When it comes to camping, there is nothing more exciting than experiencing the raw natural feeling of the great outdoors. From the tranquil streams, amazing scenery, the quiet whispers of the forest, to a bear attack. Yes, you read that right. Let’s be clear; if you are in the wilderness, there is a chance that you might have an encounter with actual wildlife. Now, this can normally range from birds, bunnies, and maybe the occasional skunk, but there are times where a bear encounter is possible. Here we will take a look at how to ensure that everyone is, in fact, safe in the off chance of a bear encounter in the wild. In this article, I have provided some important tips to avoid bear attacks while enjoying outdoors.
Types of Bears
North America is home to different species of bear, namely the black, brown, grizzly, and polar bear. Of these, only polar bears are interested in humans as a source of food. The rest typically do not attack you, unless you give them a reason to. Although, these bears rarely attack humans for predatory purposes, and there is no need to have an irrational fear of a bear attack while camping, one must definitely consider this issue with the utmost of seriousness. You need to take certain precautions and equip yourself with proper knowledge about countering a bear attack while camping in bear country; more so, if you intend to take kids along.
Safety Tips to Avoid a Bear Attack
If you’re planning on entering bear country, you need to be prepared for the possibility of a bear attack. However, taking certain precautions for bear safety when camping can prevent the risk of ‘face-to-muzzle’ encounter with a bear.
Before setting up the tent at a campsite, it’s important to talk to park officials regarding any recent sightings of bears. Forest rangers or park officials are often well-informed about the characteristics and habits of individual bears in the region. This information can help you in evaluating the relative safety of your campsite.
Be sure to inspect the campsite yourself for any signs of bears. Crushed bushes, upturned rocks, uprooted small trees, often indicate bear activity. You can also, look for bear trails, markings on trees (bears often leave claw barks on trees as a sign of their territory) and their scat.
If you find the campsite littered with remains of food or garbage from previous campers, then it is best to leave as soon as possible. Nothing attracts bears better than the sight and scent of food.
Instead, you should opt for a campsite that offers clear visibility and has tall, climbable trees close by. Most bear attacks occur in areas that are shady and hidden from the main trail. If you have to camp at a site covered with dense trees, make sure you make your presence known to the wildlife in the surrounding area by making plenty of noise. Startling or sneaking up on them only increases your chances of getting attacked. Remember, most bear attacks occur because the animal feels scared and threatened. The fact is that they are simply defending themselves from us as much as we are from them.
Educate everyone in your group regarding how they should behave in the wild. Explain the rules and regulations for camping in bear country.
While setting up your tent, make sure it’s large enough for your family and that there is space between the walls of the tent and its occupants. Bears tend to bite at anything that projects from the tent walls!
It is best to cook and eat at least 100 yards away from your tent, and in the direction away from the wind. Immediately clean up the sight where you cooked and ate. Dispose of any that food remains and place all garbage inside bear-proof trash cans. Clean the dishes and store them in an airtight bag along with all of the other utensils.
Cook only as much as you are likely to consume. If you must store food, put it in a plastic bag and hang it from a tree. If there are no tall trees around, store food in layers of several Ziploc bags and place in a large cooler. If your vehicle is with you at your campsite, you can also place the cooler in the truck of your car. Just remember, bears have a keen sense of smell and if they suspect there is food nearby, chances are they will not rest until they find it. Preventing them from gaining a scent is the real key here.
Likewise, be sure to clean yourself after cooking and get a fresh change of clothes, as the smell of food lingering on your clothes can also attract bears. Either pack your dirty clothes in airtight plastic bags or hang them from trees, a few meters away from your tent.
Make sure you make a lot of noise to make bears aware of your presence. As they have poor eyesight, they largely depend upon sound and smell. So, talk, laugh and clap at various intervals. While there is no harm in using bear-bells, a human voice is more likely to ward off a curious bear.
Always move in a group of 6 or more people while hiking, when possible. Lone hikers are more likely to attract bears, while a large group tends to scare them away. Besides, a large group is naturally noisy and loud.
When hiking, keep a canister of pepper spray in your pack or pocket. Practice the act of drawing it out and spraying its contents a few times (you never know when you’ll need it, and the last thing you need is a can to malfunction when you are only a few inches from a bear!).
Most importantly, be vigilant at all times and watch out for signs of any bears around. Know and be aware of your surroundings. If anything seems out of place or different, it may be a sign that a bear is in the area.
During a Possible Bear Attack
So, what do you do if you find yourself in a close encounter with a bear, despite taking all of the above precautions? Should you run? Never! You will not be able to outrun a full-grown bear on any terrain, much less in their natural habitat. So, the best option for you is to stay where you are and assess the situation. This should give you enough time to think, as the bear is doing the same exact thing.
First, remain calm and try to estimate the distance between you and the bear. If it is far enough away (say more than 100 Ft.), start backing away from its sight, without attracting too much attention towards yourself. Chances are, the bear may not have even sensed your presence, unless you made it obvious.
If the bear is looking directly at you and seems to charge in your direction, stay calm. More often than not, bears only bluff charge, just to scare you away. So, take this opportunity to get as far from the bear as possible without turning your back toward them.
If the bear is rather close and you have nowhere to go, locate a tall tree and start climbing as quickly as you can. Do not stop until you are well above 10 meters (around 30 Ft.) from the ground. Remember, black bears are good climbers while grizzlies can chase you up to a few meters. Besides, they can reach a distance of 10 Ft. while they are still on the ground.
If the bear looks like he means business, try talking to him in a calm voice. Of course, he won’t understand you, but a human voice may make him believe that you are not a threat. Wave your arms frantically to show him that you are a human and not a predator. You can also raise some sticks and bang them together. Looking as big as possible may deter the bear from wanting to engage with you.
If nothing works, pull out your bear-spray and start spraying. However, spray only when the bear is less than a few feet away. This will startle and disorient the bear, thereby giving you enough time to escape.
Should you happen upon a stray cub, even though it may seem cute and harmless, please remember that there is most likely a mama bear nearby. You should never approach or attempt to feed a bear in the wild. If you encounter a female with her cubs or a pack, your chances of winning a fight against them are pretty slim. In this case, play dead and pray! Assume a fetal position on the ground and cover your neck with your hands while lying as still as possible.
Actually, in the end your chances of encountering a bear, especially an aggressive one, are very rare. Nonetheless, you must prepare yourself for every eventuality of a possible bear attack to ensure your vacation memories are bear free. While sighting a bear can certainly add an element of thrill and excitement to your trip, just be sure that if you see one that you enjoy it only from a very safe distance.