Staying Safe Around Black Bears
Each time a bear visits your yard and is rewarded with human-related foods, it becomes more conditioned to make return visits and also seek out those foods in other yards. It doesn’t take long for a bear to become desensitized to human activity, making it less fearful of people and less willing to leave if people are nearby. Each time we allow a bear to find an easy meal, or get too comfortable in yards, it becomes a habituating, or training, event in that bear’s life.
If You Care, Scare the Bear
To help curb the rise in human-black bear conflicts, all residents need to do their part by not allowing habituation events to occur. One of the best ways to reduce human habituation in bears is to scare them away. If you live in an area with high levels of bear-human conflicts or home entries, you need to do your part to keep your community, and bears, safe.
This map shows human-bear conflicts in Connecticut during 2022. The stars mark home entries by bears.
When you see a bear spending time in your yard, especially one that is eating garbage or seed at a bird feeder, instead of grabbing your cellphone to take a photo or video, you should immediately “Scare the Bear”. Scaring a black bear can reinforce its natural fear of people and help keep it from lingering in neighborhoods and other areas where conflicts often arise. Effectively scaring a bear also reinforces the person as dominant in an encounter, so the bear learns to avoid people. This tactic should be done consistently over the long run so the bear(s) learns to avoid your yard over time.
Scaring the bear does not eliminate the possibility of a bear causing harm to people or domestic animals. People should exercise extreme caution and understand that any attempt to scare a bear is done at your own risk. If you are not sure, do not attempt to scare the bear!
Scaring a bear away once will NOT keep it from returning to an easily available food source. All attractants, such as trash, pet food, and bird feeders, must be removed or secured to keep bears from returning or lingering in an area. Visit “Living with Black Bears” for information and options on securing attractants.
Recommended methods to “Scare the Bear” are to make loud noises (such as yelling, blowing a whistle, using an air horn), or use motion-activated devices like visual and audio alarms or water sprinklers, which can deter bears without anyone being present. These methods are often enough to deter bears that have not yet become used to people.
In some cases, loud noises are not effective at scaring away bears. In these situations, it can be more effective to use an object to make physical contact with the bear to drive it away. From a safe location or distance, throwing objects (tennis or similar sports balls, water balloons, small rocks) at the bear can work, but using a paintball marker or slingshot can be more accurate and deliver more contact warnings in a short period of time, making it highly effective at scaring bears away. If you choose to use a contact method, pair it with other loud noises so that the next time the bear hears your air horn, it expects a contact warning is coming with it. Take note that the use of firearms is not a legal or appropriate way to scare a bear.
DO NOT attempt to scare a bear if it is:
- Near a road or could run toward people or traffic.
- Up a tree or running away.
- A cub (this can result in injury to the cub or aggression from the sow).
- A female bear with cub (dependent young).
DO NOT attempt to scare a bear and instead CONTACT THE CT DEEP Wildlife Division (860-424-3011) if the bear is:
- Highly agitated, emaciated, or wounded (they can be highly unpredictable), or
- Strongly associating people with food (one that is approaching people).
Before you start to scare a bear, make sure you:
- DO NOT proceed if the situation is unsafe for people or the bear (such as a crowd of bystanders or busy roads nearby).
- DO put yourself in a safe location, such as in or near your doorway or window, car, or other sturdy structure.
- DO clearly identify that the bear has a safe and visible escape route.
When Scaring the Bear:
- DO show your dominance by:
- Holding your ground at a safe distance.
- Looking the bear in the eyes.
- Raising your arms above your head to look larger.
- DO make loud noises (yell, whistle, air or car horn).
- NEVER leave your safe location to pursue the bear.
If you decide to use a contact method, such as a paintball marker or slingshot, to scare a bear:
- DO NOT aim toward the bear’s face, as this can result in permanent injury.
- DO aim for the shoulder or rear of the bear.
- DO NOT shoot towards other people, pets, cars, or homes.
- REMEMBER paintballs and slingshots are most effective at 5 to 15 yards.
- STOP as soon as the bear runs for cover, away from the area, or climbs a tree.
- NEVER leave your safe location to pursue the bear.
- REMEMBER the use of paintball markers or slingshots to scare a bear is only allowed for use by adults ages 18 and over.
- DO NOT use red paintballs to avoid someone mistaking the paint for blood and thinking the bear might be injured.
Using bear spray is an effective way to stop an attack by a black bear. The CT DEEP advises that if you decide to carry and use bear spray to defend yourself from a bear that you use it responsibly and according to the directions.
Content last updated in May 2023.