Bear Manners: Getting Along in the Backcountry

Dean Ahearn

 


The black bear, in my mind, is the source of the wild allure of the eastern mountains. I'll state my bias up front: When I go out there, I want to see them, look forward to seeing them, and am glad I have enough good sense to give myself the opportunity. We are fortunate, as people who enjoy the outdoors, to live in a region where a moment can be shared with such a powerful animal within a morning's drive of home. When I see a bear, the rest of that day -- no matter how things have been to that point -- is transformed. Bruin is mystique on four legs.

Much of that aura has seemingly been, in the recent past, a byproduct of scarcity. The presence of bear in Eastern woods, it seemed, was only hinted at. But one of the strengths of this species has proved to be adaptability to the ways of man, and the black bear is scarce no longer in this region.

The Bears Around Us

Bruin roams Shenandoah National Park in good numbers, probably significantly more than one per square mile. Park natural resource expert Rick Potts told me some years ago -- before he left Shenandoah for Katmai in Alaska, to study bears -- that the population density of the Park's bear community may be as high as any on earth. In the national forests of Virginia and West Virginia, the animal leaves frequent signs of its presence, though it keeps a lower profile in this "multiple use" region (read: hunting, among other uses) than in the Park. The forests of Pennsylvania are known for their large bear population (and for their exceptionally large bears). And in Maryland, the comeback has been astonishing, given that state's relative lack of large areas of wilderness, long considered (if you'll pardon me) a bear necessity. In the mountainous, sparsely populated western counties of Garrett and Allegany, the bear population is estimated, according to a feature in the May 1997 issue of National Geographic, at more than 300. A hunting season has been seriously debated (though no green light has yet been given), and the bear's presence can again be felt in the ridges and hollows of the Old Line State's wildest country.

But don't go to any of these places expecting to see one. Bears are shy even in Shenandoah, where a large population is protected from hunting. (Regrettably, illegal hunting remains a problem.) And outside the Park in this region, I almost never see them in the flesh. I saw one a few days before writing this sentence, in the George Washington National Forest -- only the second one I can remember offhand that I've seen in the national forests of this region. And while I've seen them numerous times in the Park, that number (whatever it is) pales when the number of my visits is taken into account. To me, a Park bear sighting is still an event.

Traces of Bruin

But sign of them is a different matter. It may be easily found by the observant on backcountry trails: feces, or scat, among the less unsavory terms (sometimes appearing like that of a large dog, sometimes a blackish mass of partially digested berries); long black hairs in trees, downed logs or wooden signs chewed or rubbed against by the animals; claw marks on trees the bears have climbed or marked for territory; logs ripped open in search of beetle grubs and other insects, or bare patches on erect trees where the outer bark has been scraped away to expose tasty inner layers; overturned rocks or diggings at trailside; and tracks, best seen after a snowfall (bears are not true hibernators; they do seek dens but are frequently active during the winter).

Bear sign can, on occasion, be a rather spectacular sight. A friend and I, on a summer bushwhack in the Roaring Plains of West Virginia, south of Dolly Sods Wilderness, stumbled upon a grove of saplings that had been broken, trampled, and chewed on by what seemed to be a number of bears. We couldn't tell how many, but tracks and scat weren't hard to find! And I've seen wooden trail signs chewed, if not quite beyond recognition, to the point at which reading them was an act of patience. Sign can also send a subtler message. As a friend and I walked out of Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in a Labor Day snowstorm, black bear tracks headed our way told my friend it was time to call in his Siberian husky, who was in his element and exercising a license to roam. (When we saw what were clearly grizzly bear tracks not too much later, it was leash time.)

