Hiking in Bear Country: Connecticut Laws and Tips
If you’re going to be hiking in bear country, then it is essential you know how to prevent bear encounters and what to do if you encounter a bear while hiking. Knowing these tips could save your life.
Depending on where you are in the country, how you prepare for hiking in bear country may change. Certain states have specific laws to follow, and not everywhere has the same types of bears, or the same level of aggressive bears as other areas. In Connecticut, black bear country covers the entire state so it is important to always be bear aware while hiking here. This is especially true in the northwest area of Connecticut, where bears are most prevalent.
In Connecticut, bear encounters while hiking are few and far between, with even less resulting in a dangerous situation. Despite that, human-bear interactions are to be avoided as much as is possible and all hikers should work to create an environment that is safe for both bears and humans.
This guide will help you learn how to prevent bear encounters while hiking and what to do if you see a black bear while hiking in bear country in Connecticut, specifically.
Hiking in Bear Country: Prevent Bear Encounters
The best way to protect yourself and the bears while hiking in bear country is to prevent a bear encounter altogether. The best way to do that is through noise. A bear that hears you will often be a bear that avoids you. Most bears don’t want to encounter you either, so let the bear know you’re there.
Now, you may be wondering how to do that while also being respectful and following proper hiking etiquette. While is is true that proper etiquette requires a certain level of quiet, while hiking in bear country it is important to put safety first.
Using Noise to Prevent Bear Encounters While Hiking in Bear Country
While your hiking, being noisy isn’t exactly the best etiquette. But there are ways to ensure a bear hears you without being rude to all the other nearby hikers. The best way to do this is just to call out a loud “hello” every so often. You don’t need to yell it, but a loud word or phrase every few minutes will help ensure bears stay far away from you.
It is important though that you do not yell or scream. While yelling and screaming may be noisy, it can bring the wrong type of attention. Screaming can sometimes sound like an injured animal, leading bears to you instead of away from you. Instead, a nice, calm, but firm and loud sentence said every so often while hiking will do the trick to make sure that bears hear you without calling too much unwanted attention.
If talking to yourself feels a little weird, other appropriate noise could be singing, clapping your hands, or hitting your trekking poles together if you have them. You’ll want to make sure that you do this more often around water sources (where bears are likely to be) and if it’s an extra windy day where it may be hard for bears to hear.
Some people use bear bells attached to themselves or to their backpacks, but these are not effective noise makers for bears. Bears won’t hear them until you’re too close. Others use radios, although there is a lot of controversy on this technique. Yes, it makes noise, but bears may not be as sensitive to music as they are to the human voice. Plus, radios can be extra disturbing to others in the same area as you. So, if you do use this method be sure it’s in a respectful way.
Travel in Groups to Prevent Encounters While Hiking in Bear Country
Hiking in groups is the best way to prevent a bear encounter and a bear attack. Hiking groups make more noise than solo hikers through either conversation or general foot traffic. Groups are also much more visible and smelly to nearby bears warning them away from the group. Plus, with multiple sets of eyes you’re more likely to spot a bear earlier and take preventative action sooner.
Regarding bear attacks, there are essentially no bear attacks on hiking groups in North America. This makes sense, as why would a bear want to attempt an attack against multiple people? Doesn’t really make sense, so they’re much more likely to avoid that situation altogether.
Not everyone likes group hiking, and we get that, but if possible and especially in areas with heavy bear activity, it might be advisable to stick within a group.
Food Storage in Bear Country
This section pertains mostly to campers, or those who will be in one area for an extended period of time, but hikers should also be aware of food smells while in the woods.
Bears, like literally every other animal, are attracted to the smell of food. If I am in the woods and suddenly I smell someone grilling out, my head turns that way and I want to go check it out. Bears are no different. So, it is important anytime you have food while hiking or camping, that you’re taking precautions to prevent bears from taking interest in your food.
For campers, that means using a bear box or a properly-hung bear bag. For hikers, this means keeping your food packed up and not leaving any garbage or food scraps on your trail.
It also means to don’t use things that aren’t food but that smell like food. Strawberry scented soaps aren’t really appropriate to use before hiking or camping in bear country. Lotions, smelly sunscreens, or other scented body products should be avoided or limited as much as possible. I know this isn’t always possible (i.e. curly or natural hair products often have strong scents), but if you can limit it or cover it with hats or other hair ties that would be best.
If you smell like food, even if you don’t have any, bears will be interested. So the best thing to do is to limit scents as much as possible.
What do I do if I see a bear while hiking?
Sometimes, even if we take all the precautions possible we will still come across a bear while hiking in bear country. In cases like these it’s incredibly important to know what to do if you see a bear while hiking. Having this knowledge can prevent a terrible situation while on the trail.
The first thing to determine when you spot a bear in the woods is has the bear seen you and what type of bear is it? The approach you take next will depend on the type of bear and if it has seen you – so know the answers to those two questions before doing anything.
In Connecticut, we only have black bears so this section is going discuss what to do if you see a black bear while hiking. If you want to know more about what to do if you see a grizzly bear in a different state, check out this guide instead.
