Bear Encounters

With an estimated population of 900,000 black bears in North America and the sheer number of people recreating and living in black bear habitat, the incidence of encounters with black bears is remarkably low.

“Each year there are millions of interactions between people and black bears with no injuries to people. So while the risk is low, it does exist.”  — Dr. Stephen Herrero, University of Calgary professor emeritus

Although black bears are normally rather tolerant of humans, and most charges from black bears are bluffs, they can be dangerous. Black bears injured more than 500 people between 1960 and 1980. Most black bear injuries occurred in national parks or campgrounds and 90% were attributed to garbage and other human food-conditioned bears. 90% of the injuries from black bears were minor or slight, in contrast to injuries from grizzly bears in which over half were major.

63 people had been killed by black bears in Canada, Alaska and the lower 48 states from 1900 to 2009.

  • 90% of the human fatalities were predatory in nature
  • 92% of the predatory bears were males
  • 50% of the fatalities were people 18 years old or under
  • 91% of the fatalities occurred with parties of just 1 or 2 people
  • In 38% of incidents, human foods likely influenced the bear being in the attack location
  • 86% of fatal attacks have occurred since 1960

Read more about fatal attacks by black bears on people, 1900-2009.

Surprise encounters with black bears of any gender, and females defending cubs, aren’t much of a factor in black bear attacks. Black bears let you know by body language and vocalizing when they are upset, stressed or generally not pleased with what’s going. If you hear a bear wuffing or chomping its teeth, it is telling you to remove yourself from the situation, to back off and move on. Watch video of a black bear wuffing.


From 1960 to 2012, black bears killed three people in Colorado. Two of them were people camping in tents, the other a woman who had been feeding numerous bears on her property. In the same time period, black bears injured 65 people in Colorado. 42% of those were people sleeping outside or in tents. Hunters and people hiking, riding bikes and walking dogs comprised 20% of those injured.

From 2007 on, 75% of those injured by black bears in Colorado had encounters with bears in their homes, on their property or in an urban setting – and 75% of human injuries by black bears in Colorado have occurred in the last 13 years.





Bear attack figures courtesy:

  • “Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance,” by Stephen Herrero
  • “Fatal Attacks by American Black Bear on People: 1900-2009” by Stephen Herrero, Andrew Higgins, James E. Cardoza, Laura I. Hajduk & Tom S. Smith, published in the April, 2011 issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management
  • Colorado figures summarized from “Great Colorado Bear Stories” by Laura Pritchett, Riverbend Publishing