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Bear Essentials when Hiking or Camping
Brown (Grizzly) Bear (Check out these claws)
Hiking and Camping especially in the West are almost always in Bear Country and why not adopt best practices that leave no trace to keep the remaining wilderness areas wild for all of God’s creatures to enjoy? Over 30 states have bear populations and in some states populations are growing. This is a good thing.
In most cases wildlife, bear included, simply want to stay out of your way and be left alone, so frequently we can hike and camp without ever seeing predators likes Mountain Lions, Coyotes, Wolves or Bear. However, just because we don't see them does not mean they are not there, and in fact, they may be closer than we think! Hiking in groups chatting each other up, clapping occasionally while calling out, "hey bear" in thickly bushed or windy areas can help us avoid close encounters. Startling bear may cause a violent reaction.
Keeping a clean campsite, checking the site's posting regarding rules and wildlife in the area, and using bear proof storage bins for food and "attractants (e.g. tooth paste, sunscreen, and even bear spray when not using it), and discarding wrappers and food waste in bear proof trash cans can make your stay and the stay of the next campers safe. That said, check your campsite upon arrival and make sure the previous campers did not leave a mess for which you may experience the repercussions. As the saying goes, leave your site better than the way you found it.
Hiking and Camping in Bear Country
I am NOT a Bear Expert! However, I do live in bear country, though it’s extremely rare to see them in my neighborhood. That said, last year we had a black bear near our garage while I took my dog for the evening. We just heard rustling and quickly turned back. The next morning a water jug was removed from our recyclables with teeth marks in it. The next day the bear was found on a neighbor’s deck and eventually tranquilized so he could be relocated to a safer environment.
I am very curious about bears and bear safety, especially when hiking and camping in the backcountry. My wife does have a friend who is a Bear Biologist who has been answering many of my questions and we go to observe her releasing a “nuisance bear” she had caught that was getting into garbage much like the bear in our neighborhood. So when I venture into the backcountry, I like to research the area and refresh my knowledge about what I should do if I encounter wildlife and bear safety is always a hot topic on the several camping forums. It’s in these forums that I see some good information being conveyed but so much misinformation too, that I felt compelled to compile this list of resources. Some of the resources may appear redundant but I felt that simply serves are emphasis of what works and what does not.
Despite these numerous resources, I am always looking for more info. Please send me your favorite links:)
For instance, I would love to know if loud whistles are effective in deterring a bear as she approached? Do bear bells have any deterrence effect or do they actually make bears more curious? Is it safe to keep food in a refrigerator in a trailer or truck camper?
Topics covered in the provided Links:
1) How to identify Black vs Brown (Grizzly) bears. They behave differently so you need to respond differently during an encounter.
2) What to do to avoid an encounter when hiking and camping. (Warning: Bear Bells are mentioned as NOT being effective and when hiking, dogs may actually provoke a defensive response in bears where they may otherwise ignore you.)
3) What to do if you are charged charged or attacked, Bear Spray is a proven non lethal deterrent in over 90% of the encounters and more effective than fire arms, though it is a last line of defense. Firearms have resulted in both human deaths and bear deaths and requires high skill to be effective.
4) When and how to properly use bear spray (Note, it may be obvious but it’s not like mosquito repellent so you do not apply it to your person or your gear...you spray at an approaching animal!
5) Many reading this hike and camp in both Canada and the US. I have provided the source to the Canadian Border Crossing law that prohibits Mace and Pepper Spray designed for humans, and subsequently allows Bear Spray as designed for animals. Some people think they have to discard their bear spray canisters in the US or avoid purchasing canisters while camping in borders states before crossing. This practice is not only wasteful but could leave you without Bear Spray when you need it. I have personally asked the Canadian Mounty when crossing from Glacier National Park en route to Waterton Lakes if my canister was allowed. I was told it absolutely was…I experience no delays, additional Q&A nor inspections as some claim bear spray will trigger. We saw bear at a distance in both locations and fresh scat on one of our hiking trails. I did not have to use it but was happy to have it with me and was glad I did not have to go looking to purchase new canisters immediately after cross the border.
6) Both the US and Canadian National Parks advocate the use of Bear Spray on their websites. I can’t think of any resources more vested in both public and bear safety, so I thought it necessary to include respective resources from the Parks I know that have noteworthy bear populations and heavily frequented by the public. I thought the Denali’s link was the most comprehensive but picked up import nuggets and reinforcement in the other sites, too. I do recommend whenever going to a Park to look up the resources for that Park for the most current information. In some cases, there are active bears where there may be closures or restrictions that may affect your plans.
(Note, I consider these to be the most relevant links on the subject matter but am always looking for more respected sources, too. if you have some favorites, please send my why for inclusion.)
(This the most complete/informative Bear Safety video I have found!)
Grand Teton (states bear bells are not sufficient):
Bear Safety in Alaska
Canadian Border Crossing and Provincial Parks:
Prohibited Weapons and Devices
• mace or pepper spray designed for use on humans;
Very Important!!! This does not prohibit bear spray when it is labeled as such as the intent is to use on animals, bear specifically. Plus you can buy this in Canada as it is promoted for Bear Safety in Canada''s Parks. Normally items that are restricted at the boarder are because those things are not allowed or readily available in that country.
Parks Canada site
(recommends bear spray at all times; warns bear bells are not enough)
Like the Banff link above, the US Parks known for Black and Grizzly bears have similar perspectives on the usefulness of Bear Spray and an effective deterrent as the last line of defense.
Waterton Lakes National Park: (The same bear spray I have is referenced and they state to carry bear spray at all times and know how to use it!)
Bear Bells (No links found that prove Bear Bell effectiveness) :
Many times Bear Bells are popular suggestions as deterrents. I have not found a study or article to their effectiveness. One hypothesis is they provide sufficient advanced warning. Another hypothesis is they simply peek the curiosity of bears and are often too faint to be heard if windy.
Guns vs Bear Spray:
This fences can be quite portable in size and weight making it possible when backpacking. They are not a substitute for keeping a clean camping other practices like storing and cooking 100yds away. Hunters and Fisherman likely have a greater need due to the gamey smells they deal with.