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Black Bear Safety Tips:
How To Avoid A Bear Encounter

You'll want to know these black bear safety tips if you are planning to camp in bear country! (These tips apply just as well to grizzly bears, too.)


mama black bear and baby


Taking some common sense precautions will mean that you will probably never have an unpleasant meeting with a bear.




Black bear safety at your campsite

If a bear learns that easy food can be found at a campsite, the bear will quickly become a "nuisance bear". Far too many bears are destroyed each year because they have lost their fear of humans.

These black bear safety tips are as much for the bears' protection as for your own.

Don't be part of the problem! Take these easy precautions.


Keep a clean camp

This sign says it all:

"Food and Odors Attract Bears. These items may NOT be left outside or in tents at any time, day or night, unless they are in immediate use:"


bear aware sign


Store your food in your vehicle between meals. That includes your food boxes, fridge and cooler too.


sign that says


Don't take food or toiletries into your tent.

Anything with an odor should be stored in your vehicle. That includes things like lip balm, sunscreen, toothpaste and other toiletries.

Don't have a vehicle? Some campsites provide bear-proof lockers for hikers and bikers.


bear proof locker


If you are camping in the wilderness and there is no bear-proof locker, store your food, toiletries, and cooking clothes in a sturdy bag, suspended between two trees, at least 15 feet/4 meters off the ground at some distance from camp.


Dispose of garbage appropriately.

Many campgrounds in bear country provide bear-proof garbage cans.


bear proof garbage can


If your campground doesn't, store your garbage in your vehicle. If you're backpacking, hang your garbage the same way you hang your food.


Don't dump your dishwater near your tent.

Use a sink or grey water dump station if one is provided.


grey water dump


If there is no such facility, carry your water some distance from the campsite before dumping it.




Avoiding bear-human encounters
on the trail

Bears live in the wilderness, and humans like to explore the wilderness. That means that bears and humans will be in fairly close proximity fairly often.



The good news:

Bears usually don't want to meet up with us any more than we want to meet up with them!

Black bear safety can be as basic as warning bears that we are there, and giving them plenty of opportunity to get out of our way. Here's how:


Make noise.

Sing, talk loudly, whoop and holler.

Some people carry "bear bells" which jingle constantly as the hiker walks. I don't have a lot of faith in these, because they are not very loud. More than once, I've hiked around a corner and come face to face with someone wearing bear bells. I didn't hear the bells until I'd already seen the hiker!

I suggest singing instead. Belting out a rousing chorus of "I've Been Working On The Railroad" or "This Old Man" will give the bears a much better chance to hear you and get out of your way.


Hike
in a group.

The more people in your group, the less likely it is that you will have a bear encounter.


nine backpackers


Look
for signs that a bear might be near.

A posted sign is a pretty obvious signal to use extra caution!


Caution: bear in area sign


Watch for loaded berry bushes, scratches on tree trunks, or bear scat.

Bear scat (bear poop) will vary in appearance, depending on what the bear has been eating. You'll recognize it because a pile of it is big!


bear scat


This bear must have found a loaded cherry tree. Look at all the pits!


bear scat with cherry pits


Stay alert.

Don't wear headphones or earbuds.

Actually, don't listen to music while you hike at all.


Be especially aware near running water.

Bears come to streams and rivers to drink or to catch fish.


rushing stream


The sound of streams or waterfalls can mask sounds - both yours and the bear's - making an unpleasant surprise for both of you more likely.


Carry a bear spray dispenser - and know how to use it.

If you follow these precautions, you will probably never have an encounter with a bear - but you should carry bear spray just in case.



Here is everything you need to know about purchasing and using bear repellent spray.




I use these black bear safety strategies when I go hiking and camping, and I have never had a bad experience with a bear. Although I have seen a number of bears, none has ever approached me in a threatening manner.



If you follow these black bear safety tips, chances are that you will never need to know what to do in case of a bear attack - but to be extra prepared, read these bear attack tips!


For more camping safety tips, visit this page.


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