glacier for the first night offered to loan me a can of their spray for my trip.

12:41 a.m. on June 3, 2016 (EDT)
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Chimney, I'm glad your Teton trip went well. It is a beautiful place, as is Glacier.  Although carrying a .44 Magnum may make you feel safer regarding brown bears, the reality may be quite different as we have discussed extensively on TS. To be clear, I am not anti-gun, but a .44 Magnum is not the weapon of choice for brown bears.

2:58 p.m. on June 3, 2016 (EDT)
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Just back from the bush.

 The discussion reminded me of a trip near Frenchmen's Reservoir in California many years ago.  I was in about 5 miles from the pavement in some high meadows with lots of aspens, false hellebore, berries, and lots of flowering shrubs.  I mentioned to my new girl friend "this looks like some excellent bear habitat."  We proceeded to cook dinner in a Dutch Oven with some garlic, fresh herbs and red wine.  It was fragrant and I could see the wood smoke drifitng down the valley. Within an hour, I started hearing lots of grunting, snorting, and heavy breathing in brush behind camp. Soon the sounds were coming from three sides.  It was probably a sow with yearling cubs. We were surrounded and it was about to get dark.  It is one time that I did get spooked.  They were really loud and making their into camp in broad daylight.  We packed  up our camp in a hurry and headed down to the lake to a USFS campground and slept just fine.

4:47 p.m. on June 3, 2016 (EDT)
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No real observations to add and I'm glad the guy only suffered minor wounds, as mentioned.

I see these kind of attacks as accidents that go with wilderness travel, just as car wrecks go with highway travel.  No different in my opinion.  After a pile up on the Interstate with a couple deaths, do we permanently close the road or shoot the offending drivers or bulldoze up the asphalt?  No, we chalk it up to an accident. 

Bear attacks (and alot of other things) go with wilderness travel.  It's what defines wilderness---the chance for a bear attack.  Without this chance it's not wilderness.

Of course the Smokies gets 11 million humans thru the year, the Park has 1,500 black bear.  Which numbers are way out of line?  Yup, the humans.

And as long as we destroy bear habitat and increase our population--projected to be 450 million by 2050---more of these attacks will occur, along with more harvesting of the black bear population.

10:10 p.m. on June 3, 2016 (EDT)
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Erich- read back thru everything and have given it much thought. TIPI worded very well the thought that i was attempting to get out there. I do listen to your advice and to the experience you have, however if every hiker does everything right the events will still happen, since bears nor anything else for that matter will always adhere to our or their norms hence (time and chance happen to the best).

The thing I have a problem with in this discussion is the speculation that this hiker did something wrong. unless i missed it he never stated that he didn.t have those items and we have all found reason or opportunity not to stay in or near  shelters for various reasons. I do believe it does him an injustice to assume that he did make a mistake (note: I'm not discounting that you are more than likely correct and that i will with out a doubt  heed much of your advice myself.) however in his case it's easy for us to armchair what he should have done rather than focusing on how we can deal with the situation when it arises for us. your advice about the cabin and the other trip are much more conducive to future successful trips.

When I had bear around my tent at night in the beginning I didn't leave my tent simply put I didn't know what to do other than get my equalizer ready. And when I ran head long into one on the trail the first time (I always figured I'd wet my pants. I didn't LOL). I was surprised at how calm and collected I was I simply dropped my pack pulled out my equalizer and began talking loud enough. Thank God for both of our hides he ran off cause one of us  was gonna have a real bad day. and I wasn't real interested in pissing him off with pepper spray I was gonna end him right there and the naysayers be d_ _med. That was my mentality and experience at the time and I didn't do anything wrong. If one was to reach into my tent or hammock and did to me what happened to this guy who knows what they will do coming out of a deep sleep, hell I might be frozen with fear in that instant.

I say all that to get to this point I do believe that at least some of this is happening because of what casual tourist are doing on the side of the road and in the parks, and not because some hiker messed up. not to mention that animals are just that animals I suspect all of us have been bitten by a friendly dog if not our own from time to time.

I really hope that what I've said in seen in the correct light this is not meant to be combative but rather as a discussion on what to do in the event. because as I venture more into the areas, your experience is very valuable to the point where what you are telling us about pepper spray and it effects (which I've personally see in a demo on a police officer makes quite a bit of sense).Plus how to determine if its a good area or not.      

