As a fellow who’s had his share of run-ins with bears — the black variety mostly, but also a few grizzlies — I heartily recommend heeding the recent warnings regarding bruins from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Virginia is one of those eastern states with a healthy, growing population of black bears. They’re found from the Tidewater parts of the Old Dominion to the Blue Ridge and Alleghany mountains. In fact, bears have been seen in nearby Northern Virginia communities, close to Washington, on a fairly regular basis.
Please, be mindful of several important bear facts. One is that bears can travel great distances without effort. These critters don’t smoke and only rarely consume unhealthy foods. If a hungry, grumpy bear can’t find enough suitable spring and summer vegetation to soothe an aching stomach, he or she will put on traveling shoes, so to speak.
If human settlements are nearby the bears quickly learn to associate people with a potentially rich supply of food. Blame part of that on warm-weather patio cookouts and one of the bears’ favorite activities when they find themselves in human surroundings: Scrounging for edibles in our garbage cans and also slurping down whatever food is left in Fido’s dish that was left outside. Bears also love to raid bird feeders and bags of dry pet foods left in garages and sheds whose doors have been left ajar.
Now add the possibility of having fruit trees and compost piles in the backyard — never mind a beehive — you could be in for some exciting times.
The advice from wildlife experts: don’t do or have any of this. Get rid of your bird feeders during the warm days of the year; get rid of anything that smells good to a bear. Oddly, some people figure if there’s a bag filled with spoiled meat or rotten fruit in a trash can no human would enjoy catching a whiff of it. But bears will think a dinner placemat has been set just for them. Bears love the smell of food that none of us would touch with a 10-foot pole.
The way to avoid bear problems is to take the trash to the dump as often as possible. Don’t wait for the trash truck to come around because the bear might beat them to it. Of course, only rich people can think of installing an electrified fence, which might not even be legal in some jurisdictions.
The Virginia fish and wildlife folks are correct when they say a bear has a natural fear of humans and prefers to run away. However, there are exceptions and I’m not talking about the bears in national parks that a few well-meaning idiots go out of their way to feed. I’m talking about an instance in Canada — during one of my bear-hunting trips — when a hunter had to answer nature’s call. He visited a small outhouse in back of the hunting camp and, while firmly ensconced on the seat, suddenly found someone, something, trying to open the door.
It was a black bear who appeared to have some needs of his own. He actually tried to enter the tiny facility. Only a loud shout made him turn around and leave, softly galloping through the nearby tall grass.
“You should have had your rifle with you,” said the outfitter. The hunter did just that on all subsequent visits to the one-room, no-window condo.
How do I know?
I was the man who shouted at the bear.
Meanwhile, “Living with Bears in Virginia” is a very interesting video produced by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Click here to check it out.
- Gene Mueller