Meetings in the Woods

Black bears in this region can weigh more than 400 pounds (up to as much as 700, Rick Potts told me, in Pennsylvania, but "that bear's been living off a garbage dump"). While there is no reason to enter the woods in fear of these shy, usually unaggressive animals, it should go without saying that their size and frequently astonishing strength demand respect. If you are fortunate enough to see a bear -- and my experience, again, is that you have to be quite fortunate in Shenandoah and almost supernaturally so elsewhere in this region -- stand your ground but keep your distance, giving the animal all the room it needs. Make sure it can see you; bears don't like surprises and may react aggressively if suddenly confronted. Don't yell or jump around to get its attention; just make yourself visible. If I see one at a distance, I may wave my arms slowly to help it see me, but I generally do that only if I'm concerned about an accidental surprise -- if the bear's near the trail, for instance. I'll continue quiet observation, without signals, if I think that's best for both of us. But I won't hide. The rundown on a bear's detection senses seems to be that hearing is a bit better than ours; eyesight is poor; and sense of smell is legendary. (A saying you've no doubt heard elsewhere: "A pine needle fell in the forest. The deer heard it. The eagle saw it. The bear smelled it.") But we keep learning new things about this; I've read recently that there is evidence that bears can distinguish colors well -- usually an indicator of good vision. The times I've encountered a bear at a distance, it's always seemed to me that it had no trouble seeing me -- although my sense is that most times, it heard me coming or smelled me first. (That would explain the many I've heard crashing away down a hill unseen -- bears I hadn't known were nearby.) I've found it helpful in these long-distance situations to help the bear see me if it seems to be having a hard time; this has almost always resulted in the bear deciding to vacate the area.

Closer encounters are always possible and are best avoided, even if you don't mind seeing bears. To help prevent them, keep your head up and your eyes and ears open. Stop every now and then to refocus on the country around you. Get into the habit of looking well ahead on the trail. When that's not possible -- when entering a thickly vegetated stretch of trail, for instance, or on a blind curve -- speak up, to give a possible nearby bear an alert. Be conversational, if you must. ("Hey bear, you there?" should provide ample warning -- and momentary comic relief.) It's also not a bad idea to do this when entering a naturally noisy situation: near a stream or approaching a windblown stand of trees, for example. I don't use noisemakers -- "bear bells," clanging cookware, bad opera -- and have never felt the need to, whether in black bear or grizzly country. I'd rather not scare away wildlife, bears and all, and annoy approaching humans by creating a disturbance. I go out there to get away from that stuff. And I feel that the constant jangling, say, of bear bells provides a bit of "white noise" that can lead to a false sense of security -- and, worse, can deaden senses that you should be using. (I must admit that some of this attitude nurses a grudge. I once walked out to the edge of Bowman Lake in Montana's Glacier National Park after a night in the campground there. The lakeshores echoed what I believe I can accurately describe as the din of bearbells -- one of the most irritating experiences I can ever remember in the outdoors.) It's really better, I think you'll find, to look and listen. If, in spite of the above precautions, you meet a bear up close, back off slowly and talk softly to it in the very rare instance that it appears upset, don't turn your back, and don't return a stare. Don't run -- ever; the bear may chase you, and you can't outrun it; black bears can run at speeds approaching 35 MPH. And don't come between a mother and her cubs. I have, several times, and have been tolerated so far, but that's not luck to push. When I interrupted a family, I didn't know I was doing it. Stay clear if you know. Serious bear-caused injury is virtually unknown in this region and is rare nationwide, although not at all unheard of. (Largely because there are more of them, and they adapt better to human presence, black bears injure more people than grizzlies.) An alert and respectful attitude will help keep you -- and the bear -- out of trouble. And make no mistake: the bear always pays. (One reason there are so few grizzlies in the lower 48, sad to say.)

Housekeeping

I'll get back to trail encounters in a bit. This seems a good time to bring up keeping a clean camp -- not leaving stuff around for bears to eat. Camp seems to me the most likely place in this region to have a bad bear experience, and you must keep it clean in Shenandoah. Park rules require it, in campgrounds and in the backcountry. You should do it elsewhere in bear country, whether or not the local population is known to visit camps. Bears cannot read regulations; they've never seen the brochures that say that in such-and-such an area they're rarely a problem. And they are opportunists. Once a bear successfully raids a camp -- and if you tempt them enough, sooner or later, one will come -- it may do so again and again, and will be bolder every time. If it keeps up, the bear will have to be dealt with. (I don't see it that way -- I'm a believer that most bear problems are people problems -- but most management authorities seem to and, I guess, have to.) It may have to be killed. And it may be your fault. "Habituated [that is, used to people], food- or garbage-conditioned black bears usually have to be killed," wrote bear behavior expert Stephen Herrero in his classic book Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance.Just in case you don't believe me.

