Running into a bear when you are camping can be a scary experience. If you find you have a 300-pound black bear as a neighbor in the campground, you might want to sit in your car for a bit. Bear attacks are rare, even if you feel like you hear about them all the time every spring and summer. Your neighbor’s friendly dog might be more inclined to kill you than a bear in any given year. However, most of us camp in the bear county rather than our neighbor’s yard. When you are out camping, it’s a good idea to learn how to repel and keep bears away.
What smell or items repel bears?
When you are camping in the woods, what are the best things to repel a bear? There are scent deterrents, radios (yes, bears hate talk shows), and electronic deterrents. The best deterrent is to keep your food and personal cleaning items locked up in a bear-proof safe, your car, or hanging up and out of the way. Some say that using bear spray is a good way to repel a bear, so maybe you should keep bear spray with you in camp. Learn what attracts a bear to a campground and then learn how you can repel that bear.
Bears are always on the prowl for food sources, and like most animals, they are interested in finding the most delicious and most calorie-filled food they can find – for the least amount of work. Bears are rewarded with an easy meal by raiding the local camping site.
Once a bear has learned to associate a campground with food, they can become increasingly aggressive. Bears want food, and they are not about to let anyone, or anything get in their way. Once campground bears have become used to seeing food in campgrounds, they can become very unpredictable. Learn what smell or items repel bears, so your camping trip is not ruined.
What do Bears like in Campgrounds?
Bears like food and food to a bear is varied. Your neighborhood bear is not only attracted to your leftover camp food but to edible goods that include human or pet food, garbage, cooking pots and pans, cooking oil, stove and lantern fuel, unopened canned beverages, cosmetics and lotions, insect repellant and toothpaste.
Most of these things you need to take camping, so you should learn to keep them away from bears. Bears that learn to visit campgrounds often are killed to prevent you from being injured or killed.
What Can You Do to Repel Bears?
First and foremost use forest service provided bear-proof food storage boxes. If you camp in Yellowstone or Glacier National Park, for example, you will find these boxes in every campground. They are there for a reason and are good bear repellents. A few other tips to keep you safe from bears include:
- Sleep in your tent, not in the open.
- Set up camp away from fresh bear signs, berry patches and trails.
- Pack out all garbage and food scraps.
- Do not sleep in the clothes you used for cooking.
- Avoid burying garbage or food scraps. Pack these out of the area!
- Do not go near a bear to take a selfie.
- Don’t pack in aromatic foods like bacon or fish.
- Never bring food into your tent.
How to Deter a Bear
Bears tend to stay away from people, but they can cause problems, damage, and injuries if they get accustomed to obtaining food around a campground. The idea is to make a bear feel uncomfortable enough that they don’t want to stay or return. Several ways to deter bear as suggested by backcountry hikers include:
Whistles. A high pitched whistle works great. Noisemakers, rattles, air horns or firecrackers will also deter a bear and cause him to think twice about entering your campground.
Make noise. When you are hiking, make noise. The most dangerous bear is a startled bear. If you make noise to announce your presence bears are more likely to get out of the way. If you don’t want to talk, carry a satellite radio and set it to a talk show.
Hike in a group. A bear is more likely to approach an individual than a group. Groups make more noise than individuals and being in a group can deter a bear from attacking.
Bang pots and pans. Bang the bottom of a pot with a spoon and yell at the bear. Don’t think you are silly; the bear may think twice about entering the campground if it is noisy.
Beach ball. Toss a beach ball (something large and colorful also works) at a bear. Balls thrown at a bear often scare him away. Opening and closing an umbrella or shaking tarps or garbage bags also have been known to work at deterring a bear.
Squirt guns. If you have kids in camp you might have a super soaker or high powered squirt gun handy. Some campers take squirt guns with them because they know it might come in handy. Add a bit of vinegar to the water (avoid ammonia).
Stones and rocks. Rocks and stones or another projectile can help drive away a curious bear. Aim at the bear’s rump and avoid hitting him in the face.
Barking dog. Most bears won’t go near barking dogs. However, keep your pet on a leash and don’t let them chase the bear. If your pet gets loose and chases the bear, you might lose your pet.
Flashlights. Shine a flashlight or use a handheld flare. Bright lights will startle a bear and make them think twice about coming into your camp.
Ammonia or cider vinegar-soaked cloth. Hang a cloth soaked ammonia or cider vinegar over a trash can or on a tree to deter bears. Lysol and PineSol smells also repel bears.
Bear Pepper Spray. Bear spray is good for defending yourself from an attack, but make sure you know which way the wind is gusting, or the nozzle is pointing. You don’t want a face full of high-intensity pepper spray. Bear spray will cause your eyes to water and hurt, and a bear might attack while you are indisposed.
What to do if you see a bear while camping?
Remain as calm as possible if you see a bear and follow these simple guidelines when you are in bear country.
Ready your bear spray or another deterrent if you startle a bear. If you are in a group, remain together. You will appear larger and more intimidating if you are in a group. (A good note of advice here, it may be awesome to be in nature by yourself, but it is unwise. Have a partner on your hike.)
Determine if you are encountering a black bear or a grizzly. Black bears and grizzly bears act differently, and it helps to know which type of bear you are seeing.
If you encounter a bear on the trail or in your campsite, stop what you are doing. Announce yourself by speaking in a loud but calm tone. Back away slowly, and in the direction you came. Never turn and run. Keep your eyes on the bear so you can see how it reacts. Most of the time, the bear will turn and walk away.
Make sure the bear has an escape route with no people or other things in the way. Stand tall and look it directly in the eye. Yell at a black bear and firmly tell it to leave. Keep your pepper spray within reach, with the safety removed and the nozzle point the right way. Spray above the bear’s head, so the pepper spray lands in its eyes, nose, and mouth.
If you encounter a black bear in a defensive move, often the bear will crunch its jaws or paw the ground. The bear may blow and snort. It may growl at you in an attempt to scare you away. Slowly back away.
If you are faced with this situation, the bear doesn’t want to fight you any more than you want to fight him. It is trying to tell you that you are too close. Remain still and calm and begin to back away.
If you encounter a grizzly bear with cubs, and the bear runs toward you, fall to the ground and play dead. Rollover on your stomach and cover your neck and the back of your head with your hands and arms. Anchor yourself to the ground and keep your elbows and legs apart so the bear can’t flip you to your front. When the bear stops attacking you, stay still and pray for the bear to leave. Do not get up until you are sure the bear is gone. You may have to wait 30 minutes or longer.
If the attack prolongs or the bear starts gnawing on you, it is not being defensive, and it is time to fight back. Use your bear spray, fight for your life, kick, punch at the bear with whatever weapon you have. Concentrate your attack on its face, eyes, and nose.
The best way to prevent a bear encounter is to avoid them altogether. Bears will stay away from you, and they do have a strong sense of personal space. Remain calm, hike with a group, and keep your bear spray at the ready when you are in bear country.