North America is home to different species of bear, namely black, brown or grizzly and polar bear. Of these, only polar bears are interested in humans as a source of food. The rest do not attack you, unless you give them a reason. Although, these bears rarely attack humans for predatory purposes, and there is no need to have an irrational fear of bear attack, one must definitely consider this issue with utmost seriousness. You need to take certain precautions and equip yourself with proper knowledge about countering a bear attack, while camping in a bear country; more so, if you intend to take kids along. In this article, we have provided some tips to avoid bear attacks while enjoying outdoors.
Safety Tips to Avoid Bear Attacks
If you are entering a bear country, you ought to be prepared for any instance of bear attack. However, taking certain precautions of bear safety while camping can prevent any possibility of 'face-to-muzzle' encounters with a bruin.
- Before setting up tent at a campsite, it is important to talk to park officials regarding any recent sightings of bears. Forest rangers or park officials are often well-informed about the characteristics of individual bears in the region. This information can help you in gauging the relative safety of the campsite.
- Inspect the campsite, yourself, for any signs of bears. Crushed bushes, upturned rocks, uprooted small trees, often indicate bear activity. Also, look for bear trails, markings on trees (bears often claw barks of trees as a mark of their territory) and their scat.
- If you find the campsite littered with remains of foods or garbage from previous campers then, it is best to flee as early as possible. Nothing attracts grizzlies better than the sight and scent of food.
- Opt for a campsite that offers clear visibility and has tall, climbable trees in its vicinity. Most bear attacks occur in areas that are shady and hidden from main trail. If you must camp at a site covered with dense trees, make sure you make your presence known to the wildlife in the surrounding area. Startling or sneaking up on them increases your chances of getting attacked.
- Educate everyone in your group regarding how they should behave in the wild. Explain the rules and regulations for camping in bear country.
- While setting up tent, make sure it is large enough for your family and that there is space between the walls of the tent and its occupants. Bears tend to bite at anything that projects from the canvas!
- It is preferable to cook and eat at least 100 yards away from your tent, and in the direction away from the wind. Immediately clean up the sight where you cooked and ate. Dispose of food remains and garbage in bear-proof trash cans. Clean the dishes and store them in airtight bags along with other utensils.
- Cook only as much as you are likely to consume. If you must store food, put it in plastic bag and hang it from tree. If there are no tall trees around, store food in layers of several Ziploc bags.
- Clean yourself after cooking and get a change of clothes, as smell of food lingering on your clothes can attract bears. Either pack your dirty clothes in airtight plastic bags or hang them from trees, a few meters away from your tent.
- Make sure you make a lot of noise to make bears aware of your presence. As they have poor eyesight, they largely depend upon sound. So, talk, laugh and clap at intervals. While there is no harm in using bear-bells, a human voice is more likely to ward off a curious bear.
- Always move in a group of 6 or more people while hiking. Lone hikers are likely to attract bears, while a large group scares them away. Besides, a large group is naturally noisy and loud.
- While hiking, keep a canister of pepper spray within reach. Practice the act of drawing it out and spraying its contents a few times (you never know when you'll need it, and the last thing you need is a dysfunctional spray when you are only a few inches from a grizzly!).
- Most importantly, be vigilant at all times and watch out for signs of bears around.
During an Encounter
What do you do if you find yourself in a close encounter with a bear, in spite of taking all the above precautions? Run? Never! You can never outrun a full-grown bear on any terrain. So, the best option for you is to stay where you are and assess the situation. This should give you enough time to think, as the bear is doing just the same.
- First, try to gauge the distance between you and the bear. If it is sufficiently further (say more than 100 ft), start backing away from the sight, without attracting too much attention towards yourself. Chances are, the bear may not have sensed your presence unless you have made it obvious.
- If the bear is looking directly at you and seems to charge on, stay calm. More often than not, bears only bluff charge, just to scare you away. So, take this opportunity to get as far from the bear as possible.
- If the bear is sufficiently close and you have nowhere to go, locate a tall tree and start climbing it. Do not stop until you are well above 10 meters (around 30 ft) from the ground. Remember, black bears are good climbers while grizzlies can chase you up to a few meters. Besides, they can reach a distance of 10 ft while they are still on the ground.
- If the bear looks like he means business, try talking to him in a calm voice. Of course, he won't understand you, but a human voice may make him believe that you are not a threat. Wave your arms frantically to show him that you are a human and not a predator.
- If nothing works, pull out your bear-spray and start spraying. However, spray only when the bear is less than a few feet away. This will startle disorient it, thereby giving you enough time to escape.
- If you encounter a female with cubs or a pack, your chances of winning a fight against them are negligible. In such a case, play dead and pray! Assume a fetal position on the ground and cover your neck with your hands.
Actually, your chances of encountering a bear and that too, an aggressive one are very rare. Nonetheless, you must prepare yourself for every eventuality to make your vacation memorable and hassle-free. While sighting a bear indeed adds the necessary element of thrill to your trip, but ensure you enjoy it only from a safe distance.