What If I Get Between a Black Bear Mother and Her Cubs?

One of the biggest misconceptions about black bears is that mothers are likely to attack people in defense of cubs.

That is a grizzly bear trait. 70% of the killings by grizzly bears are by mothers defending cubs. But there is no record of a black bear killing anyone in defense of cubs.

Researcher with mother and cubs

In fact, mothers with cubs were involved in only 3 of the 60 killings by black bears across America since 1900, and none of those 3 killings appeared to be in defense of cubs.

Non-fatal attacks are also rare. By attacks, we mean mothers coming after someone and hurting them — not minor injuries associated with people hand-feeding them. Maybe a dozen people have had their feet bitten when they tried to escape up trees. Attacks on the ground are very rare.

When humans confront black bear families in the woods, the bears almost always retreat or climb trees. If the cubs climb trees and the mother remains nearby, the mother may show bluster. This makes her appear ferocious, but it simply means she is nervous.

Blustery expressions include:

  • the mother blowing sharply as she hits the ground or the tree with a paw.
  • the mother pouncing toward the person, blowing explosively, and slamming both feet on the ground.
  • the mother moaning in fear, which many people misinterpret as a growl.
  • huffing, showing anxiety.

This is all harmless bluster.


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