American black bears are medium size, one of the largest and heaviest mammals in our state, and the most common in North America. Their comeback in our southern forests is a Missouri success story.
Wild black bears are secretive, shy and afraid of humans. They're not normally aggressive towards people. Bears are active spring through fall. In the winter they enter into a lighter state of sleep than hibernation, known as torpor, in hollow dead trees, rock crevices, caves, or in deep brush piles.
Black bear fur can appear in various shades of color, but is predominantly black in Missouri. As omnivores, they eat everything from grasses and berries to fish and small mammals. They are partial to blackberries in the spring and acorns in the fall.
Journey into the forest on a black bear research project in our Nature Boost podcast with host Jill Pritchard and MDC Furbearer Biologist Laura Conlee in the first episode of our Wildlife season. Discover how many bears are in the state, whether they return to previous den sites, and what to do if you see one.
Understanding and appreciating black bears will help protect them; allowing admiration and respect from a safe distance and minimizing any potential conflicts. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
- Stay alert and avoid surprises while in the woods. Make noise, travel in groups and keep dogs leashed. If you encounter a bear, raise your arms and back slowly away. Do not run or turn your back.
- Keep clean campsites by storing food and toiletries in a vehicle trunk or up at least 10 feet high, strung between trees. If you are lucky enough to see a bear, leave them alone and help keep them wild.
- Don’t leave pet food sitting outside. Feed pets a portion they’ll eat at each meal and remove the empty containers.
- Store garbage, recyclables, and compost inside a secure building or in a bear-proof container until the day of trash pick-up.
- Keep grills and smokers clean and store them inside.
- Use electric fencing to keep bears away from beehives, chicken coops, vegetable gardens, orchards, and other potential food sources.
For more on being Bear Aware, check out our guidelines on staying safe in Bear Country.