Toni Ackerman was heading south on U.S. 301 in King George County last week when something caught her eye.
“What the heck is that?” she said to her husband, who was driving.
Then she realized a black bear, on all fours, was coming out of the woods near Walker Sand & Stone, about half a mile from the 301 intersection with State Route 3. Bears often search for food at dawn and dusk, but this one was making the rounds about 1 in the afternoon.
“I had never seen a bear before, except in the zoo,” said Ackerman, a King George resident who said she has no clue how big the bear might have been. “To me, it looked like an adult. It wasn’t a cub, it looked almost full grown.”
Ackerman hasn’t been the only one to bear witness to spotting a creature that captures “human admiration and interest like few other wildlife species,” according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ website.
The King George Sheriff’s Office has received multiple reports of bear sightings in recent days—at Presidential Lakes subdivision, around Trinity United Methodist Church in the courthouse area and in the 301 vicinity. On Thursday, the Sheriff’s Office sent out an alert, referring people to the state game department’s website, which offers measures residents can take to prevent bears from viewing back yards as their private picnic baskets.
Tips include: keep garbage in bear-resistant trash cans or stored in a secure building; keep the grill clean; don’t leave pet food outside or put meat scraps in the compost pile; and remove bird feeders if a bear’s been spotted in the area.
The recent sightings may be the work of several bears—a solitary one like Ackerman saw and possibly a mother and cub in the Presidential Lakes area, said Kevin Eller, supervisor of the King George Animal Control Office.
He hasn’t seen photos of the mother and cub, but did post a photo of the solitary bear, which seems to have a taste for birdseed. The bear had bent over a shepherd’s hook in its attempt to get seed.
“For the last few days this guy or gal has been causing havoc on some bird feeders in the area,” Eller posted. “Please do not confront this bear. Find a safe place, like inside your home, and take some pictures. It will move on.”
Eller assured residents that black bears are not aggressive unless they are provoked or cornered. He also reminded people it’s not bear-hunting season and it’s against the law to fire at them.
Shoot with a camera instead, he said.
Dispatchers in the Sheriff’s Office field calls for Animal Control, but there’s really no action law enforcement officials can take about the sightings, said Sheriff Steve Dempsey.
“People sort of want something done, but there’s really nothing to do,” he said, other than for people to follow the prescribed preventive measures.
Bears that wander into residential areas are looking for easy pickings, and if they don’t find any food, they’ll “usually leave the area in search of natural wild foods,” states the VDGIF website.
As the photos of bears sighted were posted on Facebook, some King George residents seemed surprised that bears would be spotted “in our area.” Eller said it’s “not uncommon this time of year to have a couple come through the county, just out looking for food.”
Virginia is home to a healthy population of black bears, and they’re found in almost every part of the state. VDGIF refers to them as “one of our biggest conservation success stories” and suggests steps residents can take to “make sure we keep bears wild … for generations to come.”
Information about being “bear aware,” and preventing conflicts in back yards or while camping and hiking, is available at dgif.virginia.gov/bear-aware.