Getting out into the wild can be a great, liberating experience! Camping in the great outdoors can lead to interactions with wildlife that can be amazing and enriching, but other encounters can be dangerous and intrusive. Interactions with bears while camping have the potential to become dangerous quickly, so here are some tips on what to do when camping in bear territory!
Bears and campgrounds can be a devastating combination. If a bear is able to obtain food from a campsite even once, it becomes conditioned to know that it can get food from that location, and can become quite aggressive to continue to have access to this food source. This becomes a danger to both humans and bears. Humans could be subject to bear attacks, even if inside tents or dwellings. If bears get too intrusive or harm people, they either have to be removed from the area or put down to avoid future incidents. As it is important to value the lives of all wildlife, there are many precautions we can take to avoid tempting bears to our campsites!
The biggest campsite attractants for bears is the presence of food or garbage, or anything particularly odorous. These could include:
-Human and pet food
-Cooking utensils, pots, and pans
-Unopened beverage cans
-Stove and lantern fuel
-Lotions, soaps, toothpaste, cosmetics, insect repellents
Keeping these things in tightly secured containers and in the proper areas, which we will discuss later, can greatly reduce the chances of attracting a bear to your campsite!
Campgrounds and camping areas where bears are known to inhabit will usually provide some sort of system to keep food, trash, and belongings safe from the reach of bears. Bear-proof containers are sometimes provided and are effective for holding clothes, food, trash, and any other products that attract bears. Some campsites have special bear poles installed where you can hang food and other attractants up out of the reach of bears. If your campsite does not provide a pole, or you are backcountry camping, you can use high tree branches or overhangs instead. Items are recommended to be hung about 10 feet above the ground, but four feet below any horizontal branches or ledges, to ensure that bears can’t reach anything from above!
It is safe to store attractants inside sturdy vehicles or campers, but be sure to tightly seal these items, even if they are in a seemingly secure location. Bears are strong and have been known to rip doors off vehicles in order to obtain food! It is important to follow these guidelines to keep interest in your campsite low:
-NEVER keep food in your tent, or take any in your tent to eat! Not even snacks!
-Coolers, plastic bags, suitcases, or backpacks are NOT bear-proof!
-Don’t sleep in the clothes you wore while cooking. The smell will remain. Put them in a plastic bag and hang them, or put them in your bear-proof container.
-Avoid cooking especially fragrant foods, like fish and bacon.
-DO NOT leave any trash or used cooking utensils laying around. Clean your dishes and keep trash in the proper areas, DO NOT bury it.
-Do not leave pet food out overnight, and keep pets leashed at all times during the day, and secured inside at night.
-Set up your campsite at least 100 yards away from your cooking area, if you are backcountry camping.
-If you come to a spot with existing garbage or food items from previous campers, set up your campsite 200 yards away from the cooking area and secure any garbage. Notify park officials when you return.
-Avoid setting up camp near trails, berry patches, areas where you notice a dead animal, or if you notice any signs of bears, like footprints, holes, scratch marks, or scat.
-Deposit any human waste and grey water 200 yards or more away from your campsite.
Generally, it is best to keep your campsite as bare as possible. Keep everything contained and put away, and you will drastically reduce the chances of attracting bears!
In Case Of Attack
In many cases, especially if you are out hiking or catching a bear off guard, bears like to avoid people, and don’t behave in a predatory manner when confronted. If a bear comes across your campsite, there is a chance that a bear accidentally came across this area and was not searching for food. Your course of action in a bear encounter greatly depends on the cues that a bear puts out.
Bears may come looking for food in the middle of the night as to avoid human interaction altogether. Several studies have shown that scaring the bear and showing an intimidating presence can scare a bear away, or deter or distract them enough for you to get to safety. Bears who come looking for food are probably desensitized to human presence and do not have fear. They will probably not act defensively or aggressively at first, so an aggressive, loud display could scare bears off! Bang pots and pans, yell, throw rocks, and make yourself look as big as possible to deter bears. Always stay in a group if you can, as bears are less likely to attack a group as opposed to one person. If the bear does not run away, continue to distract it and back away slowly, always facing the bear. Keep putting distance between you and the bear until you can no longer see it, then go to a safe place. Report the incident as soon as you can. Even if you scare the bear away, be sure to report the incident, as it could prevent a more severe incident from occurring with future campers!
Bear spray can also be a very successful tool in the instance of a bear attack. If a bear becomes aggressive and begins to attack, spraying bear spray will probably be enough to deter it long enough for you to escape unharmed! These sprays differ from pepper sprays used for self defense against other humans, which will have minimum to no effect on bears. Look for the ingredient capsaicin, which comes from hot peppers! Sprays without this ingredient are regular pepper spray and won’t offer sufficient protection against bears.
Using these sprays could save your life, but are also not permanently harmful to bears, as it will only temporarily disable them. This makes it perfect to carry with you at all times while camping, and to keep in your tent with you at night in case of a surprise encounter! It is important to only use bear spray in the instance of an aggressive attack. Do not spray it if a bear is not acting aggressively! Also, do not spray bear spray on your tent, belongings, or on people as a preventative measure, as it has been proven to actually be more of an attractant to bears in this manner! Always be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure proper use.