Ok, that whole "not running away" thing sounds really great in theory, but here's the thing. It doesn't work. I've seen my share of black bears, and if there's one thing I can say it's that every one is different. Some of them are scared of you. Some really don't care what you do as long as they can keep eating their berries. And some of them want to eat your bags. Very badly. In that case, waiting until they get bored is really not a good plan.

The last bear I saw was about a week ago. I was hiking in Gatineau Park near Ottawa, and as I came over a steep rocky hill I heard a voice behind me say "SARAH! LOOK UP!" Sluggishly, I raised my eyes to find a huge black bear about five feet in front of my face. I froze for a second, not really knowing what to do at this close range, and then decided to do what I had been trained to do at long range. I clapped my hands, waved my arms, and eventually ended up singing "Hey Hey We're The Monkeys!!!" at the top of my lungs (it was the first thing that came to mind, ok!). Well, that only made the big guy grunt and start moving towards me, so I backed away gradually and then stepped down the hill at a steady pace. So you see, in this case, running away was a good thing. Ok, actually running is pretty dumb, but calmly backing up with your eyes on the bear is a good plan at close range when they don't seem to be scared. Yes, bears are faster than you. But the point is not to outwit the bear - if it wanted you in its belly you would find yourself there rather quickly. The point is to make sure the bear knows where you stand, whether it be as a scary threat that they will retreat from, or a harmless hiker that will retreat from them.

Oh, and sometimes, if the bear is coming towards you and refusing to back away, it may want something from you. At this point it is a good idea to drop your bags and whatever else you have on you. A friend of mine even had a bear eat his tree planting bags which were full of, well, nothing but trees. But he was smart and dropped the bags so that the bear was not forced to rip them off of his body.

Encountering a bear is not a cut-and-dried issue. I'm sure you all know that you should NEVER WALK BETWEEN A MOTHER AND ITS CUBS, but besides that, every situation requires a slightly different approach. The best idea is to make noise while you're in the woods so you never have to meet them in the first place.