Precautions in Bear Country

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Camp Precautions

Grizzly Bears
A bear that sees, smells or hears a human usually retreats unless it is a sow trying to protect her young.

Hungry bears also are attracted by the smell of food around camps. This, too, can cause problems.

Smart campers store all foods, including dog food and horse feed, in closed, bear-resistant containers or suspended above the ground as described on the previous page. They also keep sleeping bags, tents and sleeping areas free of food and beverage odors. And they never sleep in clothes that were worn while handling game or cooking.

Keep a clean camp. After meals, wipe down tables and chairs. Wash dishes and utensils immediately and dispose of wastewater downwind, at least 100 feet from the sleeping area. Store all odorous items as food, including garbage, toothpaste, deodorant, lotions, creams and sprays in bear-resistant containers.

When leaving camp, pack all food scraps and trash in sealed plastic bags and take them out for proper disposal. When these items are left behind or buried, they attract bears to campsites, increasing the chance of bad encounters either for campers.

Bear Encounters

Even with an individual’s best efforts, it is still possible encounter a bear. Usually the bear will detect the person first and leave the area. But if one meets a bear that doesn’t retreat, here are some suggestions:

  • Stay calm. If a bear is seen but has not seen the person, the person should calmly leave the area, detouring as far away as possible and making noise so the bear knows he is there.
  • If a bear stands, it is trying to see, hear and smell the person better. The bear hunter should speak softly while backing away to a place of safety and avoiding direct eye contact. One also should watch what the bear does, and adjust actions accordingly.
  • If the bear is close to a trail and cannot be avoided, one should wait for the bear to leave.
  • It’s important not to run or make sudden movements. Running may cause the bear to charge. Besides, humans cannot outrun bears, and bears are capable of climbing trees.

If a bear charges, spray him, don’t shoot at him. On very rare occasions, a bear might not retreat or avoid humans. Instead, it seems prepared to charge. What to do? The bear hunter carries a gun, so he should shoot, right?

Wrong. Your most likely carrying a bolt action rifle while bear hunting, and unless you're John Wayne, you not going to make the kill shot under such preasure. A misplaced shot may simply wound the animal, literally just pissing him off. The best way to defend against a bear attack is bear pepper spray. Everyone who hunts in bear country should keep a full can where they can quickly get to it. Bear pepper spray has been proven more effective than a gun during bear encounters.

Unlike a gun, bear pepper spray does not have to be aimed precisely to stop a charging bear. The spray unit makes a fog in the air. When the spray hits the bear, it dilates the capillaries of the bear’s eyes and causes temporary blindness. It also makes the bear choke and cough. According to experts, there is no better way to stop an attack by an aggressive bear.

When you buy pepper spray, be sure the container says the product is made for stopping or preventing bear attacks. Other types of personal defense sprays may not work.

Also, be sure the canister contains at least nine ounces of spray. Cans smaller than this may not last long enough or spray far enough to stop a bear’s charge.

Bear Encounter
Many bad bear encounters occur when a bear enters a camp or other inhabited area where it has been attracted by the smell of food.

Always carry the can in the field and in camp. Keep it in a hip pouch or chest holster where it can be quickly reached. In a tent, keep spray next to a flashlight.

In the event of an attack, remove the safety clip from the can. Aim slightly down and toward the approaching bear. Spray a brief shot when the bear is about 50 feet away. Then spray again if the bear continues to approach.

When the animal retreats or stops to clean itself, leave the area as quickly as possible without running. Go to a safe area such as a car or building. Do not chase or pursue the bear.

Remember, bears aren’t really mean. They aren’t man-eaters, and they usually don't want anything to do with humans. Bad encounters are usually because the bear is acting defensively rather than aggressively. By understanding the behavior and needs of bears, hunters can avoid unpleasant encounters. And when the hunter sees a bear, it will be a good thrill, not a bad one.



Garden Prairie, IL
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