Bear Safety

Rich Johnson
April 5, 2012
Filed under Feature Stories

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Hanging a bear bag

Create you own bear wire lift a safe distance from your campsite to store food and garbage, keeping away hungry bears.

After a long winter’s hibernation, black bears are yawning, stretching and thinking about their first meal, probably near your campground. So, let’s talk about how you can safely camp in bear country.

Bears are always on the hunt for food, and if you think your vittles are safe because you camp in a hardwall RV, think again. Bears, driven by their lust for food, have been known to break into every type of vehicle – cars, trucks and RVs – even into cabins.

Bear Safety & Vehicles

Advice from the National Park Service is to remove food-related items, even canned food and beverages, from vehicles before dark and place them in lockers where provided. Clear your car of food wrappers, crumbs in baby seats and baby wipes. Bears have torn doors off of cars to get at food or scraps inside.

Food, Garbage, Etc.

Food and garbage are equal attractants. So are other aromatic products such as soap, cosmetics and toiletries. In bear country, treat garbage just like you treat food, by keeping it in bear-proof containers. At some parks, there are bear-proof lockers where you can store food some distance from your campsite and vehicle. And always use bear-proof garbage bins to dispose of food.


Bear-proof canisters and garbage bins are available from outlets like www.bearvault.com and www.bearicuda.com. If a bear can’t break in, they will quickly move on to search for easier prey. When hiking away from camp, it’s a good idea to strap a lightweight canister to your pack for trail snacks.


Distance is your friend. Keep food, garbage and other attractants stored some distance from your campsite. If bears are attracted, at least they won’t be inside your tent. Distance also applies to your cooking arrangement. If you cook in camp, chances are that the bears will come to supper. The clothes you wear while cooking also need to be kept outside of camp; the smell of food on your clothes turns into an attractant for hungry bears. Remove and store that clothing the same way you do food or garbage.

Bear Wires

In the absence of bear canisters, lockers, garbage bins and such, you can always resort to a bear wire. Some campgrounds in bear country already have bear wires set up, but you can always create your own. Suspend a rope or wire horizontally between two trees, about a dozen feet off the ground. Toss a second rope over the bear wire and use it to haul your bag of food and garbage up where it can’t be reached from below. If you can’t string a horizontal line between trees, use a sturdy limb 10 to 15 feet up to support the rope to raise your bag. Position your camp so the bear wire is some distance from your campsite, but convenient enough that you can retrieve what you need without having to undertake a major expedition.

Bear Safety While Hiking

When hiking, remember that bears react poorly to being surprised, but will generally move off to avoid confrontation when they hear people approaching. Make noise while on the trail to alert bears that you’re in the area. Whistle, sing, talk loudly (even if only to yourself), or wear a bear bell (available and inexpensive at sporting goods stores) so it continually rings as you walk.

However, bears will often behave aggressively to protect their cubs and food. If you detect evidence of a kill, predatory birds circling overhead, the smell of a dead animal or fish, you might be walking into the bear’s dining room. Don’t press your luck. Hike somewhere else.

Close Encounters of The Bear Kind

If you do come face to face with a bear, don’t crowd it. Slowly back away and talk calmly to let it know you are human. Most bears will give you space once they realize you are human. If the bear approaches, keep backing away, DO NOT RUN! Running may trigger an attack, and you can’t outrun a bear — they can do 35 mph! If an attack ensues, your response depends on what type of bear you’re dealing with.

If it’s a grizzly, fall to the ground face down, roll into a ball to protect your mid-section and face and cover the back of your head and neck with your hands and arms. Play dead. Chances are, when the grizzly no longer feels threatened, it may leave you alone. If it’s a black bear, rise up, wave your arms and try to make yourself look and sound really big. Bang stuff together to make a lot of noise. If a black bear engages in a physical attack, don’t play dead, fight back with everything available, it may be in predatory mode. Or if you know any bear has been stalking you, it is obviously acting predatory, so any attack should be considered predatory.

Yes, it’s wake-up time in bearland, so plan your camping trip wisely and keep your eyes open.


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