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Avoiding Conflicts with Bears

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JUMP TO INFO ABOUT: Recreating in Bear Country
Camping in Bear Country
Securing Food & Garbage
Disposing of Your Garbage
Hunting in Bear Country
Women in Grizzly Bear Country

When you choose to recreate in or move to areas occupied by bears, you have to assume responsibility for knowing how to reduce the possibility of negative encounters with bears. The following information will help you to avoid potential conflicts.

Recreating in Bear Country

  • Try to recreate in groups of at least two people if possible.
  • Always let someone know where and when you’ll be hiking or biking and what time you plan to be back.
  • Carry an approved brand of bear spray and know how to use it before recreating in bear country.
  • Stay on established trails; make plenty of noise, especially when the trail you’re on goes through areas of thick brush, or takes a bend and you can’t see the path ahead.
  • Avoid hiking at dusk or at night; bears are very active during these times and it’s too easy to startle a bear when the light is low.
  • Watch for signs of recent bear activity—scats (droppings), bear tracks, logs that have been torn apart, large rocks that have been rolled over, trees with claw or bite marks or areas of digging; if you see signs, leave the area.
  • Avoid animal carcasses and berry patches—these are potential food sources for bears.
  • Keep children and pets close at all times; either leave your dog at home or keep it leashed while hiking. Kids and dogs can excite bears which could result in a defensive or predatory response from the bear.
  • Do not take odorous items along on your hike. Bears have a great sense of smell and may be attracted to items that have a strong smell, such as lotions, deodorants, scented soaps, etc.
  • Do not leave backpacks, coolers or other gear unattended—hang packs using methods presented in this guide.
  • If you encounter a grizzly while hiking or biking, remain calm and quiet. Keep watching the bear but avoid making direct eye contact with the bear. Back up slowly, and speak to the bear in a soft voice. Never turn your back or run from a bear.
  • DO NOT APPROACH BEARS TO GET A CLOSER LOOK OR A BETTER PICTURE! View bears at a distance using binoculars or your camera lens. Bears can run as fast as 30 m.p.h., and can go from being “far away” to “way too close” almost in an instant. In addition, the bear you’re looking at may not be the only bear around—it could be a mother with cubs.
  • If you plan to be out overnight, follow the guidelines listed below in the section on camping in bear country.

Camping in Bear Country

  • Have a can of bear spray with you at all times.
  • Use designated camping areas when they are available and follow all regulations.
  • Camp in open areas when at all possible.
  • Do not put your tent near any potential feeding areas such as: near a carcass, near water or riparian areas, near berry patches, or near trails.
  • Store food or other odorous items (including toothpaste, lotion, sun screen, bug repellent, etc.) in an airtight and bear-resistant container; if the bear does get into your pack, it won’t get a food reward.
  • If camping with pets, be sure to pick up any leftover or spilled food immediately and dispose of it the same way you dispose of your garbage.
  • Store pet food in a bear-resistant manner along with your food.
  • Hang backpacks and other gear out of the reach of bears - at least 10-15 feet up from the ground and at least 4 feet away from any vertical support (tree, post or pole).
  • DO NOT STORE FOOD OR ODOROUS ITEMS IN YOUR TENT OR SLEEPING BAG!!
  • Never bury garbage since bears could smell it and dig it up; always pack out discarded feminine hygiene products. Hang garbage at least 10 feet off of the ground and at least 4 feet away from vertical supports while camping.
  • Do not use or pack any scented hygiene items.
  • Do your cooking, eating and dishwashing at least 100 yards from your sleeping area.
  • Keep your camp clean—do not leave garbage or food unsecured.
  • Never bury garbage. Pack all food and garbage out when you leave.

Securing Food, Garbage and Other Gear In Bear Country

  • While you are recreating in bear country, it is vitally important that you properly store your food, garbage and any other items that have an odor. Bears have a very keen sense of smell and could be attracted to anything that smells interesting to them—whether or not it’s food-related. Items such as toothpaste, soap, lotions or bug sprays, deodorant, and any food or garbage items should be stored in a bear-resistant container.
  • The Living with Predators Resource Guides offer product ideas and options for ways to secure bear attractants. If you will be visiting a national or state park, a national forest, or a wilderness area, please consult with the appropriate regulatory agency to find out what requirements for food and garbage storage may apply in that area. For instance, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier National Parks all have regulations pertaining to the storage of food and garbage in grizzly country. Many of the parks have compiled a list of approved bear-resistant products that can be used in that particular recreational area.
  • Some products are more bear-resistant than others. The resource guides present a range of products for you to consider. A formal bear-resistant product testing program now uses captive grizzly bears to test products. As products are tested, the guides will be updated to provide up-to-date information on the performance of various products.

