North Carolina Bear Encounters Prompt Safety Tips

WAYNESVILLE, N.C. – After a second incident involving a resident and black bear this week, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission reminds the public to be BearWise, particularly this time of year, as bears are on the move, often with cubs, and searching for food.

Elmer Pumphrey, of Waynesville, was standing in his driveway Tuesday afternoon on his phone when he noticed three bears, a sow with two large cubs, approximately 20 feet away. Mr. Pumphrey yelled at the bears, but the sow came towards him. Mr. Pumphrey struggled with the bear, sustaining non-life-threatening injuries, until his wife came out of the house yelling at the bear and it ran away.

This latest encounter is the second incident in less than two months, with a Swannanoa resident having a similar encounter in late September. While human-bear encounters such as these are still considered rare, encounters are on the rise as more people move into areas where black bears live. However, black bears tend to be shy and non-aggressive toward humans, unless they are fed or provoked. To prevent unwanted encounters, people should never feed, approach, surround or corner a bear.

“If you see a bear in the wild and it changes its natural behavior because of your presence, that means you are too close to it,” said Mike Carraway, a wildlife biologist with the Commission. “If you encounter a bear and you’re not at a safe distance, say 50 or so feet away, the best thing you can do is to quietly walk away. If you’re too close to a bear and yell at it, especially if it has cubs, it may become defensive.”

If a person is a safe distance away and the bear has a clear escape route, Carraway recommends shouting, clapping, blasting a car horn or banging pots and pans together to scare it away and allow the person to retreat to a safe place.

Both recent encounters involved female bears with cubs. This, along with a lack of natural food this year and the time of year, likely played a role in both incidents, according Carraway.

“Due to heavier rains earlier this year, available natural food, like acorns and berries, has been less abundant, so bears are having to work harder to find food, and are bolder than they normally would be as they search for food before going into hibernation,” Carraway said. “Typically, bears in the mountains will begin to den in late November or early December, so they’re trying to eat as much as possible to put fat on before winter.”

Commission biologists and enforcement staff are specially trained to respond to all bear incidences and to take measures to identify aggressive bears from non-aggressive bears.

It is critical that residents, as well as vacationers, remember to be BearWise this time of year by:

Securing food, garbage and recycling in bear-proof containers, if possible, or where bears cannot access the trash, such as a garage or shed
Removing bird feeders when bears are active
Feeding pets indoors or, if feeding pet outside, remove leftover food and food bowl immediately
Cleaning grills thoroughly to make sure all grease and fat are removed; and store in a secure location
Never feeding, either intentionally or unintentionally, bears as it trains them to approach homes and people for more food

Learn more about safely coexisting with black bears at For information about black bears in North Carolina visit the Commission’s black bear webpage.