Last weekend, when many families were out enjoying early fall forests, Darsh Patel, a 22-year-old Rutgers student, was killed by a bear while out on a trail, hiking with his friends.

New Jersey bears are active during the fall, preparing for hibernation and the coming winter and this can make them agressive—especially when there are cubs or food involved. Although there are bear sightings every week in New Jersey, there hasn’t been a fatal bear attack in the state in 150 years. In fact, you have a better chance of being killed in a car accident on your way to your hike or being struck by lightning than being killed by a bear.

If you do happen upon a black bear, avoid eye contact and back away slowly.

Follow these tips from the NJ Department of Fish and Wildlife:

  • Never feed or approach a bear!
  • Remain calm if you encounter a bear.
  • Make the bear aware of your presence by speaking in an assertive voice, singing, clapping your hands, or making other noises.
  • Make sure the bear has an escape route.
  • If a bear enters your home, provide it with an escape route by propping all doors open.
  • Avoid direct eye contact, which may be perceived by a bear as a challenge. Never run from a bear. Instead, slowly back away.
  • To scare the bear away, make loud noises by yelling, banging pots and pans or using an airhorn. Make yourself look as big as possible by waving your arms. If you are with someone else, stand close together with your arms raised above your head.
  • The bear may utter a series of huffs, make popping jaw sounds by snapping its jaws and swat the ground. These are warning signs that you are too close. Slowly back away, avoid direct eye contact and do not run.
  • If a bear stands on its hind legs or moves closer, it may be trying to get a better view or detect scents in the air. It is usually not a threatening behavior.
  • Black bears will sometimes "bluff charge" when cornered, threatened or attempting to steal food. Stand your ground, avoid direct eye contact, then slowly back away and do not run.
  • If the bear does not leave, move to a secure area.
  • Families who live in areas frequented by black bears should have a "Bear Plan" in place for children, with an escape route and planned use of whistles and air horns.
  • Black bear attacks are extremely rare. If a black bear does attack, fight back!