Don't Mess With Mama Bear

What to do when a hiking partner ignores the obvious

By Jackie Sizemore

Illustrations by Soo Lee

November 5, 2019

To explore more of Pennsylvania, my then boyfriend and I drove to Linn Run State Park, chose a trailhead at random, and headed down a long, leafy path that followed a creek.

Don't Mess With Mama Bear

After about an hour, I saw movement and realized a black bear was standing in the creek. I hid behind some trees.

Don't Mess With Mama Bear

I signaled to my boyfriend to join me, but he wanted to get a better look and ignored me.

Don't Mess With Mama Bear

I was mad. I pulled on his arm, but he wouldn't budge. Then I saw that the bear had two cubs. "We have to get out of here," I said.

Don't Mess With Mama Bear

He wasn't getting it. The mother bear lunged toward us in a false charge. I gripped my boyfriend's arm, and we held our ground.

Don't Mess With Mama Bear

I waited until the bear turned to her cubs, then took a deep breath. "Run," I whispered. I didn't bother looking behind me.

Are you a survivor? Send your tale of backcountry peril to or share it with us on Facebook.

This article appeared in the November/December 2019 edition with the headline "Overbearing."

Ask the Expert

Mark Ternent is a black bear biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

"When you encounter a black bear, it's best to make a little noise to let it know you're there, then give it some space by backing up. If the bear approaches, try to scare it away by yelling or waving your arms. Don't run, turn your back, climb a tree, play dead, or try to feed it. Be aggressive if you have to."