Black Bear, Black Bear, What Do You See?

I see a lone hiker looking at me.

If my headline isn’t familiar to you, you don’t know a kid, I’d bet. People have been reading the picture book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, by Bill Martin Jr. and the famous Eric Carle, since 1967. My mom read it to me; I read it to my niece Katherine, and I read it to Finn. Then I passed it on to my nephew Dalton and niece Avery. Books in my family get around.

What does happen when a black bear sees you? I used to believe the standard mantra: grizzlies can be dangerous; black bears are indifferent or afraid of humans and will walk or run away. Turns out, that’s not true.

I learned this the easy way: from a brochure I was given here at Whiteshell Provincial Park, in Manitoba. It’s the most comprehensive and clear handout I’ve ever read on black bear behavior around humans and how you should react.

Offense or Defense

This brochure identifies bear behavior as either of these two motivations, and the gist is that you do the opposite of what the bear does in either situation.

  • If the bear is making a big fuss (it’s scared and defensive), you should quietly retreat, but if you’re attacked, play dead. You should not appear to be a threat.
  • If the bear is silently approaching (it’s stalking you!), you make a big fuss, but if attacked, fight for your life. Seriously, it says that:

I’m suddenly ready to take black bears much more seriously.

How to Spot the Offense

What to Do If Attacked

How to Spot the Defense

What To Do If Attacked

My Best Bear Story

It was Christmas at my in-laws (this was before I married Tracy), and the house was full of sleeping family crammed in every room. My father-in-law, Larry, was in the basement watching TV and snoozing on the sofa with my dog, Jack. They did that.

Jack had to go outside to pee, and Larry decided to join him to smoke his pipe, so together they stepped out the back door into the winter night.

Of course, there was a bear in the back yard, right there near the door. Jack turned around and slipped back inside through the cat flap, but when Larry tried the doorknob, it was locked. So, my big hunting dog had left the patriarch of the family outside in the cold (in his underwear) with a bear, while the rest of the house slept.

By the time Larry would get to this part of the story, he was usually chuckling and refilling his pipe, so the ending must have been unimportant … the bear must’ve ambled off, and Larry probably climbed the deck steps and came in through the warm, lit kitchen. Jack was probably long asleep on the basement sofa.

I’d say the moral is to have good stories to tell about bears, but make sure you’re not in them!

3 thoughts to “Black Bear, Black Bear, What Do You See?”

      1. Nope! There are introduced feral pigs that potentially could be dangerous if you were actively looking for trouble but otherwise humans are the most dangerous thing in the bush. No snakes and only one very shy mildly poisonous spider. No drop bears thank goodness 😁