to the Center for Wildlife Information, North America is home to
three unique species of bear. During your Scouting adventures
you may come in contact with one or more of these species.
Unless you live west of the Mississippi however, you will unlikely ever see
any bear other than the black bear. To help you recognize the
MountainNature.com has information on how to distinguish between
the black and grizzly bear. They have also have information to help
bear signs in the woods. A general rule I was taught
while visiting Yellowstone National Park was to assume that all
bears are grizzly bears since it is easy to confuse the two species
at distance. Not all black bears are black and not all grizzly
bears are the commonly seen grizzled blonde.
While seeing a wild bear in the woods is an
experience you will never forget, you'll want to be prepared to handle
the encounter properly. The better prepared you are, the more
likely this experience will be a good one for you and the bear.
Remember you are in the bears home.
The information below has been compiled from the
Get Bear Smart
Center for Wildlife Information, and the Center for Wildlife
Be Bear Aware organization.
The following information may be all that you need
to ensure that you and the bear safety survive the encounter. For
detailed information on bear encounters, refer to Get Bear Smart
encounters. The cover in great detail all the
various types of encounters that you may have. All of the
links above provide extensive information on bears and existing with
You can download the Minsi Trails flyer on
bear safety (.pdf) that contains the
basics on preventing bears at camp and what to do if you meet a bear.
black bears at camp
Keep your camp clean and
Wipe tables and clean eating utensils thoroughly after every meal.
Burn all grease off grills and camp stoves. In short, keep your
tent, camper and sleeping bag free of all food smells.
in your tent.
Store your food in safe or bear proof places. Place foods and
coolers in your car trunk or suspend them from a tree branch.
Dispose of garbage
Use the camp receptacles provided.
you hike at dawn or dusk your chances are greater of meeting a bear
or other wildlife.
In places where hearing or visibility is impaired (roar of
fast-moving water, thick vegetation), reduce your chances of
surprising a bear by talking or making noise.
to do if you meet a black bear.
you see a bear and it hasnít seen you, leave the area calmly. While
moving away, talk to help the bear discover your presence.
you have a close encounter, back away slowly while facing a bear.
Avoid direct eye contact, which a bear may perceive as a threat.
Give the bear plenty of room to escape. Wild bears rarely attack
people unless they feel threatened or provoked. If youíre on a
trail, step off on the downhill side and slowly leave the area.
climb or run.
cub is nearby, try to move away from it. But be alert, there could
be other cubs. Never climb a tree to escape because sows chase their
cubs up trees when they detect danger. If you climb a tree, a sow
may interpret that as an attempt to get her cubs. Stay on the ground
and donít run or make any sudden movements. Running may prompt the
bear to give chase, and you canít outrun a bear.
will use all of their senses to figure out what you are. If they
recognize you as a person, some may stand upright or move closer in
their efforts to detect odors in the air currents. Donít consider
this a sign of aggression. Once a bear identifies you, it will
usually leave the area. However, if the bear stays, it may pop its
jaws as a warning sign that itís uncomfortable. Thatís a sign for
you to leave. Back away and slowly leave the area. If you ignore the
jaw popping warning, some bears have been known to bluff charge to
within a few feet. If this occurs, wave your arms wildly and shout
at the bear.
bear attacks in the eastern United States are rare. However, they
have occurred. If a bear attacks, fight back. Bears have been driven
away when people have fought back with rocks, sticks, binoculars and
even their bare hands.
How Dangerous are Black Bears
Research Station USDA Forest Service)
black bears and grizzlies can be brown, but no grizzlies
live east of the Rocky Mountains
Black bears can injure or kill
people, but they rarely do. When pressed, they usually retreat, even
with cubs. Attacking to defend cubs is more a grizzly bear trait.
(Grizzlies live only in Alaska, northern and western Canada, and the
Rocky Mountains south to Yellowstone.) Black bear mothers often
leave their cubs and flee from people, and those that remain are
more likely to bluff-charge than attack. Still, it is prudent to use
extra caution with family groups that allow close approaches because
mothers are generally more nervous than other bears. Nevertheless,
chances of being attacked around campsites by any black bear are
small. During a 19-year study of bear/camper encounters in the
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, only two
injuries were reported in 19 million visitor-days. The study
included the year 1985 when bear nuisance activity was at a record
high. The two injuries were by one bear on September 14 and 15,
1987. The bear was killed the next day.
Unprovoked, predatory attacks by
black bears are rare but highly publicized. Such attacks have
accounted for all 23 deaths by noncaptive black bears across North
America this century. Most occurred in remote areas where the bears
had little or no previous contact with people, rather than in and
around established campsites. The worst attack occurred in Ontario
in 1978 when a black bear killed and partially consumed three
teenagers who were fishing. Predatory attacks by black bears are
usually done without bluster or warning. People involved in such
attacks can improve their chances by fighting rather than playing
dead. Deaths from such attacks average a little more than one every
four years across the United States and Canada.
