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Black Bear outside the tent strategy question
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Kevin Sawchuk
(ksawchuk) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Re: Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/12/2007 13:49:20 MDT Print View

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

These appear to require a gun to shoot them making them off limits for NP use.

In the continental US and out of Grizzley territory I would have stayed in bed intellectually knowing that black bears do not attack people in normal circumstances. I'll admit that I wouldn't have slept quite as well despite what I know and 40-50 bear encounters over 35 years and nearly 1200 nights in the backcountry.

In Canada and Alaska black bears are reported to be human predators and I would have kept the bear spray close. I'm not sure that moving camp in the dark is worth the risk (as if you could outhike a bear--they are known to travel 30-40 miles in a night and very few are out of shape or habituated to television and sofas! :) ). A fire might help keep them away. I've used burning logs to chase off bears in the past.

In grizzley country attacks of this sort (while sleeping) are rare.

I'd make sure your food was a long way away from your sleeping area, that any cooking/cleaning remains were disposed of far away (possibly cooking separately from camp), and that you hadn't inadvertantly smeared food on clothing or gear that is stored close by. I have even had bears go for water bottles that **had** had a drink mix in them. I routinely have one water bottle that is ONLY for water. I store the other with my food (in the bag if possible, out if necessary) even once it has been rinsed several times.

The Odor Proof sacks do seem to work--we were skipped by the bear while using them in King's Canyon when he visited at least two camps just 100 yards away.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Bears on 09/12/2007 14:57:02 MDT Print View

and see that gives me food for thought. If bears could not smell something in an OP sack, wouldn't it be fantastic that we could just store out food and smellies in them? I know that is a simplistic question, but if a bear cannot smell something, and you have it hidden away from camp. How would they know what to look for it and where. Just thinking out loud.

Gotta say though, this year was pretty bad with bears and deer making their rounds close to humanity and sites that we would spend the night. Lack of food this year has made animals quite desperate in the Sierra's.

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: Bears on 09/12/2007 16:30:51 MDT Print View

Ken, I think your point is well taken. I have always put all food, trash and other smellies like toothpaste or sunscreens in an O.P. sak and then inside freezer bags (to protect the O.P. sak) then bear-bagged it all in a tree at least 200 feet from camp, preferably down-wind. I use the PCT hanging method.

So far, no problems at all with any animals. I actually worry more about rodents and racoons getting my food than bears. Then again, I camp in Florida, N. Carolina and New Hampshire, all of which have black bears but probably not in numbers like the Sierras. Nor do "doughts" compare. A normal year in the West would be considered a drought in the East.

Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/12/2007 18:15:35 MDT Print View

Kevin, What they use to propel them are "pen launchers."

Are those illegal in national parks or forests?

As I lay there contemplating my options and courage, I reminded myself that predatory black bear attacks on a person in a tent are extraordinarily rare. It was not until later that day when I was off the trail and back in town that I was reminded of the widely reported Utah incident earlier this summer of a boy being dragged from his family's tent:
or this NOLS tentless sleeper:
I decided to report the incident to the Aspen Ranger's office when I got home. The ranger commented that they had seen black bears above timberline this year.

The night before I was in a very popular and crowded camp site where people were frying fish in a fire a few feet from their tent! What I have learned from this experience is not to get sloppy with your bear skills just because it has been a long time since you have had any encounters or others have been sloppy and had no encounters the night before. When you succeed you often never know how close you came to failure.

P. P.
(toesnorth) - F

Locale: PNW
Close encounters of the bear kind........ on 09/12/2007 20:53:43 MDT Print View

We have black bears in our yard eating apples almost every night in the fall and this year they are ignoring us more blatantly than usual. They don't worry me much, as a rule, and I have some fine video.
However, we backpack and camp in grizzly territory and this year we had our first "outside the tent" encounter with such a beast. It growled and stomped just outside our tent just as we were settling in to sleep. I peered out and said, "Get the spray." My partner did............ and promptly sprayed me with the bear spray (accidentaly I trust and at least not in the face). During the ensuing coughing, choking, and thundering out of the tent, the bear moved a bit away (no doubt to watch the human drama enfold from a safe distance). It wanted the area to itself, evidently, since it stayed close.
I poured water over the worst of the spray and we traveled on in the twilight to find another camp before total dark. I spent a horrible night of vomiting, coughing, and burning which I hope never to experience again.
Please, be careful with your bear spray!
But, HEY, it worked! ;-)

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
Re: bear bangers on 09/14/2007 19:58:49 MDT Print View

Quote: "I have concerns with Bearbangers. First, it would be nice to know how much of a fire hazard they might be."

