Spotting a bear faraway while camping is a fun photo op. Up close, it’s a different story. Here’s how to camp in bear country and reduce the risk of encountering one.
Don’t tempt fate by acting carelessly
Sharing a campground with bears might seem exciting. But the truth is, most bears, especially Canada’s black bears, don’t really want to meet you and will scurry away if they hear, see, or smell someone.
That said, people are told never to feed bears, but some still do. And human food is hard to resist. That’s why when bears get fish, marshmallows, bread, and other such things tossed at them, they begin to see humans as a food source—and that’s a potentially dangerous mix.
The bear necessities checklist
As always, the best offence is a good defence. When it comes to bears and camping, here are some ways to keep these furry friends from paying you a visit.
- Store food out of reach of bears. In developed campgrounds, store all food, including pet food, in the closed trunk of your car. In the backcountry hang it well off the ground (at least four metres) in a tree, and at least two metres away from the tree trunk.
- Don’t cook near your tent or tent trailer. And don’t sleep in the clothes you cooked in.
- Dispose of used dishwater downslope away from your campsite.
- In a park, stash your trash in a bear-proof container, or, in backcountry, burn what you can and hang the rest with your food.
- If you are going to leave your tent at night, use a flashlight to cut down on the risk of surprise encounters.
- Dispose of fish remains in a fast-moving stream or in deep water—not on the shore close to your site.
If you have a hair-raising encounter
You have to use your common sense. Don’t camp in areas where you can see signs of bears. If you go walking, stay on the trail and make lots of noise to reduce the chance of running into a bear going around a corner. Sing, clap, shout.
- Bear cubs look cute, but don’t try to pet them; mama is probably close by.
- Travelling in groups is safer than going solo. Use binoculars to scan the way ahead.
If you do meet an aggressive bear, don’t run away; it’s faster than you. Walk calmly to your canoe or car if you can and get away. If this option is not available, then try to give the bear a reason to think twice about attacking:
- Act aggressively, shout, throw things at it, swat it with sticks. If you have an air horn or bear spray, use them to try to send the bear scurrying away. Fighting back is your best chance of survival.
But as noted earlier, most bear encounters are benign and manageable so that all creatures can enjoy the wilderness.