Depending on where you're camping, you may encounter a bear or two. So knowing how to keep yourself safe in bear territory is crucial. They can do a number on you pretty quickly so make sure you're ready. We've assembled some tips and tricks on bear safety to help you avoid them and keep yourself safe if you encounter one.
KEEPING YOGI AWAY FROM YOUR PICNIC BASKET
The first plan of action to keep yourself safe from any kind of bear is to not attract them to your camp site. The bear will come sniffing around for a free meal if they think there's food. Our food is way better than having to chase something down and we have all those extra spices and flavors that make it oh so delicious. So what exactly draws their attention to your area? The first thing is your food in general. If you have it sitting out in a cooler, they can smell it and they're definitely strong enough to get into it and get the food out. They'll also be drawn to pet food, trash, dirty dishes, and even birdseed. The best way to keep them away is by keeping these things up and out of reach. Here are some steps you can take to make sure you aren't just putting out a buffet for Yogi and BooBoo:
- Tent Campers: Keep food in bear-proof containers. Some campsites will have this already in place for you, or you'll have to do it yourself. If you don't have something strong enough that the bear can't bust into, make sure you hang it up high. Ideally, suspend it 10-15 feet in the air and 4 feet or more from the tree trunk. Bears can climb but they won't want to put a bunch of effort into it.
- RV Campers: Keep your food in the inside kitchen as much as possible with the doors shut. If you have an outside kitchen, make sure to close and latch the access panel so they can't get to it.
- If you have dishes outside that you're using, wash them right away.
- Tent Campers: Change your clothes before you go to bed. If you sleep in the same clothes you cook in, the smell may make you look like a nice bear burrito in your sleeping bag.
- When setting up camp, whether tent or RV, look around for other things that the bears may be naturally drawn to. This includes berries, other dead animals (not that you want to camp next to that anyway), or any signs that a bear has been in the area (i.e. droppings, foot prints, and scratches or holes dug in the ground or side of trees). If you see any of this, find a new site. The chances are pretty high that they will be snooping back around these areas soon.
These tips will help you to keep the bears away, but unfortunately there's no foolproof guarantee. Make sure you're ready to deal with one if it happens to wander into your campsite.
WHAT TO DO WHEN BALOO COMES AROUND
If you end up with a bear in your campsite, it's integral to know what to do. If you make a wrong move, it could aggravate or provoke the bear and make matters worse. Take the following steps if you happen to encounter a bear, whether in your campsite or on the hiking trail.
- If they come to your site: Act aggressively. Bears can be frightened away at times with loud noises and hurling objects. Yell at the bear, bang pots and pans together, and throw things at it (rocks are preferable, but never food as that's going to have the opposite effect). Do this while backing away from the bear and try to get to safety. Even if the bear isn't acting aggressively, it is dangerous. Most people are attacked because they don't think the bear seems aggressive until it's too late.
- If you're out hiking: If they haven't seen you, stand still and wait for it to leave the area, or very slowly and carefully head back the other way. Never run, as this may cause them to chase, and they are much faster than you. If they have seen you, refer to step one and act aggressive to scare them away.
- Stick with your group no matter where you are. They look at one person as a meal or something easily brushed aside, but a group of people is much more intimidating. You're also louder and more likely to scare them away if you're in a group.
- If the bear doesn't go away, move away slowly while keeping your eye on the bear. Never turn your back to it. Never run.
- Always bring pepper or bear spray when camping in bear country. This stuff hurts bad, and they will usually turn tail and run at first encounter with it. Some will power through it but it's much less likely that they will continue once sprayed.
- If a grizzly bear attacks, and you either don't have spray or it didn't work, don't fight back. Lay on the ground in the fetal position, cover the back of your neck with your hands, and stay as still as possible. They only attack when they feel you're a threat. If you're still, they will usually just leave. They don't tend to eat humans as a food source, so once they feel safe they'll usually take off.
- If a black bear attacks, they are more likely looking at you as a food source. Keep that spray on you and within easy reach in areas where you may encounter a black bear. Don't climb a tree with any bear attack, but especially with a black bear. They climb really well and really fast and they're much more nimble in a tree than you. This will just corner you and make it easier for them. Unlike with the grizzly, if you're attacked by a black bear, you need to fight back as they're not going to just go away. Grab rocks and sticks, bite wherever possible, and hit it in the face as much as possible. Their eyes and snout are particularly sensitive so aim for that. Usually if you put up too much of a fight it's not worth it for them and they'll give up.
- If you experience a bear anywhere, make sure to let park officials or the wildlife agency in the area (such as the DNR here in Michigan) know where you saw it. This way they can help to keep other campers safe.
- After an attack, no matter how severe your injuries are, seek medical treatment. That bear hasn't been using anti bacterial soap or hand sanitizer on his claws and he's definitely not seeing a dentist regularly. Scratches and cuts, even superficial, can introduce bacteria and other harmful things that can get into your skin and possibly your blood stream. You need to ensure that the wound is properly cleaned and cared for.
Use all the caution you can when in a bear area. Grizzlies are usually found in Alaska, throughout Canada, and around Washington, Idaho, North and South Dakota, and Montana. Black bears tend to roam all over the U.S. and in most of Canada. Know that not all black bears are black. They can range from black to a light blond color, so know what you're dealing with when you encounter one. Grizzlies are larger and around 6.5 ft, have a prominent shoulder muscle that sticks up like a hump, and long claws. Black bears are usually smaller, won't have that hump on the shoulder, and their claws are shorter.
There are a lot of myths out there surrounding bears and if you believe some of them you could potentially be in serious danger. Here are some of them:
- Bears cannot run downhill: This is totally false. A bear can run at speeds of over 30 miles per hour and a downhill slope is only going to increase that speed.
- If the bear stands on its hind legs, it's about to attack: Standing on its hind legs is what it does to better assess a situation. While they may be getting ready for an attack, this is not a sure sign, so don't use it as a reason to provoke.
- Bears have poor eyesight: Nope, they can see not only very well, they see in color just like us. So trying to pretend to be a tree isn't going to cut it.
- Menstruation attracts bears: So far all studies have shown this is false. The cycle itself isn't going to attract them, however what you do with used hygiene products can make a difference. When in a trash receptacle it may attract them so toss them in the fire or pack them out ASAP.
One of the most important things you can do before heading into an area with bears is to get that pepper spray. This seems to be the best defense against them overall. For tent campers, you may want to look into RVs for sale. They're not only more comfortable to sleep in, they're safer from bears and other predatory animals. You can check out our selection of new and used RVs anytime, 24/7!