Camp Tricks

Camping in Bear Country

September 8, 2016
bear camping
bear camping

©istockphoto/Urmas83

Sure, bears are cute and cuddly on TV but trust me: they are nothing like Winnie the Pooh or Yogi Bear. Well, maybe a bit like Yogi because, given half the chance, they will steal your picnic basket.

The Land of Opportunity
“Given half the chance” is the secret to avoiding bear encounters. There seems to be more and more bear encounters lately, and though some may think that’s an exciting thing, they obviously haven’t experienced a bear encounter themselves. One probable reason for this increase is there are not only more campers in the woods, but more careless, uninformed campers setting themselves and the bears up for encounters.

Yum: Chips and Dip
Bears don’t come with an innate craving for junk food as we seem to. They would much prefer some good berries, insects, and nuts or honey to your chips and dip; but if your guacamole dip is handy, it just might make a great dessert. Rangers have instructed us for years to stash our food and coolers in the car at night. You should also stash anything that has an odor, such as your garbage and maybe even me after a few days in the wild. Some publications advise you never wear the same clothes you wore while cooking into your tent, but unless you enjoy stripping down around the campfire—and I only did it that one time—this seems a little much.

Coolers Equal Food
There have been more and more reports of bears breaking into cars, but this is not due to a bad upbringing; they have just learned where the food is. If you are backpacking, hang your food and trash up and away from you. If you’re car camping, throw it in the car before retiring for the night. While a bear breaking into a car to get to a cooler is rare, it does happen. Throwing a blanket or some kind of cover over your cooler, food and trash in your car can certainly help. The main idea here is to not attract the bear into your camp in the first place; so if he is breaking your car window for food, you may have bigger problems than just losing that guacamole dip.

Crank it Up
Bears don’t care for loud noises. Neither do I, but I’m not your problem: Yogi is. Chances are if you make enough noise, the bear, just like an old guy like me, will prefer to leave rather than put up with you. Wearing a whistle while hiking has long been advised in case of a bear encounter. Wearing one around the campfire or having one near you in your tent is a good idea. I have a combo light/radio/siren contraption that I keep nearby. If you’re car camping, keeping your keys nearby so you can hit the car alarm if need be.

Lassie Meets Yogi
Everybody loves to take their dog camping, but in bear country that can be a big liability. Sure, your dog can warn you if something is approaching your camp in the dark, but she can also invite trouble as well. Unless you have Lassie who always seems to win in a fight by your side, chances are your dog will get her butt handed to her in any encounter with a bear. What usually happens is they will run back to you with the bear right on their tail. Keep your pooch in camp, especially at night, and heed their warnings if they get agitated.

If Worse comes to “Yikes”
They say playing dead will sometimes get a bear to get bored with you. Problem is, I’m not that good of an actor and chances are, neither are you when under pressure. There is also Bear spray, which is just like mace or pepper spray and will help fend off an attack. It’s good to remember though that using bear spray, just like some bodily functions, should never be done into the wind. It should also only be used as a defensive measure and only at close range.

Let’s Try This Again
Store your food and trash in the car at night if it is nearby or hang it way up high and away from you in a tree if you’re in the wilderness. Carry a whistle or other loud noisemaker and make your presence known. Keeping your axe handy is not really a deterrent and I have found doesn’t even impress the wife one bit. Keeping your pooch and your companions in sight at night is a good idea though and be aware of your surroundings. Try not to make your campsite an attractive stop on Yogi’s night out and don’t even give him “Half the chance.”

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