The first fatal human attack of a bear in New Jersey took place in the 1850s. The next fatal bear attack in the state was approximately 160 years later in 2014 when a group of friends hiking in Apshawa Preserve encountered a bear and ran. What exactly prompted the bear to attack has been under debate since the attack. Since 2014, however, human-bear encounters have been on the rise in New Jersey.
According to the latest black bear activity reports, between January 1 and October 21 of 2022, there were over 1,900 interactions with black bears throughout the state; a 200% increase from the previous time period in 2021. This includes a woman attacked by a bear while checking her mail in May and two small dogs fatally mauled in January.
Now there are a lot of different steps people can take to decrease the chances of a negative interaction with a black bear, but the truth is the bear population has continued to rise every year and has gone unmanaged far too long. As a result, New Jersey Fish and Wildlife has sanctioned a short bear hunt in December. We also live in a very small, but densely populated, state. While there have been many attempts to preserve open space in an effort to limit encroachment, the sad truth is, we are known more and more as The Strip Mall State instead of The Garden State.
I’m not going to discuss the politics of the bear hunt. Instead I would like to provide some guidance for both hunters and non-hunters.
If you come across a bear…
I have provided suggestions on my other blog, This is My New Jersey, several times over the years, but they are always worth repeating.
- Never turn your back and run: First, if you encounter a bear, stay calm. Never, and I mean NEVER, turn your back on a bear and run. You are just begging to be chased. And trust me, they are much faster than you.
- Do not look a bear in the eyes: Never directly stare at a bear. Again, you are inviting trouble. It may consider it as a form of aggression.
- Keep your garbage secure: If you are putting out your garbage, or have your garbage cans stored outside, consider purchasing bear-proof containers. Yes, they can be quite expensive. However, if they keep a bear from entering your backyard, it is money well spent. You can also consider pouring a small amount of ammonia near your garbage. It isn’t foolproof, but it can help keep bears, and other animals, away from your trash.
- Limit bird feeder use: I absolutely love my bird feeder. But I also live on the second floor of a condo and am not in a high bear-activity-area. Bird feeders are, unfortunately, a huge invitation for bears. If you are in a high bear population area, you may want to avoid the bird feeder.
- NEVER feed a bear: I can’t believe I need to actually say this, but NEVER feed a bear. Yes, they are cute and furry, but they can kill. This also means cleaning up food outside. For example, you may not even think about it, but scrub your grill grates. If your steak smells good to you, just imagine what it smells like to a bear.
- It’s all about personal protection: If you are going into the woods, keep a whistle and either Mace or bear spray on hand. In the chance you do encounter a bear, blow the whistle, clap, and yell. Put up your hands and try to look as large as possible.
- Never approach a sow with cubs: You know the term “momma bear?” Well, if you think it is a tough response for a mother, imagine what it means for an actual momma bear. Never approach a sow with her cubs. Do not corner them, or any bear for that matter, and make sure they have a way to get out of the area.
- Fight back: If you are actually attacked, kick and punch the eyes, throat, and muzzle. That’s your best chance. Do not follow the advise of the Bugs Bunny cartoons we all watched as kids and “play dead” with black bears.
If you are a hunter…
You already know there will be plenty of people out protesting the hunt. Some of them stupidly will even go into the woods to make noise, try to scare off bears from your hunting space, and generally cause a fuss. Do not engage. Take a photo or video of them with your phone and report them to New Jersey Fish and Wildlife. Whether you like it or not, your negative behavior, regardless of the situation, will give all hunters a bad name. Hunting, fishing, and trapping rights are already under assault in New Jersey. Don’t give anyone an excuse to make life more challenging for those of us who enjoy hunting and fishing.
Make sure you are following all the rules and regulations. Read all the updated information for this bear hunt. New regulations related to the upcoming bear hunt include:
- Hunters may NOT attempt to take or kill a black bear weighing less than 75 pounds (live weight), or less than 50 pounds dressed.
- Hunters may NOT attempt to take or kill an adult black bear that is in the presence of cub(s) (bears weighing less than 75 pounds).
- Hunters may NOT attempt to take or kill a black bear or have a loaded weapon within 300 ft. of a baited area when hunting bears.
- The bear season will take place from December 5 -10, 2022 (Segment B) for shotgun/muzzleloader ONLY.
Everyone should do their best to avoid bear interactions. Do what you can to limit your risk. And if you are hunting, have a safe and ethical hunt.