So, don't leave food lying around. Clean up right away when you're finished eating -- whether in the backcountry or in a campground -- and seal things up to make them as odorless as possible. If you're in a campground, put the food in your car's trunk or similar location, so a bear can't see it. This is important: bears that visit campgrounds may have learned to associate ice chests and mustard bottles with good eats, and have been known to break into campers and cars to get such objects. (I once saw a film in Kootenay National Park in British Columbia that included almost unbelievable evidence of the damage a black bear is capable of doing to the inside of a car. And Herrero's book sports a nifty photo of a pickup truck's camper top in California's Yosemite National Park, the rear panel neatly peeled back by a bear. Didn't bother to use the door.)

In the backcountry, follow recommended techniques for food storage. The regulation in Shenandoah is still pretty much what it has been as long as I've been packing there: suspend food and garbage from a tree limb at least 10 feet off the ground and four feet out from the trunk of the tree. For me, at least, this means finding a baseball-sized rock and tying it to the end of at least 50 feet of parachute cord or other sturdy line; chucking that rock over a likely-looking limb, the higher the better; putting all food and garbage (and sweet-smelling items: toothpaste, shampoo, etc.) in a large stuff sack; tying that sack to the cord (you can leave the rock at the other end for ballast); giving the stuff sack a boost if necessary, and hoisting until you wouldn't want to see the animal big enough to reach that bag. But don't hoist the bag all the way up to the limb; this may leave it vulnerable to other critters, such as raccoons and squirrels (or bears, if the limb is stout enough). Don't hoist it into the crotch of a tree, either; that's setting the dinner table for bruin, an outstanding climber. And while I said "the higher the better" for your chosen limb, don't pick one so high Willie Mays couldn't clear it. All it has to be is substantially higher than 10 feet. And chances are you aren't going to have all day to do this.

Bearbag Alternatives

I call the above method the "Shenandoah bearbag," no matter where I use the technique, and I've never been raided after employing it. Unlike the legendary camp robbers in hiker-frequented areas of Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Great Smoky Mountains national parks, bears here haven't developed advanced safecracker procedure -- going right to the tie-off point and chewing, for example, or launching themselves from treetops and grabbing bags on the way down (as one Smokies bear was reputed to do). The credit for this absence of ursine Willie Suttons largely goes to a crackdown in Shenandoah on careless food storage and garbage disposal -- and it suggests a good reason to hang food yourself: Don't give the bears here any opportunity (or motivation) to start practicing. Remember that there's plenty for bears to eat out there -- but that your food is a rich treat by mountain standards. Make it hard to get, and they won't bother. Leave it around, and they'll come back for more.

The Shenandoah bearbag is by and large the way I store food in bear country (I've done it successfully in grizzly country, too). Increasingly in Park Service areas, though, counterbalancing is being recommended. Under this method, after getting your cord over the tree limb, you split your food, garbage and sweet stuff evenly between two stuff sacks. You hoist one sack high, as above, then tie the other one to the other end of the cord at about eye level. Nudge this second sack upward with a walking stick, ice ax, ski pole, or whatever's handy until both are hanging at about the same out-of-reach height. Make sure you can hook one of the sacks or the cord with the device you used to nudge the second sack up, so you can get your food down in the morning! I used this method regularly on a traverse of the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park, where it's the recommended technique, and have used it occasionally elsewhere. A key advantage to counterbalancing is that there's no easily reachable tie-off point on a tree, as there is with the Shenandoah method. I wouldn't say it's any more effective than the Shenandoah bearbag, in my experience, but in an area with real safecrackers, that assertion might not hold up.

