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Wildlife Encounters: What To Do When You Meet a Bear or Moose


The U.S. Forest Service reports that nearly 250,000 people visit the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) annually and even more visit the Superior National Forest. The North Shore of Minnesota is one of the largest and most visited playgrounds in the Midwest, but many forget that this playground is also home to a wide array of wildlife.

When you’re walking down the Superior Hiking Trail or paddling on Sawbill Lake, do you ever wonder what to do if you were to cross paths with a bear or moose? Well, wonder no more. Our guides have become accustomed to the wildlife of the North Shore and are here to provide some pointers.


Moose are the largest animal you will find on the North Shore. They can run up to 35 miles per hour and swim faster than you can paddle! They have poor eyesight, but to make up for it have an exceptional sense of smell and can hear very well. So don’t tell any secrets within earshot of a moose. Moose are not normally aggressive, except during mating season in the fall (the bulls are more aggressive) and calving season in the spring (the cows are more aggressive).

If you encounter a Moose, please do not taunt it, this will definitely agitate it. Back away slowly. The moose is most likely as afraid of you as you are of it, and it wants space. If the moose lays its ears back, tosses its head around, or stands up the hair on its back, it is likely preparing to charge. If the moose charges – run. Once the moose has driven you far enough away, it will stop; they are not likely to charge far. For safe measure, run between trees that it may not fit through, run in zigzags, or get behind a very large tree and move around it. The moose just wants you out of its space and will leave you alone once it feels safe.


Minnesota is the home to black bears. They are smaller than the Brown Bears of the West, weighing between 90 and 500 lbs. They can run up to 30 miles per hour and are very good swimmers. Black bears have great color vision and an exceptional sense of smell, not to mention they are very smart!

If you encounter a black bear, please do not taunt it. The black bear is most likely as afraid of you as you are of it, and it wants space. Back away slowly. Do not make any sudden movements. The bear may do a small charge toward you, smacking and thrashing about in the brush, this is their way of saying “this is my space, and I do not want you in it.” Put your arms in the air to make yourself look large, and continue to back away. If the bear charges you, fight back. Try punching it in the nose. Don’t worry though, black bears are naturally inclined to flee from confrontation rather than fight back. Chances are, once the black bear notices your presence it will run away.

So there you have it! What to do when you encounter the North Wood’s largest animals. Remember, this is their home first and we are visitors. So always give them space and respect.