They're definitely a fire hazard. They create a small explosion that sends sparks everywhere. That's why they're banned in lots of Canadian parks.

I originally bought bear bangers as a way to save money on bear spray. As an astute poster noted, if you wait for the bear to be within 20 feet of you on a charge before trying to level and fire bear spray, it's pretty much all up to the bear at that point. I prefer the idea of firing a bear banger proactively and still having the $50 can of bear spray a) unwasted, and b) still at the ready in case the bear is very aggressive. But then again we average losing a person every couple of years to predatory black bears in southern BC.

I've never had an incident that gave me pause to consider using my bangers, whistle, or bear spray. I hike with my eyes on my surroundings and talk/sing to avoid surprising something in a thicket. (SOP in predatory bear country.) It's still nice to know they're in my front pocket, though, and that I can fire one off any time I'm even getting nervous about the way a bear is looking at me.

Bear bangers have the further advantage of launching mini flares from the same pen launcher. If you were ever laying at the bottom of a ravine with a broken leg and had to attract the attention of a rescue operation, you could start with the sound (as loud as a rifle shot) and then switch to flares when they got to your end of the valley. Pretty versatile for such a tiny and inexpensive piece of kit.

Edited by bjamesd on 09/14/2007 20:02:32 MDT.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Hunted on 09/14/2007 23:34:24 MDT Print View

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

Yes, very much so. Same for cougars and wolves. There is a long-running, little-known bear experiment going on in west-central Idaho, where the Fish and Game has limited bear tags to a miniscule number. The bear population is very healthy as a result. I've never seen as much bear sign as I have found in the Cuddy Mountains near Council, Idaho. I spent one very long night there a few years ago. Not a particularly good story, so I'll spare you the details, but I vowed not to go back without more firepower.

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
Re: Re: Hunted on 09/14/2007 23:48:44 MDT Print View

Jason Brinkman wrote: "Not a particularly good story, so I'll spare you the details, but I vowed not to go back without more firepower."

Sounds like the calling card of a good story to me!!!

john flanagan
(jackfl) - F

Locale: New England
Hunting and Blackbears on 09/15/2007 00:00:10 MDT Print View

Great question - in Maine bears are hunted pretty hard and to tell the truth I don't even think about about them. In the 25 years I've been tromping the woods here I can count on three fingers the number of times I've heard of bears being any kind of nuisance at even established campsites.

I suspect that this is one small advantage of the lack of "true wilderness" as opposed to wild land - there is practically no bear in the state that is so far from a road or guides bait that they are beyond hunting pressure.

I'm curious about how this population is different from BC's. Different gene pool? Wilderness bears who are not hunted? Does the predation occur mostly just before and after hibernation?

David Lewis
(davidlewis) - MLife

Locale: Nova Scotia, Canada
What to do at established sites? on 09/16/2007 07:27:51 MDT Print View

Here's my thing... I mostly don't have to worry about bears up here in Nova Scotia... we have bears but they virtually never attack. All the same, I still like to follow best practices... i.e.... cooking away from camp and hanging all food and smelly stuff 15+ feet up a tree (PCT style) away from camp. However... when I'm in Provincial Parks with established site... they of course insist on you using the established sites... and in the established site... I will often be the ONLY one following best practices. The people in the site beside me might be frying fish and leaving stuff all over the place. So what's the point then if no one else takes precautions? And what are the alternatives?