There's another alternative. Food storage facilities may be provided at your backcountry campsite -- an artificial "tree" or a cable-and-pulley system, for instance. The "tree" is available at the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club's "huts," the shelters for Appalachian Trail hikers in Shenandoah. A pole is attached to the iron tree by a chain. You hook the cord of your food bag to the end of the pole and hoist the bag to a "limb." If such facilities are provided, use them. They've often been designed to thwart a specific kind of bear-raid strategy. Some years ago, I stayed with friends (including the master of this Web site) at the heavily used Walnut Bottom campsite in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Near the site was a footbridge over Big Creek -- which is, well, a big creek. Trapdoors in the footbed of the bridge opened to reveal iron rings underneath -- from which food sacks were to be hung, then the trapdoor closed, leaving the sacks safely under the bridge and dangling over the creek. I amused myself considerably that night imagining how an enterprising bear would finally crack this security system. My most likely scenario involved a flash flood.

Up With the Sweet Stuff

I mentioned that sweet-smelling items that might not exactly qualify as food should be hung in that bearbag. Bears will eat almost anything, and it sometimes seems that the only prerequisite is that it smell appetizing. That tube of mint toothpaste will be a much-appreciated snack -- and so might that bottle of shampoo! Use your judgment here, but my rule is: If it's aromatic, it goes up. Toothpaste always goes up; sunscreen might not. (How good does yours smell?) A hiker of my close acquaintance is the father of two. He's found Baby Wipes to be terrific toilet paper. Using them, though, means two things for him: 1) Toilet paper gets packed out. Yes, used toilet paper. (Use a Ziploc bag.) Animals might dig this fragrant stuff up otherwise. 2) The Baby Wipes go up in the bearbag. If you think you may need a fragrant medicinal item during the night (liniment, cough syrup, etc.), just make sure it's in a relatively odorproof container. Ziploc it if you have to. And I'm afraid the flask of Maker's Mark will have to go up the tree. (Yeah, that one hurts. Again, Ziploc if you must.) It is frequently suggested that you also hang the clothes you cooked dinner in. I never do this. Well, I might if I whipped up a sausage-and-scallion omelette with Texas toast, but I usually do relatively odor-free cooking (read: freeze-dried) and I try to keep food off me. Whatever gets you through the night -- literally, I guess, in this case. My feeling is that most of the time, the smell of you in those clothes is going to overpower any smell of food. I will add here that Herrero recommends changing clothes if you think they've been odor-impregnated. But I'm not advocating anything. Not hanging cooking clothes hasn't caused me a problem -- yet -- and I'm willing to bet it won't. Again, use your judgment. But if you have gone the full gourmet route in food preparation, wash utensils and discard the washwater well away from your tent and downwind (NOT in the stream, I trust you know) -- and hang the cookware.

But I mentioned freeze-dried cooking. If you strongly desire to avoid bear encounters, strongly consider the dehydrated stuff. It really is low-odor, compared with "fresh" foods, and I find most meals on the market now to be quite palatable (and find a significant number of them to be quite good, in fact. This has been a public service announcement). I don't find the cost prohibitive -- we aretalking about dinner here, after all -- and, frankly, I can save the fine dining (or grub-diving) for town after the trip. And the convenience can't be beaten. Don't let trail gourmet snobs scare you off this stuff entirely. Envy them if you will, but try a few dinners first. Personally, I attribute much of my "luck" in avoiding bear trouble in camp to my cooking preference.

Hang It All?

Should you hang your pack? After all, it's had food in it. I've done so, but generally only where the bear problem was so acute that backpackers were advised in strong terms to do it. (The aforementioned Walnut Bottom in the Smokies was one such spot.) My more aromatic food items tend to be in Ziplocs, and I don't find that food odor transfers readily to the rest of the pack. But as many people will recommend that you hang packs as will tell you to forget it. What I usually do around here is to empty the pack of food (of course) and put it flush against the side of the tent, so an inquisitive bear will bite it instead of me. (That's often how they check things out.) If a bear's ever bitten mine, I slept through it. I must confess to some laziness here, but I must also add that I feel better with the pack in the tent than with it outside, getting rained on or chewed on or whatever. I'd recommend minimizing the odor potential of your food bag before you consider just hanging it all up.

And I usually cook out of the front of the tent in winter -- mainly to indulge in what this page's Webmaster calls "comfort camping," but also because bears are far less active at that time of year. (Never inside it; avoid that if at all possible, for fire safety as well as bear safety.) Again, I'm usually boiling water for the most part, and I try to be very careful not to spill stuff inside while eating. Herrero, in Bear Attacks,suggests having a summer tent and a winter one to compensate for this difference in dining conditions. It's something to consider.