10:10 a.m. on June 4, 2016 (EDT)
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Walter, I always appreciate your comments and your appeal for wilderness.  I often wonder what people expect to encounter on a hike. Years ago I met two hikers at a trailhead in Banff who were in an agitated state. They said they had hiked about 100 metres down the trail before encountering "some animal" in the bush. Animals in the bush, go figger. 

12:02 p.m. on June 4, 2016 (EDT)
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Tipi, well said. And John you are correct that incidents will happen, not matter how careful we are. My comments were meant not as a criticism of the hiker, rather than what he could have done better to avoid an encounter. Hindsight is always clearer, and I have coming close to getting killed in the bush(none from animals) by a cascade of mistakes. The "if I had only" type of situations, or the accidents such as rock fall when I was a climber. In retrospect, many of those situations were avoidable. The Canadian explorer, Steffanson, said that "adventures" meaning accidents shouldn't happen in the bush, if you have planned well. As far as staying in a tent, I have had a sow with two spring cubs, come into a camp and the first thing I did was leave the tent. But we can always play the armchair quarterback. As I mentioned earlier, and on another thread, many people carry a firearm for bear defense, and I don't have a problem with that if it makes someone more comfortable. I will point out here, as I did on the other post, the realities of killing a bear with a hand gun. Bears can run about 30 mph. In the event of an attack, you have at most, two seconds to hit the bear an kill it. Wounding it, as been demonstrated in real situations, can cause the bear to attack more vigorously. And since most bear encounters that are perceived as attacks, are actually bluffs, there is usually no need to escalate a situation. You encounter on the trail are very similar to the many I have had. The bear just wants to get away. Tipi's insights are very appropriate as many people have conflict about the natural places, and I have written about this. They want the natural lands to be safe, and to be natural, they can never be safe.

1:25 p.m. on June 4, 2016 (EDT)
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Well said Erich well said

it isn't always safe and I don't have a whole lot of simpathy for the it ought not to be that way crowd. They can ignore the evident realities flip flop in the clouds and live in their own world all they want. Id much rather use my noggin and learn from those who've been there

2:13 p.m. on June 4, 2016 (EDT)
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Make good decisions and react when you need to.  If you pull your canoe on shore and it is full of bear tracks try another beach. 

I had a sow and two cubs in Alberta once 16 inches from my face, and only mosquito netting between use. I whistled at her and she left. You can be sure that I got out of the tent after that.

1:44 p.m. on June 5, 2016 (EDT)
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I had a exciting and strange bear encounter on a recent trip in July 2015.  Of the dozens of bears and bear cubs I have seen over the years, this one wanted to be my best friend.

I was camped off a main trail about 30 feet with my tent door facing the trail.  As I sat in my tent eating dinner a very big black bear casually walked down the trail, turned onto my camp sidetrail and calmly walked right up to my tent while I stared wide eyed.  He got to within 10 feet of me and we eyeballed each other and I actually wanted to sit down and have a long talk with him about what he knows of the mountains and the woods around us.

By the time my mouth formed words he saw me and slowly walked away up a hillside.  I then had the camera out for some pics---


TRIP%20166%20283.jpg
Goodbye old friend.

4:04 p.m. on June 5, 2016 (EDT)
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Alright then , this is the last time I start a bear thread. 

I just got home from another weekend trip and had my second outing in a row with a rough bear encounter. This one cost me a tent.

After a long 20 mile day of hiking yesterday I opted to pitch in the overflow tent camping area just south of Cosby Knob shelter in the smokies. I got socked in by intense rain for a couple hours and when it cleared I went to walk around a bit in the area between the tent spots and the shelter ( where the secondary steel cables are and where I hung my food).

On the way back to camp I came face to face with one of the largest black bears I've ever seen in person. I started yelling at it to no avail; it moved in between me my camp. I sort of froze then slowly slipped behind a tree while peeking at it every couple of seconds. I watched it climb the tree that my food was hung from and start shaking the steel cables. I attempted to do an end around and go get my stuff so I scrambled up to the trail (about 100 feet away) through the rhodo and came back down to the camp..... but it was too late. In the time it took me to circle around the big blackie was at my tent. I continued to yell but it just looked at me and turned back to examining my camp.

