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Black Bear outside the tent strategy question
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Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/06/2007 21:03:22 MDT Print View

In the past black bears always hid from me or ran away once they saw me.

Last Monday night I was camped three miles from a trailhead about 9 miles from downtown Aspen at the end of a five day trip. Most of my food had been eaten, so most of what I carried was trash. I didn't want to spend a night at an overpriced hotel when I had a tent door view of the Maroon Bells. And, I didn't want to stay at a heavily used stay only in designated camp sites area next to Crater Lake, so I was off trail, but not that far off trail.

The berries are few and far between because of a drought this year, and Aspen has had bears in town for quite a while. It's been in the newspapers there, google their efforts if interested.

So, about dusk I heard two woofs and a couple of growls. I got out of the tent in my socks, clapped the soles of my boots together and blew my whistle between, "Leave me alone Bear!"

Well, I heard nothing further and eventually fell asleep thinking that was the end of that until about 10:30pm when the growling and woofs returned. I remained quiet and the bear went away. But, the bear returned about once every hour to an hour and a half until 4:00am. Each time the bear returned I remained quiet notwithstanding the woofs and growls.

In the morning my bear bag was untouched (thank you OP sak). I don't believe the bear ever touched the tent or guylines (Akto, Ranger said the weather was too unpredictable for a tarp). But, each time I heard him/her the adrenaline rush kept me awake...just in time for the next encounter.

At one point I heard several river rocks disrupted and the loud snapping of tree branches. Not sure if the bear was after something or not, but he wasn't berry picking!

I didn't go looking for a kill or den to see why the bear kept returning; I was alone, carried no weapon or bear spray and I had had enough. I didn't smell a kill. There are deer and goats in the area.

The only flashlight I had was a photon micro light, so I'd be seen long before I saw the bear if I had exited the tent.

Now I know that if you are attacked in your tent you fight back from that kind of predatory attack. But, I wonder if I should have spoken up or made some other sound after the second or third encounter?

So, what do you think? Anybody had a similar experience, tried something different, and gotten some rest?

I thought the bear already knew I was a human, and more talking or whistling would do no good or make the bear more aggresive. This was one ticked off black bear or one that was really really hungry. He just kept returning.

I think Glen Van Peski told me once he and others started a fire to keep bears in California away from their camp one night.

This kind of experience makes me think I should carry bear spray even in black bear country if there is a history of poor food sources.

Of course, my strategy of keeping my mouth shut was successful, but I'd have prefered to have gotten some rest!

sam sam
(123456789) - F
Re: Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/06/2007 22:46:25 MDT Print View

There are at least a dozen different strategies for dealing with bears I've heard of, and don't believe there is a single solution for every bear encounter.

Some that I have heard people claim to use with varying degrees of success:

Making a lot of noise / yell / clap / bang stuff together / air horn
Being very quiet
Pepper spray
Roman candles / bottle rockets / whistlers
Hitting large sticks together
Throwing Rocks
Try to sound like a Cougar / Mt. Lion / large cat
Hot water thrown on the bear
Try to stand up to them and look much more intimidating and bigger than them
Laser pointer shined in their eyes
A Desert Eagle 50 or Barrett between the eyes

Unless you're *really* cool under fire and can handle a 50 cal. weapon (and can lawfully carry it), I don't think any of these have a monopoly on a solution.

From your description, "Your Bear" may have been more comfortable with people than many others.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/07/2007 04:03:08 MDT Print View

> Some that I have heard people claim to use with varying degrees of success:
How about an iPod and a large loudspeaker system, and one of George Bush's speechs?

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Bear Counters.. on 09/07/2007 06:42:45 MDT Print View

First, I've never even seen evidence of bears much less an actual bear where I frequent in North GA and Western NC. I did have to do a report on bears and bear attacks for my WFR training though so I did get some research in.

I would say loud noise is your best non-lethal option being an ultralighter. I've heard about wildlife mgmt using M80s or the sort shot from a customized shotgun but we're unlikely to carry anything like that. Bear spray is heavy and you're not supposed to use it unless being charged and the bear gets close enough for you to hit it in the eyes. Most black bear charges are bluffs and they break off at the last minute so save the spray for the one that doesn't bluff. They used to say to wear your pack and make yourself look taller and larger than the bear but again, that doesn't work so well with our minute packs. IMHO, things like hot water and the laser pointer idea are just going to annoy them. If you get attacked, you should fight back but this is only for black bears. Black bears are not accustomed to their food fighting back and will likely move on to something that requires less work. All of the above is only applicable to black bears, grizzlies/kodiaks and polars are a whole other story.