Having said all this, I should note that there is a practical side to campsite maintenance, aside from preserving a healthy relationship between you and bears. The capability of bears to damage expensive equipment should not be underestimated. A bear is quite capable, if he thinks there's profit in it for him, of making extreme modifications to your tent and other gear. I've seen evidence of this: a steel Sigg fuel bottle in a visitor-center display at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, bitten almost in half; claw gashes, which appeared an inch or so deep, in the rock-hard molded plastic of a trash can lid at an Appalachian Trail campsite in New Jersey (yes, there are bears in the mountains of New Jersey, in some numbers); the abovementioned film featuring an almost demolished convertible at a campsite in the Canadian Rockies, which I viewed rather nervously at Kootenay National Park. My guess is that the bear ripped off the top, climbed in and got hold of a would-be food item, then became frustrated at his suddenly cramped quarters. Never frustrate a bear; the quarters paid the price.

Back on the Trail

Now that we've packed up and are hoofin' once more: What to do in a trail encounter depends on a lot of things. Did you surprise the bear(s)? How close were you when they saw you? Any response to any bear situation, I find, depends largely on what's going on at the moment. They're a lot like encounters with other people, in other words. With a black bear, the key question is: How big an "area" are you talking about? There's a greater margin of tolerance with them than with grizzlies, although they're equally unpredictable otherwise.

I should probably have told you this by now: I get my sense of this stuff from a longtime fascination with bears, which has resulted in heavy reading on the subject of bears black and grizzly and numerous opportunities to put that reading into practice in Shenandoah and other places -- almost always on black bears, I should note. (When I encountered a grizzly with cubs, I was near my car. Other individuals I saw at a distance.) Bears interest me as much as any animal (which is saying something), and it's an item of knowledge among my friends that I know a lot about 'em. If you want to, I can recommend no reading more highly than Bear Attacks:Their Causes and Avoidance, by Stephen Herrero, a professor at the University of Calgary in Canada, a book to which I've referred here several times. If you want to really understand why bears react to us the way they do, if you really want to have a better idea of your options, this is the book to read if you read no other. What I'm telling you here is based on lots of reading and considerable personal observation. Herrero's conclusions are based on the above (much more in the personal observation category) plus comprehensive study of every bear attack in North America this century. He'll be the first one to tell you that no one has yet written the book on bears (nor is anyone likely to soon), but he's come as close as anyone I've read in the area of hiker-spurred behavior. This is the only book I've ever read on the topic that I would call indispensable, though I'd recommend all the rest. (An article in the August 1997 issue of Backpacker magazine reports that Herrero is working on a comprehensive update of the volume. Reason enough to start hanging around the local outdoor bookstore.)

All that said: Nobody knows enough to guarantee a hassle-free bear encounter. But the risk is far less than many seem to suspect. I shouldn't tell you that, but it's better than scare stories. Even in one of the most tension-charged types of bear encounters -- one with a sow (female) with cubs -- the bear may be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, especially if it's a black bear.

The times I've run into a black bear mother with cubs:

  1. a sow with two cubs in North Cascades National Park hustled her kids to the base of a spruce and watched intently as a friend and I passed on the Pacific Crest Trail at about 25 to 30 feet. We went by one by one, carefully watching the sow and detouring around the trail. She stared holes in us, but we made a concerted effort to avoid confrontation -- and so did she;
  2. another North Cascade bear was lying in the grass as I climbed into a pass. I was almost on top of her (as it turned out) before I saw her. She got up and ran off a short distance, but then came back across the slope, huffing and popping her teeth. I slowly backed off, talking softly to her, left the area slowly (the trail into the pass was a side trip anyway; didn't make sense to push it), and then found that she had cubs in a tree on the other side of me. Note: I didn't leave in a hurry, and didn't turn my back;
  3. a sow with cubs in Shenandoah was working a dead log off the Appalachian Trail near Loft Mountain as I came by. Didn't notice 'em until one of the cubs stood up on the log. Nothing happened there; they just moved off a bit, and I moved on;
  4. This page's Webmaster and I came down from Park Creek Pass in the North Cascades, 100 yards or so above a rather large group of blackies that looked as if it might have been several sows with cubs. Could've been a very productive berry patch, but cubs were there, so probably no boars (males), which tend not to socialize with sows and cubs outside mating season. They just moved down the slope ahead of us as we came down. No problem whatsoever;
  5. Another sow and four (!) cubs shinnied down from an oak as a friend and I came out the lower end of Big Devils Stairs in Shenandoah and took off -- all but one of the cubs, which started walking toward us. The sow called to it with a low woof, and the cub turned and followed. Danger averted -- thanks to Mom, as is usually the case. (Note: that four-cub litter is as big as they're known to get; Herrero says that litters of five have been recorded but that that sow may have adopted a cub or two.)