At that point I decided to go to the shelter and see if I could recruit some folks to accompany me back to my camp to hopefully recover my wallet and car keys at least. Luckily it was gone by the time the four of us made it back there. It had torn through my tent walls and collapsed it, but all my stuff was accounted for.

The kind hikers helped me lug my stuff back to the shelter and told me the bear had just come through there before they heard me hollering.

I didn't get much sleep but mostly because my sleeping pad turned out to be punctured and deflated every little while.(wake up, blow, doze, repeat)

I woke about 6AM this morning (about first light) and rolled over to look out and that same bear was five feet from my head, inside the shelter, ( I was on the lower bunk) sniffing the packs hanging in the shelter. I started yelling and everyone woke up and joined me (there maybe 10 or 11 of us by then). The bear at first sat down outside but then sauntered down to the main cables, stood on it's hind legs, and started shaking each cable trying to knock the food bags loose while ignoring our commotion. It was unsuccessful and eventually walked out of view.

Bears are part of the experience for sure...

So this is kind of like a fish story because I did not get a single picture of that magnificent bear. I was not thinking about that at the time but also my camera was in the tent while it was "opened" and then it was hanging with pack this morning of course.

Here was my camp spot:


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And here is that tent now (pictures taken from front porch at home a few minutes ago):


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MSR Hoop RIP

4:24 p.m. on June 5, 2016 (EDT)
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Wow...glad you came out unscathed, although regrets for your loss of the tent.

Based on your experience and the article posted about Spence field, it sounds like tent camping anywhere in the neighborhood of the established shelters in the Smokies is getting a little too risky. The combination of bears acclimated to those areas as food sources and not being in the group shelter seem to significantly increase the risk.

I wonder if that is why the White Mountain NF doesn't allow camping within one quarter mile of an established shelter or tent site, or is that purely to reduce impact?

Now that I have written this, I recalled that your previous encounter was nowhere near an established camp, oh well do much for my theory.

Again, glad you are OK and I guess the silver lining is you get to go tent shopping? Hope you get caught up on sleep.

4:29 p.m. on June 5, 2016 (EDT)
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Glad you're alright, Patrick. 

4:34 p.m. on June 5, 2016 (EDT)
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Thanks Phil. Yes I think my days of tenting near shelters are at an end (at least this time of year).

While walking those long miles this weekend I was thinking about this thread and realized that unless a person spends a lot of time in the Smokies to see it up close, it's hard to understand just how pervasive the bears are.

I started this weekends trip from Big Creek Friday afternoon, camping at Mt Sterling Friday night. Well, I followed distinct bear prints on the BMT (Mt Sterling Ridge trail) for a full five miles. Then I saw prints and scat intermittently for the next five miles across the Balsam Mountain Trail.

A person has to be situationally aware at all times to play here.

Hey thanks North. As adrenalizing as the encounter was, that bear was never really aggressive and seemed laser focused on getting at the hiker food.

5:02 p.m. on June 5, 2016 (EDT)
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I'd sell you my bearproof tent Patrick, but then I'd be afraid to go out there. Sure glad it was only a tent and not you that got chewed up. That bear just might have been food conditioned and I'm guessing is not long for this earth.

5:53 p.m. on June 5, 2016 (EDT)
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Apparently Miss Nature sent you a messenger as She wants you to get another tent.

8:40 p.m. on June 5, 2016 (EDT)
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Dude wonderful that your ok 

10:06 p.m. on June 5, 2016 (EDT)
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Wow Patrick glad your ok...Sorry about the tent...I was checking on a shelter and camp area we closed do to 3 bears...There was fresh scat and I moved back and forth for 2 days to inform more hikers as I came upon them.Nothing like you had..

6:28 a.m. on June 6, 2016 (EDT)
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Are we at the point where the GSMNP is going to start a cannister requirement? Seems like hanging is not helping to uncondition the bears there from searching for food or are the numbers just so high this is inevitable? There are a lot of folks not practising good techniques or keeping a clean camp. From my memory, there are also no established cooking areas at a distance from the shelters

7:11 a.m. on June 6, 2016 (EDT)
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Do they use bear boxes down south? The AMC has them at some of their sites in the Whites as well as their side of the Grafton Loop. Group cooking areas with a locking steel container or two set away from the tent sites seem to work though I'm told when the bears start playing with the boxes nobody gets any sleep due to the noise.