What do I do if bear hasn’t seen me?
First thing is to keep your distance and to not draw attention to yourself. The best way to handle a situation where the bear hasn’t seen you yet, is to try to keep it that way. You don’t want to surprise a bear.
To do this you’ll want to back away slowly from the bear. You’ll want to be a minimum distance of 75 yards away, but always try to get further away if able.
If it’s possible for you to get downwind of the bear, try to do that. Obviously, you were headed in that direction for a reason (hiking a trail), and realize that you most likely need to pass that way eventually. In this case the best thing to do is to keep your distance and just wait for it to move on. While you’re waiting you can back further away and maintain sight of the bear.
It’s unlikely a black bear is going to lay down for a nap on a hiking trail, so it will eventually move past that location and you’ll be able to continue along your way.
What do I do if a black bear has seen me?
Stay calm and do not run. The best thing you can do at this point is let the bear know you’re human. So, speak to the bear (no need to yell, just speak) and wave your hands around. You’ll want to back away while doing this so you don’t come across as threatening. Again, you just are trying to let the bear know you’re human and you’re leaving. Don’t try to scare it away because that won’t work.
If you are traveling with kids or pets put them in your arms before moving. Otherwise, they may suddenly move and surprise the bear. Barking dogs can be dangerous in these situations, so make sure if you’re hiking in bear country with your dog that it is entirely under your control.
Do not turn your back to the bear. Always walk backwards, calmly speaking, and show that you are a non-threatening human. Never use food as a distraction or deterrent.
The goal here is to back away while letting the bear know you’re human. If you do this, your black bear encounter will be more likely to be short lived and uneventful.
What do I do if a Black Bear is aggressive or attacks while hiking?
Black bears are generally docile, and don’t usually attack humans. If you’ve followed all of the above tips, you most likely will not be in this situation. The only exception to this is a mama black bear and her cubs. If somehow you’ve come across a mother bear with cubs, they may be more aggressive or need more distance and space than a black bear by itself.
Luckily, black bears show aggression in very identifiable ways and often will use these signs to warn you away before an attack.
The first thing a black bear may do is stand on its hind legs. This isn’t actually aggression – just curiosity. It’s trying to figure out what you are, so back away and speak so it realizes you’re human. An aggressive bear at this point will start huffing, clacking its teeth, snorting, blowing, or popping their jaws. They may also lower their head and lay back its ears.
If you see these signs, continue backing away while speaking to the bear. It’s at this point you’ll want to pull out your bear spray (and yes, you always need to carry bear spray while hiking in bear country – no exceptions). Do not try to run away or climb a tree. Bears are better at you than running and climbing, so it won’t work.
If the bear leaves, great! If not, it may charge at you. Again, this first charge is most often a warning charge, but this is also a great time to use that bear spray. At this point the bear spray should deter the bear from future charges. Black bears generally aren’t aggressive enough to actually attack, but there can always be exceptions to this so proper use of a bear spray can be essential to prevent the bear’s warnings from turning into a full attack.
What do I do if a black bear attacks me?
So, you’ve tried everything in this list and the black bear is still coming towards you and now is actually attacking. DO NOT PLAY DEAD. This is common advice given for bears in general – but it is only applicable for grizzly bears and not black bears. Black bears attack to kill, so if you play dead you will end up dead.
The bear spray should deter the bear from attacking, and help you fight back if it is attacking. If this doesn’t work at closer range, then you will need to fight back and forcefully. Give this fight everything you have. Be as big, loud, and strong as possible and make repeated contact with the bear.
You will likely sustain some injuries, probably pretty severe ones, in this process. But, even black bears who attacked you will rarely continue the fight if you fight back aggressively. Plus, what choice do you have? A black bear attacking you is trying to kill you – so do whatever you have to do to survive.
However, black bear attacks are truly very rare so hopefully you’ll never find yourself in this situation, especially if you followed all of the steps listed above.
Hiking in Bear Country in Connecticut: State Laws, Tips, and Resources
There are several resources to help understand how to live and hike in bear country in Connecticut. Some of these are more focused on residential areas, and how to prepare your home to prevent bear encounters or bear acclimatization to humans. However, there are a few resources that hikers or other users of natural parks or facilities would find useful.
The first is the map of current bear (and bobcat) sightings in the state. You can search for a specific address or just search by county to discover the up-to-date frequencies of bears and bobcats in those areas. This will help give you an idea of the frequency and likelihood of encountering a bear while you’re enjoying nature. So, be sure to check this out before planning a hike or camping trip.
The website also has several informative videos regarding bear aware information, but my favorite for hiking is here.
Connecticut does not have specific laws regarding food storage containers, or mandating carrying bear spray. The state essentially leaves it up to the individual to be bear aware and to ensure that they are prepared while hiking in bear country in Connecticut.
Anytime you’re out in bear country it is important to be bear aware and be prepared for an encounter.
Following the guide above will help ensure you know how to prevent bear encounters, how to prepare yourself for hiking in bear country, and what to do if you see a bear or are attacked by a bear while hiking.
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