BTW... I plan to hike the AT someday and I hear that they also insist on you using the established shelters / sites. I don't think I would ever use one of those shelters... personally. They sound gross to me. Sure to be full of food crumbs and dirt and rodents. Is it ok to ignore the rules and camp away from the established sites (in a leave no trace style of course... and assuming you can find a suitable spot)? Or is that bad etiquette?

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: What to do at established sites? on 09/16/2007 14:36:34 MDT Print View

Personally, I never camp in established sites ... anywhere! The thought of it is repulsive to me.

Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: What to do at established sites? on 09/16/2007 15:56:41 MDT Print View


If you keep a clean camp and protect your food then the critters will likely first go for the low hanging fruit. You will be invisible.

The situation is a problem.

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
Re: What to do at established sites? on 09/16/2007 17:56:45 MDT Print View

Quote="when I'm in Provincial Parks with established site[...]The people in the site beside me might be frying fish and leaving stuff all over the place. So what's the point then if no one else takes precautions? And what are the alternatives?"

I, too, abhor "designated" sites for this reason. Bacon grease in the firepit, tins of fruit cocktail washed out beside the tent pads, and the always classic "cache-your-food-then-spit-toothpaste-beside-the-tent".


In the meantime, turn 90 degrees from the trail and walk 200 yards, then make camp. No one will ever know and you will sleep better.

Edited by bjamesd on 09/16/2007 18:38:39 MDT.

Alan Seegert
(zemmo) - MLife

Locale: AK/NM
Dang bears. on 09/19/2007 11:35:31 MDT Print View

I live and work in bear country in/near Denali. At this point I wouldn't feel comfortable staying in the tent if any kind of bear was outside it. My ex-neighbor and her husband were killed and eaten in their tent in ANWR a few years ago, they even had a shotgun in the tent, never fired it. I shot a black bear outside my cabin that was just going from house to house seeing what it could get, after having obtained food from sloppy residents. Black bears are SNEAKY, compared to grizzlies, if a grizzly comes into your camp he just walks right in. A black bear is more inclined to sneak in when he thinks you're not looking. IMO, there's nothing better for any bear that gets close to you than a faceful of pepper spray, in my experience it works really well. Young grizzlies in particular will sometimes get right in your face, I'm not sure what they think they're doing.

So yes, I'm a believer in pepper spray, the medium-sized canister isn't all that heavy. M-80's are great, wish they still made them. The cracker rounds, beanbag, plastic and rubber slugs for shotguns all work pretty well, in different applications.

For me personally, it depends on my read of the bear, and I'm thinking mostly of grizzles. If I go out of my tent and there's a big dominant adult, I just back away if I can, unless he's already close enough to spray. If it's one of these dorky sub-adults, I'd use rocks or whatever, and a choice string of expletives. Good luck with the bears, they're extraordinary creatures.

Lawton Grinter

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/19/2007 13:34:54 MDT Print View

Hi Tim, I live about 9 miles as the crow flies from Crater Lake in Maroon Bells so I know the area somewhat. We too have had problems with black bears hitting the garbage cans here in Crested Butte this year.

Over the past 8 years I've had close to 15 bear encounters over the course of about 10,000 miles worth of hiking. Only 2 of those encounters occurred at night and both were in Yosemite National Park.

Encounter 1 involved a full-grown black bear that was making the rounds between about 5 different tentsites in one camping area. I was camping with 2 other folks and each time the bear came into camp we yelled, threw rocks, blew whistles and the bear took off only to come back about an hour later. After the 3rd visit we concluded that we'd be doing this all night if we stayed. We packed up at midnight and hiked out for about 1.5 hours and set up a new camp . . . away from water, away from established campsites, fire rings, etc. No more problems.

Encounter 2 involved 2 young black bear cubs that came into our camp at about 2 AM and scurried up the tree and out the limb we had our foodbags counterbalanced from. We got up, made a lot of noise, threw rocks and yelled a few expletives and the cubs ran away. This time around we didn't wait for them to come back. We immediately packed up, hiked out for about 2 hours and set up a new camp and had no problems.