Last, I'm by no means an expert on bears so take my advice at your own risk. :-)

Edited by simplespirit on 09/07/2007 06:44:53 MDT.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Re: Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/07/2007 07:04:55 MDT Print View

Roger that would be downright abusive to the bear : )

Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Re: Re: Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/07/2007 07:12:12 MDT Print View


Tisk, tisk, tisk. That is the hand grenade solution. It is effective in hazing the bear, but hurts a lot of innocent people.

Reginald Donaldson
(worth) - MLife

Locale: Wind River Range
Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/07/2007 08:22:51 MDT Print View

I might be inclined to retreat if possible. The bruin was obviously too comfortable around man. My concern is that one may unknowingly cross that line of getting too close and accidentally trigger an attack. Animal behavior is too difficult to predict at close quarters.

I think I would have probably packed my bags and calmly left upon the third visit. Mind you, I am a canoeist and have the option of fleeing by water.

larry savage
(pyeyo) - F

Locale: pacific northwest
There probably isn't a much more disconcerting feeling on 09/07/2007 12:19:26 MDT Print View

There probably isn't a much more disconcerting feeling then a bear returning repeatedly during the night.
You need to accept you are not going to get any sleep and if possible get up and build a small fire, move closer to other people or get up and move out under flashlight. Moving up or out onto open rock outcroppings is another choice sometimes.
It is important to feel proactive,that you are doing something to retake "control" of the situation, and this is really important if you have significant others involved.
It is also an experience you'll not forget.

Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/07/2007 14:57:42 MDT Print View

We've been close within 100m only a few times, seen them in the distance more often, many times seen their recent droppings, and as a kid, had one stick his head in the car window (ok, it had cheese on it). I've never really gotten the impression bears want to be around humans, and to the contrary, seen a few scamper away when humans came near or startled them.

My understanding is that most bears are not comfortable around humans, and will avoid them unless you give them a reason (like sleeping with food). They can detect you at a much further range than vice versa, which is why they are often hard to actually see, even when their droppings are everywhere.

If you encounter the same bear multiple times as reported in the middle of the night, taking off in the dark probably isn't the safest approach: You may avoid the bear, but break your ankle or neck. Making noise seems to be the oldest remedy, and fires supposidly keep them away, but again, they may be use to it. I've also heard of shining a light in their face is effective, and I expect the same of a (non blinding) laser pointer, assuming you can keep it on target. (Few attackers can continue a pursuit if they can't see you) Beyond that, the choices at least for me get pretty thin.

If the bear is returning multiple times in one night, I would expect that is a bear management problem for the authorities.

Most bears are Democrats?


Colleen Clemens
(tarbubble) - F

Locale: dirtville, CA
Re: Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/09/2007 17:41:52 MDT Print View

i must agree with the "there is no one strategy" answer. we've done the "keep quiet" routine and had the same results as you did - no sleep, but no real trouble. we've also done the "come out of the tent & holler" routine, and i got bluff-charged for my effort (plus he snatched my husband's pack as he ran off).

so i guess it depends on your tolerance for risk. if you stay in the tent & stay quiet, you may get no sleep but you are unlikely to have anything bad happen. once you confront ol' blackie, the chances of a bad result increase, but you're still unlikely to have any real trouble with le bear. course, you never know when you'll meet a crazy one...

larry savage
(pyeyo) - F

Locale: pacific northwest
Be proactive on 09/09/2007 19:28:24 MDT Print View

I'll mention again about being proactive but also scouting the area before nightfall could give you some options. I once spent the night huddled in a steel doored concrete pit toilet because of a pile o' bears. Cooking and food storage a looong ways from your tent site is not unreasonable. And of course all this hindsight knowledge doesn't mean much when your in this situation, we might as well wish for a supersonic weedeater, firebomber full of bear repel, or a .454 casull.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Fire crackers? on 09/10/2007 02:27:40 MDT Print View

Anyone ever tried throwing one or two medium sized firecrackers at a bear - or a string of little crackers? Just curious.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Firecrackers on 09/10/2007 07:34:06 MDT Print View

I haven't personally tried it but it's inline with what I've heard about shooting M80s at them. Of course it's strictly rumor at this point.

