Being Bear Aware

I live in an area with a very dense population of both brown and black bears. Bears are seen as a scary and ferocious beast that will rip us to shreds and eat us in a heartbeat. They are seen that way because they absolutely are all of that and a bag of chips, they will destroy you. However, that is not what they want and that is not what you want, so we can prevent that by simply taking steps to be more Bear aware. When you go out into their world, and make no mistake it is their world, you can take a few steps and measures to make sure you come out just fine. Learn all you can about the bears native to your area, pay attention to your smells, create as much distance as possible from bears , and when possible don’t travel alone. People go where bears are all the time, myself included, and most will never have encounters.

Bears are an interesting creature, they are predators, scavengers and they eat plants. They have an amazing sense of smell, they can see in color, and can hear good as well. Bears generally want nothing to do with humans and will avoid us whenever possible, however sometimes encounters happen. Female bears with cubs will be more aggressive, so if you see cubs do what you can to avoid getting between momma bear and her babies, or you might not like how she creates distance. Not all species of bears are the same, Black bears are generally not black and are often brown or cinnamon colored…they also don’t always know how big they are and will scare off easily. Brown bears and/or Grizzly bears on the other hand, know exactly how big they are. So take the time to learn about the bears in your area that you might encounter and their behavior. This will help you better plan out ways to avoid encounters.

Part of what makes bears so amazing is their sense of smell. They can pick up the scent of your cooked mountain house meals for miles. So what you need to do is be aware of and try to control your smells. When you eat food, eat away from where you will be sleeping. At night, secure food up trees in scent proof bags or secured in bear proof containers. Most attacks against people happen because of food not property stored. The bears smell it, come to check it out and people just happen to be there, the bear gets startled and reacts. Either it runs away, or becomes violent in defense of itself against a perceived threat. Or in the case of a brown bear, they are starting to target people because they are an easy food source…and often smell like food due to improper care. I have seen cars ripped open by large brown bears trying to get a tiny hunk of cheese from under the drivers seat. So take steps to secure those smells so you don’t wind up on the menu or with a convertible.

The best method to avoid bears is to keep your distance. Of course going into the woods you are increasing your proximity to bears but you can take steps to keep them further from you. Bears don’t generally want to be around people, so make noise. Sing songs, wear a bear bell, talk loudly…I know you are in the wild and its pristine and beautiful, you will have plenty of time for silent and serene moments however if bears are around or you think they may be, now is not that time. If you do happen to encounters bear you do not want it to be a shock to them, so if you see one before it sees you and you are far enough away…give em a yell. “HEY BEAR”it seems silly but it works. Even if you are not sure what is ahead of you, you just hear a noise or something in the bush, now is not the time to be shy. Whatever it is will more times than not be more afraid of you than you are of it. Now the absolute best way to create distance, is bear spray. Bear spray is basically just souped up pepper spray that will burn and irritate the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth of the bear. If you come across a bear, make some noise, dump some of that bear spray into the air and more times than not the bear will leave. If the bear gets closer, spray him directly in the face. An animal that cannot see is generally going to flee. The idea again, create distance. They can’t eat you if they are running from you.

If at all possible, avoid traveling alone. Not just because its good for all around survival in general, its easier to follow all the above steps if you have someone with you. For me walking around in the woods alone talking and singing, is not normal behavior for me and as such I find it hard to remember to do it, however with a friend with me conversations happen. Jokes, stories, “hey look at that” people talk and that makes noise. Bears are also generally very calculated creatures, they don’t tend to bite off more than they can chew so a group of humans is not going to be appealing to the bear. In fact odds are the bear is going to hear all the noise associated with groups of people walking in the woods and is going to avoid you. However in the rare event one is startled by you, its less likely to attack a group of people, all shouting and using bear spray.

Bear attacks happen, and even if you follow everything I said the risk is still there. That said, following these steps and being more bear aware will increase your chances of avoiding a bad encounter. Seeing a bear at a safe distance in the wild is a great feeling and its hard to describe. Just know they are wild animals and do what they want, so do what you can to avoid a confrontation. Learn all you can about the bears native to your area, pay attention to your smells, create as much distance as possible from bears , and when possible don’t travel alone. That is not just for you, that is for the bear as well. Bears that attacked are generally euthanized if captured. So do what you can to prevent that, after all bears are just being bears so take care and give them space to do bear things. After all, you are visiting their home as a guest.