Headed Outdoors? Bear Safety Tips – Part Two
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. Black bears are very strong with nimble claws and can easily open most unlocked car doors or peel down a partially open window. Leaving a window cracked open or an unlocked door is an invitation to come on in and see if there’s anything good to eat. But once inside, bears often have to chew and claw their way out. Why take chances? Stash, roll up and lock up before you leave.
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 locker or canister or properly hung according to local guidelines. BearWise recommends 10′ x 10′ x 10′ because black bears are great climbers and can really stretch out if they think they can snag some food.
- If you’re in a drive-in campsite, store anything that could attract a bear out of sight in a locked vehicle with the windows rolled completely up.
- Cook downwind and as far from your tent as practical. The gold standard is a 70-big-steps triangle between your sleeping, cooking and eating areas. Your fire ring or grill isn’t an incinerator; don’t burn food scraps or trash.
- Don’t store or eat food or spray or slather on anything scented (including lip balm) in your tent. 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 close-up photo or 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 physical contact with you, fight back aggressively with anything at hand. Never play dead. People have successfully 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.