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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring wildflowers, not yet crowded campgrounds, and . . . bears

Snowbirds will soon start heading north out of the deserts as temperatures heat up. Many head into the national forests for Spring camping ahead of the "camping" season that kicks off on Memorial Day the end of May to enjoy uncrowded campgrounds, early Spring wildflowers, and deserted hiking trails.

This year's snow pack is quite heavy in all mountain areas and as hungry bears come out of hibernation they will have to head to lower elevations to find food, possibly accompanied by equally hungry cubs. This could put them in close contact with boondockers, campers, and hikers.

Be extra careful to not leave anything in your campsite that smells of food--or anything sweet that could be interpreted as food by a bear's highly developed sense of smell. If a bear wandering through your campsite finds nothing that might indicate something to eat it will move on, but the detection of even a hint of food could encourage it to stick around and continue searching.

If a bear wanders into your campsite, try to scare it off by banging pots and pans, but do not attempt to rescue food that you may have left out. Also do not get anywhere near her cubs, especially between her and her cubs. Remember that a bear can easily out run you, and even it it has no desire to ear you, it is a fearsome defender of both a food source and her cubs.

On the trail, do not hike alone in bear territory. Talk among your group so bears will hear you coming and move away. Sing or call out before entering where you cannot see ahead. You do not want to surprise or startle a bear. If you see the bear before it sees you, freeze to see if it doesn't spot you or ignores you and just moves on.

If it sees you, back away slowly, head down in a non-threatening posture. Do not make eye contact. Bears often stage a bluff attack to frighten a possible threat. Do not run. Be as non-threatening as you can. However, if it does attack--however unlikely an attack is--fight back hard.

And though it should not have to even be mentioned, I will anyway: do not try to approach a bear to get a better photo, do not try to feed the bear, do not growl or appear aggressive trying to scare it away, if you have a day pack full of smelly food and the bear heads toward you with its nose smelling the air drop your pack and back well away from it, do not pet its cubs, and no matter how cuddly and non-threatening a bear appears do not invite it to join you for lunch.

Add your tips below for how you've dealt with bears so others can gain by your experiences.


  1. The bear that walked into our campsite in northern Minnesota was not scared by us banging pots with spoons. When it left, we packed out. Later we learned from rangers that it took three packs that night. Sure glad we didn't have to hike out with all our gear but no pack!

    Please, remember that no matter who you are, bears always have the right of way.

    Linda Sand

  2. Thanks Linda. I should add to the post that when dealing with wild animals there is always a certain amount of unpredictability. If Plan A doesn't work (banging pots with spoons), have Plan B ready.