Precautions in Bear Country

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Black Bear
The best way to defend against a bear attack is bear pepper spray. Misplaced gun shots may just wound the animal, making it even more dangerous.

Seeing a bear while bear hunting is always thrilling. Sometimes it’s a good thrill like seeing your first bald eagle. Other times it’s a scary thrill, like seeing a rattlesnake coiled near your feet. Whether the experience is pleasant or frightening depends on the person’s attitude.

Bears are a valuable game species but many people are afraid of bears. They’ve heard stories of bear attacks and worry that a bear might attack them. Most bear hunters know, however, that bear attacks are extremely rare. In fact there have been slightly more than 100 people killed in last 100 years by bears, both grizzly and black, in North America. Bears are discreet animals that are fairly uninterested in humans.

If bear hunters learn to follow a few simple safeguards, the chance that a bear will cause problems is very small.

Avoiding a Bad Encounter

Bears are shy, solitary animals. Most prefer to avoid humans, and if they see, smell or hear a person, they usually retreat unless they are trying to protect their young. Most encounters between bears and humans occur with the human unaware that it even happened. Bears sometimes become bolder, however, if they are hungry or have become “habituated” to humans. Most commonly, habituation happens when bears learn to associate humans with a food reward.

Bears are easily surprised. This seems strange for such a large, powerful animal. But if a bear is startled, cornered or provoked, it may perceive a person as a threat. Bears are especially protective of their cubs and food carcasses they’re feeding on.

When not hunting them, it’s best to avoid bears. There are several ways to do this:

  • Learn to recognize bear sign. Avoid areas with fresh tracks, torn logs, flipped rocks, scats or clawed trees.
  • Be extra cautious on windy days; it’s harder for bears to hear and smell a person then. Be careful in areas where it’s hard to hear or see well, such as deep brush, along stream sides and at bends in a trail. Reduce chances of surprising a bear by clapping hands, talking, singing or otherwise making noise. This lets any bears in the area know a human is coming and avoid him. Avoid late evening trips and returning to camp in the dark.
  • Always bear hunt with others. People who bear hunt alone or in groups of fewer than four people are more likely to have conflicts because bears tend to shy away from large groups of people. When children are in the hunting party, be sure they stay within sight of an adult.
  • It’s also a good idea to leave dogs at home or on a leash. A dog chasing a bear or barking at it can cause real problems.

Handling Game

For those fortunate enough to harvest a game animal in bear country, there are additional precautions to take.

  • Wear gloves and an apron when dressing game to reduce odors on hunting clothing.
  • When gutting an animal, separate the carcass from the entrails. Then quickly remove the carcass from the area. The longer a carcass is left in the field, the greater the chance of a bear-human conflict. Don’t leave entrails within one mile of a trail, campsite, picnic area or parking lot.
  • Don’t store game carcasses too close to camp or near a trail. Bears attracted by the smell may cause problems. A pulley system and rope in camp can be used to hang game out of reach of bears. Carcasses should be at least 10-15 feet above the ground and four feet out from the supporting structure.
  • Hang game so it can be seen from a distance. This allows bear hunters to observe it when returning. If a bear has claimed the food for itself, the bruin can be avoided. Surrender the carcass to a bear if he has already begun feeding on it.
  • Hunting knives and other tools used when dressing game should be washed thoroughly and stored with the game.

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