One lesson here is that black bears are not quite as quick to anger as grizzlies when it comes to that dicey sow-cubs equation. They'll let you off a bit more. If they have space, they'll almost always use it. The one my friend and I passed on the PCT in the Cascades had her cubs nearby and had room to flee if necessary; that was her out (and ours). Black bears evolved as forest animals; they're more likely to seek a way out of a confrontation, because they've had the advantage of cover (they are much better climbers, as one consequence). Grizzlies (brown bears in general) evolved in the open tundra of the Ice Age, where flight often wasn't an option. It was stand and fight. They'll try to avoid you if possible; that's almost always their first choice, but there's less of a margin for error.

My general trail procedure, in Shenandoah and elsewhere in the region, is this -- much of it a rehash: Keep your head up and your eyes and ears open. Look way ahead. Stop, look, and listen -- both to enjoy your surroundings and to case the joint. Be cautious when entering a thickly vegetated stretch of trail or a place where there's a lot of natural noise. If you see a bear, stop -- or if you advance, keep a distance. Make sure it can see you, especially before advancing. If it's a sow with cubs, this goes double. If you suspect you may be near a bear's high-protein food cache (a deer carcass, say), it goes triple; bears can be especially dangerous in this situation, although it's one I've never encountered here. If you see just a cub -- whoa. Look around intently for Mom, and stay away from it. I think about the only bear I'd run from is a cub that ran toward me. Just kidding, but you get the idea.

But, again: Don't run. You couldn't outrun 'em anyway, and you just about never have to.

 


Black bears are excellent climbers. This young bear climbed to the top of a 60-foot cherry tree in the Central District of Shenandoah National Park.

I wouldn't climb a tree, either. (Black bears are better climbers than you are, and I definitely wouldn't climb unless I could assure myself of a strong strategic position in that tree.) Self-made grizzly expert Douglas Peacock put it best once, I think: "Any bear that lets you climb a tree could have been dealt with on the ground, with the right body posture and moves." In other words: If she really wants to get you, you ain't gettin' up that tree. In that rare situation that seems iffy, negotiate.

Talk softly. Stand up straight. Face the bear, but don't stare at it. If it seems to be acting threateningly, back off a bit (not fast, and don't turn your back). If the bear is threatening, it feels threatened; you have to defuse that situation. You may find that this stuff works. You may also find -- as I have -- that you almost never have to do even this. One thing I should note here, in case it ever comes to this: Most bear charges, by blacks and grizzlies, are bluffs. If you stand your ground -- which, granted, may take more nerve than you knew you had -- it's likely the bear will abort the charge. The August 1997 Backpacker article I referred to earlier, which features advice by Herrero (and deals mostly with grizzlies), reinforced the following: Don't do the duck-and-cover routine (hands behind neck, face down, making sure the bear can't roll you over, "playing dead") unless you're certain he's going to hit you; if you hit the dirt early, you could turn a bluff into an attack.

But I'm not going to dispense any more information on attack response here; I just don't think there's much chance of it happening if you follow the basic suggestions I've noted on your backcountry trips in this region. And I've never been attacked, which makes me hesitant to get too much further into the psychology of that situation, not to mention disinclined to worry you too much about it. That's where Herrero comes in; once again, I can't recommend his book highly enough to anyone who wants to be well-informed on sharing our woods with bears. But I'll note again what I did on the occasion that came closest to a charge, featuring that North Cascades sow-in-the-grass: Stood my ground, but gave it back slowly. Talked softly. Didn't turn my back. Didn't get into a staring match. And didn't run. And I'll also note: that occasion was a rare one indeed.

