BearWise Ways to Avoid Encountering Bears Outdoors
There are lots of simple steps you can take to discourage bears from getting into your stuff and avoid bear encounters. Teaching bears to associate cars, trails, campsites and people with food doesn’t just put a damper on your outdoor fun. It also creates unnecessary risk for you and your family and can have deadly consequences for bears. Doing your homework and taking some simple BearWise precautions now can help keep people safe and bears wild.
Lock it, Hide it or Lose it
Stash anything you’re leaving behind securely out of sight in your locked vehicle or food storage locker. A glimpse of a cooler or a sack full of snacks or the scent of fruit-flavored chewing gum or an empty bottle of energy drink could tempt a bear to explore your vehicle while you’re out exploring its home turf. A window that’s cracked open or an open door (yes, black bears have very nimble claws and can open most unlocked vehicle doors) is an invitation to come on in and see if there’s anything good to eat. But once inside, it’s often much harder for the bear to let itself out.
Earn the Clean Camp Award
Odors of all sorts attract bears, whether you are camping in the backcountry or frontcountry:
- Don’t store food, trash, the clothes you cooked or cleaned fish in or scented products, including toiletries, in your tent. Store these items in an approved bear-resistant container or suspended according to local guidelines; generally, a minimum of ten feet above the ground and ten feet away from any part of the tree.
- If you’re in a drive-in campsite, store anything that could attract a bear out of sight in a locked vehicle.
- Cook downwind and as far from your tent as practical. Your fire ring or grill isn’t an incinerator; don’t burn food scraps or trash.
- Don’t eat or slather on scented sunscreen while in your tent and resist the urge to go to sleep with a midnight snack tucked under your pillow. Keep a flashlight, whistle and bear spray in easy reach instead.
Set up backcountry camps away from dense vegetation and sources of natural foods. If you’re camping in a backcountry site that shows evidence of a recent bear visit (scattered trash, torn up fire pit, piles of bear scat), leave the area, find another place to spend the night and alert the local authorities when you get back into cell phone reception. TIP: Don’t camp along a wildlife trail that goes through a big patch of berries.
Let Bears Know You’re There
Make noise periodically and most wildlife, including bears, will avoid you. Don’t rely on bear bells to alert bears to your presence. Your own voice is more effective. No need to continuously blast your air horn or whistle. Just use your outdoor voice to carry on a conversation, even if you’re only talking to yourself. Or burst into song now and then, especially when you’re hiking, jogging or cycling through dense vegetation, around blind curves or by a noisy stream where it might be easy to surprise a bear. Or vice versa.
What Should You Do if You See a Black Bear?
Seeing a black bear in the wild is an unforgettable experience. While bear attacks are very uncommon and black bears rarely become aggressive when encountered, knowing how to respond if you do see a bear will help you relax and appreciate these special moments.
- If you see a bear before it notices you, stand still, observe and enjoy, then quietly move away. Never approach bears or try to creep in closer for a better look.
- If a bear sees you, stay calm, stay with your group and back away slowly. Never run; running can trigger a chase response and you can’t outrun a bear.
- If a bear approaches, stand still, hold your ground, wave your arms and yell until it leaves. “Hey Bear” is a popular choice. If a bear continues to approach, use your bear spray.
- In the unlikely event a black bear makes contact with you, fight back aggressively with anything at hand. Never play dead. People have deterred bears with hiking poles, rocks, water bottles, binoculars and even their bare hands.
Carry Bear Spray and Know How to Use It
Bear spray has been proven to be the easiest and most effective way to deter a bear that threatens you. Bear spray is a deterrent; it doesn’t work like bug repellent. NEVER spray yourself or your tent, campsite or belongings.
Bear spray can’t help you if it’s buried in the bottom of your pack. Carry it in a handy holster or somewhere it’s quickly accessible. Check the expiration date before you leave home. And brush up on the bear spray basics so you understand how to use it effectively. Local regulations on using bear spray may vary, so know before you go.
Bears everywhere thank you for reading up on how to be BearWise outdoors. Have fun, stay safe and thanks for helping to keep bears wild.