The main thing I learned from these encounters was that once bears knew we had food, they tried relentlessly all night to get it. I use OP sacks now and haven't had a single nightly encounter since I started using them, but if I did, I'd pack up after the 1st visit and hike out for a couple of hours and set up a new camp . . . and get some sleep!

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: Re: Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/19/2007 20:03:34 MDT Print View

I had heard of this multi-use piece of gear used as a bear deterent; a flashlight with a very concentrated beam, usually refered to as a "tactical" flashlight. Personally, I have no experience that it works but...

Here is an example;

While weighing in at 5.3 oz, it is a significant weight but, if this blinding light idea does work, it could be considered double duty. I am no expert on these small flashlights but reading up on such forums indicates that this light linked above, would be considered a "blinding" light to an assailant (hence the "tactical" reference) in a relatively small, light package. It uses 2 C-123A batteries. Hey, make that triple duty; those batteries in the flashlight could also be used in my Steripen Adventurer!

Of course, an alternative would be to carry a 10 D cell police flashlight and simply beat the bear over the head with it! ;-)

Edited by mad777 on 09/19/2007 20:06:59 MDT.

Larry Tullis
(Larrytullis) - F - M

Locale: Wasatch Mountains
Re: Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/21/2007 08:06:46 MDT Print View

The BEST thing I've found to avoid losing sleep to a bear outside is ear plugs! The bear will likely wake you up if he wants to eat you, so why lose sleep over a curious bear in camp if your food is protected and away from your camp? I've really used the technique often and have not been eaten or bothered yet. I have just spent too many nights wide awake and wired, listening to every sound, real or imagined, and it made the next day much less enjoyable and tiring. Note: I have much more experience with Alaska and park grizzlies than black bears but their habits are similar.

If earplugs are not an option for you (earplugs are UL and multi-purpose you know) then try the noise thing first by clapping and yelling or banging noisy things. If that doesn't work, I have had great success getting curious bears out of camp by throwing rocks. No, not neccessarily at the bear but at the ground near them. It startles them because they don't really know where they are coming from and once unsure of themselves, they generally wander off. Rocks are NOT UL so forage for a small stack of golfball to fist-size rocks and put them by the tent/tarp door before retiring for the night. Nothing worse than tripping around guylines in the dark in underwear looking for rocks while a bear chows on the bag of licorice you left too close to camp.

Always keep a clean camp with no smelly items like lotions, food or fishy smelling clothing and don't camp on a bear trail, waters edge or on a back channel. The odds of a bear getting you are much less than getting killed in a car accident on the highway to your trip, so, my advise is: take precautions but don't lose too much sleep over bears. We are not food to them, bears have a healthy respect for humans as a super-predator (problem bears generally get shot). PS-I'm much more afraid of moose than bears....they're crazy!

On a side note, anyone ever use that UL electric bear fence that weighs about 2 pounds? Anyone know of an electrified food bag available for tundra or other areas with no trees for bear bagging food?

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Black Bear outside the tent strategy question on 09/21/2007 08:17:36 MDT Print View

On a side note, anyone ever use that UL electric bear fence that weighs about 2 pounds? Anyone know of an electrified food bag available for tundra or other areas with no trees for bear bagging food?

I wish I could cite a source but the best I can say is that I've read that the battery powered fences were initially effective but that some bears eventually decided that the reward was worth the pain of crashing the fences.

ULA was (is??) involved in an electrified food bag project. It'd be great if that worked ... but I fear it'll be the same story as the fences. It seems (to paraphrase Yogi), that the average bear is more persistent than the average bear.

Edited by jcolten on 09/21/2007 08:18:32 MDT.

Steve O
(HechoEnDetroit) - F

Locale: South Kak
Bear inside of pack on 12/10/2007 21:35:25 MST Print View

You gotta love Rob Rathmann for posting a pic of the friend that he made during his PCT thru hike.

Edited by HechoEnDetroit on 12/10/2007 21:39:31 MST.

R Alsborg
(FastWalker) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Re: Bear inside of pack on 12/10/2007 21:46:26 MST Print View

Nice picture!