Disposing of Your Garbage in Bear Country

Proper disposal of all garbage is critical when you’re recreating in bear country. Please keep these important points in mind:

  • DO NOT bury your garbage. Bears have a great se of smell and will dig it up.
  • Hang your garbage using one of the methods described in this guide while you’re camping.
  • Pack all garbage out with you or dispose of it in a bear-resistant trash container if one is provided.
  • If you burn any of your garbage, make sure it is completely burned before you leave. Dispose of any unburned or partially burned garbage in a bear-resistant trash container or pack it out with you.
  • Make sure your camp fire is completely out before you leave your camp.
  • If you see other recreationists being careless with their food and/or garbage, please report the situation to a ranger or other authority immediately...BEFORE the bears find it!

Hunting in Bear Country

  • Try to hunt with a partner or in small groups if possible.
  • Make sure at least one person not on the trip knows where you will be hunting and when you will be back.
  • Be alert for signs of bear activity—scats (droppings), bear tracks, logs that have been torn apart, large rocks that have been rolled over, trees with claw or bite marks or areas of digging.
  • Avoid hunting in berry patches or near old animal carcasses.
  • Do not hunt in low light conditions.
  • Follow the guidelines listed above under “camping in bear country” for food and garbage storage and for storing and/or hanging your game meat while you’re in bear country (this also applies to hanging your meat at home if you live in or near bear country).
  • Comply with all regulations regarding meat storage for the area you are hunting in; special regulations might apply if you're hunting in grizzly country.
  • If you're using pack animals, make sure that livestock feed (grain, corn, oats, etc.) is stored in a bear-resistant container.
  • Always have a can of EPA approved bear pepper spray within reach while hunting and butchering your game. Gut, butcher and pack out your meat as quickly as possible—always separate the gut pile from the rest of the carcass while you’re butchering.
  • Pack out your meat—do not drag it (dragging will leave a scent trail).
  • DO NOT BUTCHER YOUR GAME ANIMAL OR DISPOSE OF THE CARCASS OR ENTRAILS ON OR NEAR ANY ROAD OR TRAIL—THIS MAY ENDANGER OTHER HUNTERS OR RECREATIONISTS!!!
  • DO NOT SLEEP IN THE CLOTHES THAT YOU WORE WHILE BUTCHERING YOUR GAME!
  • If you must leave your game carcass in the field overnight, mark the carcass well and leave any unattended meat at least 50 yards away from the gut pile. When retrieving your meat, check your meat cache from a safe distance using binoculars to make sure that a bear isn’t feeding on the carcass. Make lots of noise as you approach the carcass.
  • If a grizzly bear is feeding on the carcass when you return, leave the bear and the carcass and vacate the area immediately. Report the location of the carcass and bear to the nearest game warden or wildlife official.
  • Consider erecting a portable electric fence around the carcass to discourage bears.
  • There is some evidence that bears may be attracted to gun shots or congregations of ravens after a game animal has been taken—if a bear investigates, stay calm. In most cases the bear will remain at a distance until you leave the area. Pack out as much of the animal as you can in case the bear does approach the carcass after you leave the site.
  • It is NOT recommended that you shoot at a bear that approaches you or charges you unless it's absolutely necessary. In many cases the bear ends up only wounded, and before dying or leaving the area, it attacks the shooter.
  • Report any incident with a bear to the nearest authority as quickly as possible.
  • Grizzlies in the Lower 48 States are protected—it is illegal to hunt grizzlies in the Lower 48 States.
  • Please report any wildlife poaching to the nearest authority.

Women in Grizzly Bear Country

  • There is no evidence that grizzlies are more attracted to menstrual odor than to any other odor. But as always, practice careful hygiene and dispose of all sanitary products in a bear-resistant trash container or pack them out with you.
  • It is a good idea to use pre-moistened unscented towelettes and tampons instead of pads.