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What you need to know about camping in bear country

  • Jun 3, 2015

Any committed outdoorsman knows that in order to have an authentic natural experience, one must venture off the beaten path. When you decide to set up shop far away from other campers, you get the benefit of peace and quiet, and you're better able to immerse yourself into the wilderness. You're also increasing your chances of encountering different types of wildlife in their natural habitats. This can be thrilling, exciting and downright terrifying all at the same time, especially when your watch compass points you toward bear territory. 

Worried about running into a furry foe on your next expedition? Here are some tips for adventuring in bear country.

How to maintain your campsite 
According to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, many bears that live around popular camping spots have learned that humans leave garbage, food and other enticing items sitting around. While it's not in the nature of bears to approach humans, animals that associate people with free stuff usually develop bold and aggressive attitudes. If you maintain a messy, disorganized campsite, chances are you'll be greeted by a grizzly interested in your leftovers. The source noted that people staying in bear country should be vigilant about putting the following items away when they aren't being used:

  • Canned drinks, opened or unopened
  • Cooking oils
  • Trash
  • Human food
  • Pet food 
  • Cosmetics, lotions, toothpaste and insect repellant
  • Lantern and stove fuel
  • Pots and utensils.

Be sure to store these items in containers that bears can't easily break or open. Many campsites sell bear-resistant boxes and food caches, which are great options if they're available. If you don't have one of these, keep items stored in your vehicle, since tents are definitely not bear-proof. Additionally, Mountain Nature recommended cooking a short distance away from base camp so when bears smell food they aren't led directly to your site. 

What to do in the event of an encounter 
No matter how thoroughly you prepare, there's always the possibility of bears showing up anyway. If you do run into one of these animals, there are a few things you should know. First, you should identify whether the bear is being predatory or defensive. The Center for Wildlife Information explained that if a bear seems to be following or stalking you, approaches your campsite on its own accord and doesn't respond to yelling and throwing rocks, it's a predator. The source recommended carrying pepper spray with you - spraying it within 25 feet of a bear will distract and frustrate it long enough for you to escape the situation.

Defensive confrontations are fare more common, and come about because the bear feels threatened by you. This type of encounter usually happens between humans and grizzly bears trying to protect their food and cubs. If it seems like a bear is going to approach you, the source explained that you should lay down on your stomach, dig your elbows into the ground and play dead. If the bear manages to roll you onto your back, stay still and resist the urge to scream, since doing so will only make the bear feel more threatened. Once the animal decides you're harmless, it will leave you alone.

The Center for Wildlife Information explained that usually bear attacks come about as a result of human error. Many people are careless when choosing camping spots, ignoring major signs that the area might already be inhabited by bears. Additionally, most humans react inappropriately out of fear. While crying, yelling and running might be your first instincts, behaving like this will only scare the bear and prompt it to attack. 

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