9:16 a.m. on June 6, 2016 (EDT)
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Steel bear boxes at the shelters would change a lot of behavior.  Smaller ones could be brought in with pack animals.

The other thing that would work is a cache system, or a hanging pole long enough to thwart climbing bears.

Managing agencies have learned that where food is unavailable, bears quickly give up and stop looking for food.

11:59 a.m. on June 6, 2016 (EDT)
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An unfortunate encounter, Patrick. I'm sorry about your tent and pad, but glad you survived, albeit with little sleep. This was obviously a food conditioned bear, having learned or been taught that humans can provide food. One thing that is obvious about these places, is that at some point, these bears have been successful in getting food from humans. And this particular bear knows about hanging food and that it is sometimes possible to get the food bags to drop from the cable. I have also encountered bear that are unfazed by yelling. A sad story because this bear will eventually have to be destroyed before he becomes aggressive. Did anyone have bear spray in this situation? As you observe, bears follow trails like everyone else. They can also be very stubborn, not unlike my dachshunds. I once encountered a large black bear on the Cassiar Highway in NW BC. It sauntered onto the road from a trail on the right, and walked the road for perhaps 100 feet, before it walked down a trail on the left. I was in my Astro van with three of us inside and two canoes on the roof. The bear walked the road in the middle leaving no room. It was clear he knew we were there, but was going to take his own time.

12:20 p.m. on June 6, 2016 (EDT)
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The two encounters above describe bears that are on their way to becoming dangerous. They show up in daylight hours and are hard to get rid of. Until there is a consequence to their actions like a snout full of bear spray or Kerilian bear dogs and rubber bullets, their behavior is bound to get worse.

7:18 a.m. on June 7, 2016 (EDT)
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On a lighter note, I upgraded my camp security in areas where cannisters are required...just hope bears can read


0605162146.jpg

10:09 a.m. on June 7, 2016 (EDT)
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Glad you are ok, Patrick! How scary!!! I can't even imagine!

11:51 a.m. on June 7, 2016 (EDT)
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I agree ppine when bears lose their fear of humans, it will go badly for both. I had referred on another threat to chasing bears. Doing such things with some caution, and using bear spray, bear dogs, rubber bullets etc. will often show the bear that human encounters are not productive. Ashleigh, while a bear encounter can be frightening, showing fear to a bear allows it to sense that he or she is in control. You want the situation to end with both of you feeling that you kept your status.

7:49 p.m. on June 7, 2016 (EDT)
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started shaking each cable trying to knock the food bags loose while ignoring our commotion.

this is why i have for years stated that one needs to use a redundant system for these cables----ie a carabiner attached to the main loop...

having an open ended loop to hang, and with bears being as smart as they are----they know they can just shake them to get food to drop from the sky...

7:52 p.m. on June 7, 2016 (EDT)
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FlipNC said:

Are we at the point where the GSMNP is going to start a cannister requirement? Seems like hanging is not helping to uncondition the bears there from searching for food or are the numbers just so high this is inevitable? There are a lot of folks not practising good techniques or keeping a clean camp. From my memory, there are also no established cooking areas at a distance from the shelters

 

you bring up a few good points....

mainly the fact that people are pretty careless about their food......

and yeah, having a cooking area basically inside the shelter does nothing except draw bears into the shelter.......

there should be a cooking area thats a good distance away from the shelter.....

as for canisters-----it could come to that point----however enforcement would be somewhat nil with the amount of backpackers the park gets and low number of rangers......

the cable system is probably the best the park will be able to do at this point......

7:56 p.m. on June 7, 2016 (EDT)
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or a hanging pole long enough to thwart climbing bears

there is one campsite in the park that does have a pole to hang bags on.....

it was there before they installed the cable system (which this campsite also has, but its on a bridge and not very high).......

personally, i dont see a pole being the solution as bears can climb up these poles as well........

