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Bear Camping


  • Teenage bears are unpredictable and dangerous! BE WARY OF YOUNG BEARS! Bears are brave only if they think they have the upper hand. There is strength in numbers—groups larger than four people are rarely attacked. A bear that boldly walks into your camp in broad daylight is either super aggressive, very young or very stupid. These bears are unpredictable and dangerous!

  • Bears have distinct personalities; some gentle, others mean. You won’t know which is which until it’s too late! This said: Don’t throw rocks at a camp bear unless human life is in danger. This could trigger an attack with a “mean” bear. I see the Forest Service no longer recommends this in their BWCA video.

  • Bears respect size! Make yourself look bigger. Raise your hands high, put a child or pack on your shoulders or stand on a high hill.

  • Bears will go after the smallest or weakest in the group (watch your children!).

  • Bears climb trees! (polar bears are the only bears that don’t climb!). Grizzlies climb until their claws straighten out (about age 3-4) then they “hug” climb like you and I. Most bears can climb faster than most humans. Bears are very adept at getting food packs out of trees! If a sow is too fat to climb, she’ll send the cubs up. Putting your food in a tree simply creates a safe zone between your food and you!

  • Bears are operantly conditioned by past experiences. Once they find food in tin cans, packs or boxes, they will seek out these items in the future! Once bears learn that “food grows on certain trees” they will check the “bear tree/pole” in a campsite and bite through the rope that holds the treed pack.

  • Most black bear attacks are predacious - hence, you should usually fight back during an attack. Grizzly attacks are usually defensive-aggressive (protecting a cub, food source, etc.) - hence, you should usually play dead until the danger has passed. Exceptions abound!

  • Once you have driven a bear away from your campsite, rest easy. He/she won’t be back!

  • Polar bears almost never show fear of humans. They call polar bears “land sharks”. Electric bear fences, cracker shells, flares and guns are important tools in polar bear country.

  • Bears are very smart and naturally curious. What many people interpret as a dangerous encounter is usually just natural curiosity.

  • Bears (all animals) respond almost entirely to body language. If you look or act frightened, the bear will sense it and take advantage. Talk calmly, slowly back away and you will usually be okay.

  • THINK and assess the situation before you act! Blindly following set rules you’ve read in publications can get you into trouble.

  • There are many exceptions: re-read #3 and you’ll see why.

  • DO NOT test fire a can of “pepper spray”. Bears don’t like to be sprayed but they do like the taste of pepper! Don’t bring a “fired can” of pepper spray into your camp—it will attract bears! Black bears are known to develop a resistance to pepper spray - a second “spraying” may not deter them! Grizzlies and polar bears don’t seem to develop a resistance, even after being sprayed many times.

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