You'll be lucky to see the bear at home, and if you do, you'll probably be none the worse for the encounter. (Actually, probably much better for it.) Enter respectfully and alertly, put all your senses to work on the trail, and keep it clean in camp. And if you meet bruin, tell me how it went. He doesn't always show himself for me, and I can't meet him enough.

For Further Reading:

Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance by Stephen Herrero. Lyons & Burford, 31 W. 21st St., New York, NY 10010. (212) 620-9580. The Backpacker magazine article I've referred to here (and cite below), which wisely recommends this volume, quotes a price of $20.95, which includes shipping and handling. It's worth it. My softcover edition -- from the original 1985 printing -- cost $12.95 Canadian then, and may be available for less than the above price at a good outdoor bookstore, or at a national park with bears. (I bought mine at Jasper NP, Alberta. Shenandoah NP doesn't carry it as yet, although the Shenandoah Natural History Association informed me that a copy is in their library.) The book to read if you don't read anything else on this topic. It's heavy on the empirical science, but don't let that scare you off; it is a good read. Herrero doesn't deal in scare stories. Some of his clear-eyed narrative is harrowing enough, but you'll come away from this book both with more respect for bears and less irrational fear of them. No higher compliment, I feel, can be paid.

Safe Travel in Bear Country by Gary Brown. Lyons & Burford, New York (publisher information same as above). 1996. 146 pages. $10.95. This book is available at Shenandoah NP visitor centers; if you can't find it there, or want it before you go, order it through the Shenandoah Natural History Association at (540) 999-3582. It was $14.94 with tax, shipping and handling for me, ordering from Burke, Va. I got it at home within two days. It's quite portable, so you can take it with you, though I'd recommend home reading (or at least browsing) first. The author was chief ranger at Yellowstone, Denali and Rocky Mountain national parks and was a bear management specialist at Yellowstone. He is now a private consultant on bear management. His emphasis is on human behavior in bear country, in various situations (from backpacking to boating to staying in lodges). He doesn't go into Herrero's depth on behavioral differences between species, but his information will more than cover you until you get to Bear Attacks.

Grizzly Years by Douglas Peacock. Zebra Books, Kensington Publishing Corp., 475 Park Ave. South, New York, NY 10016. 1992 (price then $4.99). 375 pages. I recommend this book because of its unique perspective on bears and their place in the world (and ours, for that matter). The author was a combat medic in Vietnam who set out to forget a lot of really nasty things when he came home; he did it by immersing himself in the study and personal observation of grizzly and black bears in Montana. The knowledge he has gained is formidable -- the product of passionate commitment and some close shaves -- and the way he imparts it will stay with you.

Grizzly Encounters, by Terry Krautwurst. Backpacker, August 1997, p. 60. Although it primarily deals with the bear the mountain men knew as Old Ephraim, there's good all-purpose bear encounter information here -- especially when Herrero's considerable contribution is taken into account.

The Bear Den (World Wide Web site). At http://www.nature-net.com/bears/. Detailed information on the world's bear species, backcountry advice, breaking bear news, and quotable quotes. Very informative -- and a lot of fun.

Bearing Up in Shenandoah National Park, by Dean Ahearn. Washington Post, March 3, 1991, p. E1. In this article, which was featured in the Post's Sunday Travel section, I took an anecdotal look at the bear in the Park, with a little bit of how-to camping information. I decided to write it when an increase in encounters suggested to me that Bruin might be doing a bit more than just holding on out there. Sure enough.

A note here about the above books, and anything you'll read on behavior in bear country (my foregoing article included): You'll notice differences in recommendations on such things as advisability of tree climbing, cleanliness in camp, and other aspects of this inexact science in different books and from different management authorities. I've based my information on what I've found to be the soundest (and most widely recommended) basics in my reading on the topic, and what's worked for me in my own close encounters. The more you read, the better -- these are very good places to start.