7:57 p.m. on June 7, 2016 (EDT)
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and sorry to hear about your experience, Pat....

and man, it seems like youve had a bunch of run ins with bears over the years....

i think you had your pack "stolen" from russell field by a bear???

and did you report this incident to the Park?

9:55 a.m. on June 8, 2016 (EDT)
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Kevin,

I've had more than my fair share of encounters (not surprising given my trip frequency I guess). Including that bear taking my pack at Russell back in 2010. But statistically speaking I've had very few bad encounters really, if you consider I've only had property damage twice in 8 or 9 years covering dozens and dozens of trips. :)

Yes I did call the backcountry office and report the incident. The lady I spoke with was grateful to get a first person account. The most surprising question she asked me was about the value of the tent. Why would they want to know that? I've never seen any numbers talked about like that in any article I've ever read about bear encounters. The main thing she wanted to know is if it followed me. I got the impression that is a trigger statement for them, no pun intended.

I've been expecting a call from the parks wildlife expert but he hasn't called me yet. They said he's on the trail right now because they think that same bear is walking a circuit between Cosby, Tri-Corner and Pecks doing the same thing.

2:00 p.m. on June 8, 2016 (EDT)
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 The most surprising question she asked me was about the value of the tent. Why would they want to know that? 

so they can send the bear a bill........

but, seriously, i think they might ask that for two reasons---one just being shear curiosity but they might also ask to keep a tally of how much property gets damaged by bears...

ie---"in 2009, we had XXX amount of property damage by bears"

although i have never seen that statistic----it could be hidden away in some spreadsheet of numbers that the park keeps......

and yeah, with your frequency----you're bound to see wildlife along the way........

and i think the park expert is having a busy season between spence field and some other incidents.....

2:02 p.m. on June 8, 2016 (EDT)
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a bunch of closures and warnings up on their site updated today...

Bear Closures - areas that are closed due to bear activity. Please read What Do I Do If I See A Bear? for important safety information about bears.

  • Russell Field Shelter
  • Mt. LeConte Shelter
  • Campsite #10, #13, #21, #36, #37,and #92

Bear Warnings - areas where bears are active. Please read What Do I Do If I See A Bear? for important safety information about bearS .

  • Spence Field Shelter
  • Cosby Knob Shelter
  • Tricorner Knob Shelter
  • Pecks Corner Shelter
  • Laurel Falls Trail
  • Abrams Falls
  • Campsite #18, #20, and #113
10:25 a.m. on June 9, 2016 (EDT)
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All good points on bear safety. I would add they don't mention bear spray. Also to make yourself appear larger, holding your pack above your head is a good technique. The remark on the site about the historic range is misleading. Black bears didn't historically inhabit the desert areas of what is now California nd Nevada. However, they continue to frequent the Sierra, and throughout Northern California, Oregon and Washington.

10:47 a.m. on June 9, 2016 (EDT)
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On that note Erich, I've never bought spray before but have decided to start carrying it in the Smokies at least in this time frame. Do you have recommendations of a brand you like? Seems like the local stores mostly stock "CounterAssault" brand.

11:13 a.m. on June 9, 2016 (EDT)
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Kevin,

They just closed Cosby based on my report.....

11:06 p.m. on June 9, 2016 (EDT)
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If it says "made in Montana", buy it.

Some people carry bear spray in their packs. I believe it belongs in a holster on your belt or pack belt.  At night, know where it is in the dark. When you need it, you need it right now.

2:44 a.m. on June 10, 2016 (EDT)
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Patrick,Counter Assault is a decent brand. I would buy two, if you have not used bear spray before. Practice with one so you know what to expect. Carefully wash your hands after use. In bear country, I always have it handy in a holster on my belt. As ppine says, it should be easily accessible.

5:08 p.m. on June 13, 2016 (EDT)
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Thank goodness we live in a country where you can still get eaten by wild animals. Too soon?

7:07 a.m. on June 14, 2016 (EDT)
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Lol, not too soon at all for me Jeff. And I agree!

 

 

9:10 p.m. on June 14, 2016 (EDT)
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I saw this just before I left on a work related trip and I'm back home now. I'm actually suprised by this! I've had so many black bear encounters I ignore them almost now. Then Patman gets his campsite raided that threw me way off! Patman...glad your okay! 

July 18, 2019
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