Filed under: Humor, Nature & Wildlife, Outdoor Recreation & Hiking, Preparation & Readiness, RVing & the Legal System, State & National Parks
HOW TO ATTRACT BLACK BEARS (…and get a picture, too.)
Even with the population of black bear increasing in Virginia, the possibility of seeing one is still an uncommon and exciting experience. These creatures can range from 90 to 500 pounds in weight and stand as tall as 7 feet when erect. Male black bears are naturally larger than females.
Black bears are somewhat nocturnal, or crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn). Seeing one during the daylight hours is less likely as they are naturally afraid of humans and somewhat solitary animals.
Black bears in Virginia are mostly vegetarian eating a variety of roots, nuts, seeds, berries, grasses, insects, and fruits. But, when given a chance to eat meats they will not hesitate.
On our recent outing to Big Meadows campground in the Shenandoah National Park, the Rangers (now called Park Police) warned us to be careful, as there had been numerous sightings of black bears in the campground.
This was exciting news to me – in over twenty years of visiting the park and campground, I had only seen two black bears, and both of those were moving away from me and quickly disappeared into the surrounding forest.
But our bear sighting was not to be. We did have deer galore wander through the campground along with the usual parade of chipmunks, raccoons, skunks, and squirrels. After three days without a bear sighting, I decided to talk to the Ranger again to determine why. After an informative discussion, I learned what I had to do to increase my chances of seeing a black bear.
- Cook up a platter full of high fat hamburger meat and hot dogs on the camp grill being sure to leave the fatty, greasy mess in the grill.
- After dinner, throw any left over hamburgers and hot dogs into the surrounding underbrush – shucks, wild animals can enjoy the same food we do.
- Leave your cooler full of bacon, eggs and lunch meat out on the picnic table. Any boxes or bags containing food items like cereal, potato chips, bread, energy bars, or pancake mix should be left outside with the cooler.
At first, the bears may not be immediately attracted to the bounty. So, don’t be disappointed if your first visitors are raccoons – resist the temptation to chase the raccoons away as they will play an important part in the bear attraction process.
The raccoons are likely to open the cooler and tear the items in your boxes or bags open as well. They will rip open the plastic bags of garbage you left outside and scatter the contents all over the campsite. Skunks, foxes and insects will be attracted to the food you threw into the woods. Opossums will wander in for their share of the bounty. All of this activity will unleash the scent of the food into the air. The first to arrive animals will also carry the food scent on their bodies back into the forest where it is likely that any black bear hanging around eating blackberries will smell and decide to follow.
With any luck, a bear should arrive at your campsite within an hour. While there, he (or she) will tear open and eat any food items left by the raccoons. The noise of the bear should awaken you so that you can run outside and make a series of flash photos of the bear.
OK – all jokes and silly suggestions aside, the above activities are exactly what a good camper should NOT do.
First off, giving any wild animal food may seem like a kind thing to do, but it can spell death for the creature. Bears in particular that become accustomed to “people food” (or pet food) usually turn into nuisance animals that can cause property damage and possibly harm to people and pets. These animals are usually killed rather than trapped and relocated.
When in bear country, it is extremely important to lock all of your food in the trunk of your vehicle, inside a camper or in a provided metal food locker. Always clean up food items from your campsite, including a dirty grill, and dispose of them in animal proof metal trash containers. And never, NEVER throw food scraps into the surrounding area thinking it will be good for the animals.
Oh, one more thing…. In Virginia, feeding a bear is illegal and can result in a stiff fine. It is always best not to share your fare with a bear.