Edited by simplespirit on 09/10/2007 07:34:42 MDT.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/11/2007 17:02:32 MDT Print View

> Some that I have heard people claim to use with varying degrees of success:
How about an iPod and a large loudspeaker system, and one of George Bush's speechs?
Yeah, and get arrested for ursicide after the bear died laughing.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Fire crackers? on 09/11/2007 17:36:30 MDT Print View

In my early backpacking days, I did just that when a bear got my poorly hung bag out of a tree. I used the small Chinese firecrackers that come woven together in little packets. I had separated a packet to use individually and had an unbroken packet in reserve. When I heard my bag hit the ground, I came out of the tent with a flashlight in my mouth, a baggie of firecrackers and a Bic in one hand and a loose firecracker in my throwing hand. Lit the firecracker and tossed it at the feet of the bear, which was crouched down with my bag about 20 feet away. That got his attention. I reached into the bag and repeated the process, at which point he got to his feet and backed a few feet away from the bag. I threw a third one about halfway between him and the bag and he backed a little further away and I inched closer to the food. This process was repeated until I was in possession of the food bag and he was maybe 25-30 feet away, pacing back and forth and growling. It became crystal clear at that point that he was debating whether or not to rip me a new one and in desperation I lit the full pack of firecrackers that I had in reserve and tossed it right at him. They exploded over a relatively extended period of time and that seemed to make up his mind, because he retreated out of flashlight range, but my buddy and I could hear him in the darkness, so we quickly built a fire(Coleman fuel for a starter-desperate times call for desperate measures) and stayed real close to it, WIDE AWAKE, for the rest of the night. Upon reflection, I realized: 1) I had been very lucky; 2) I was underarmed; 3) I needed to get a lot smarter about my choice of food(post incident analysis revealed he'd gone straight for some highly odiferous chocolate heavy trail mix in a separate sub-bag, which allowed me to save my main supply of food, and therefore, the trip), how I stored it(pre Alok Sack OP days-1978), and where I set up camp. Regarding points number 2 & 3, I upgraded to M-80's, and did a number of things to address point number 3, successfully enough that the M-80's never got used, which is a good thing since 9/11 has made it riskier than facing a bear to carry them in my backpack on an airline. I know there will probably be some doubters about this story, but it is true. It helped that I had rehearsed what I was going to do a number of times before I actually ended up having to do it because I knew there were a lot of bears in the Bubbs Creek drainage, especially in the Vidette Meadows area where this incident occurred. Anyway, for what it's worth, the little firecrackers did work, at least on that one occasion, but I would heartily recommend M-80's to those inclined to go that route, based on my experience.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Bears on 09/11/2007 18:24:58 MDT Print View

Agree with Larry on that one. I would have built a fire and probably would have stayed up until light. No sleep but at least I would be on point so to speak.

Roger your iPod comment made me laugh out loud!!!!

As for firecrackers. With the lack of water and how dry things were this year in the Sierra's, I would strongly disagree with chucking firecrackers to scare a bear. Just imagine a ranger coming around and asking you WTF were you thinking. I understand the sentiments but.........

Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/11/2007 19:45:24 MDT Print View

Firecrackers would have been handy, and I have also wondered about these Bearbangers:

The problem for me is that my time is so short for trips these days I have to fly to the trailhead and this sort of thing is not easy to find.

Anyone used one?

Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Re: Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/11/2007 21:07:45 MDT Print View

I have concerns with Bearbangers. First, it would be nice to know how much of a fire hazard they might be. That was not clear from their web or MSDS page. This might be a prescription for disaster in dry areas, or in most places in the Southwest US most of the year.

Second would be the bears reaction. If you hit near or on the bear, are you going to p1ss it off or will it go running? I would hope the latter. These are launched off of a small hand held 'pen launcher'.

As for what works, I found this in a search: Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, by Professor Stephen Herrero of the University of Calgary. The book has some statical analyses which may provide a better reference that speculation. Maybe someone out there has this book?

As for 'standing tall / waiting out a defensive charge' as some references suggest, I would note that one of the longer range pepper sprays has a (claimed) 30 foot range. That would be about 3/4 second from the time the bear gets in range to the time he gets to you at 25 mph. If you're reaction time is 3/4 second, then I'm not sure that's a realistic option.

If there was a reason to be concerned about bears in an area, I think I would avoid the area, or consider taking a 'weapon of last resort' if permitted.


Thomas Tait
(Islandlite) - F

Locale: Colorado
Hunted on 09/12/2007 09:26:44 MDT Print View

Has anybody noticed a correlation between less agressive/fewer bear encounters and areas where black bears are actively hunted?

John S.
(jshann) - F
;awlrjw;qli4rtjqawo; on 09/12/2007 11:37:26 MDT Print View

I thought that was a well known thing, the hunted bear regions/more human-fearing bears...