By comparison, a person is about 180
times more likely to be killed by a bee than by a black bear and
160,000 times more likely to die in a traffic accident. Each year
there are many thousands of encounters between black bears and
people, often unknown to the people because the bears slip away so
quietly. Menstrual odors have been shown to be attractive to bears,
but there is no record of a black bear attacking a menstruating
Dozens of minor injuries, some
requiring stitches, have occurred across North America when people
petted or crowded black bears they were feeding or photographing.
Under those circumstances, black bears may react to people as they
do to bears with bad manners, by nipping or cuffing with little or
no warning. Also, people who tease bears with food have been
accidentally injured when the bear quickly tried to take it.
Fortunately, black bears usually use at least as much restraint with
people as they do with each other. Unlike domestic dogs, which often
are territorial and aggressive toward strangers, black bears
typically behave as the subordinate toward people when escape is
|A sign of curosity,
not anger, standing helps bears see and smell.
Black bears that want our food
sometimes use threats or bluffs to get it, as has been reported by
campers, picnickers, and backpackers. The most common behavior of
this sort is blowing, which may be accompanied by clacking teeth,
lunging, laid back ears, slapping the ground or trees, and/or a
short rush. The same behavior is used to scare other bears from
feeding areas. The sounds and actions are all done explosively, with
effective results. However, it is rare for a black bear to attack a
person during or after such a demonstration. All blowing bears
observed by the author retreated when pursued. A less common sound
is the resonant "voice" of a bear. This is used to express intense
emotions (fear, pain, and pleasure), including strong threats. Black
bears with ready escape routes seldom use this threat toward people.
Grunts are used in nonthreatening communication to cubs, familiar
bears, and sometimes people.
Encounters with bears are remembered
and retold for years to come. Most campers in black bear country
never see a bear. Seeing one is proof that we still have extensive
enough forests for this wide-ranging animal. Keeping a clean camp
helps to insulate bears from the effects of our increasing use of
the wilderness for recreation and helps prevent bears from being
needlessly relocated or killed as nuisances.
How to Protect Your Food and
The best way to prevent food
pilfering in bear country is to avoid the bears. That means
by-passing campsites with bear tracks, fecal droppings, and
scattered garbage. Bears are regular visitors there. But if you must
camp at such sites, keep a clean camp. The less food odor in your
camp the less chance the bears will linger when they make their
rounds. Wash dishes immediately and dump the water away from the
camp. Completely burn any edible garbage, including grease, rather
than burying it or throwing it in a latrine.
Most black bears will not enter a
tent with people in it, but it is still a good idea to keep food and
food odors out of tents and sleeping bags. To be on the safe side,
wash food from your face and hands before going to bed and hang
clothing beyond reach of bears if it has food or cooking grease on
it. Perfume may mask human odor, preventing bears from knowing a
person is in the tent.
Bearproof food lockers and portable
bearproof containers provide the best protection for your food but
are not yet available everywhere. The next best thing is to store
food in the trunk of your automobile or in sealed plastic bags
suspended from a line between two trees.
Camp sites in bear
prone areas will often have bear food poles set up for
Lines or horizontal poles 20 feet above the ground have been
installed at some bear-prone campsites. Sling the food bags over the
line or pole so they hang 5 feet below it, at least 10 feet from the
nearest tree trunk, and at least 12 feet above the ground. Bears
have been known to leap from tree trunks to snatch food bags, and
large black bears can reach up nearly 9 feet without jumping.
Slinging the bag over a branch rather than a line or pole is even
less likely to stop a bear; bears can break small branches and climb
out on large ones. If a branch must be used, sling the bag far out
on the tip of a branch larger than 4 inches in base diameter. Bears
sometimes chew through ropes to get hanging food bags, so it is best
to counterbalance the bag with a second one to avoid tying the rope
where a bear can bite it. To retrieve counterbalanced bags, use a
long stick to push one bag up so the other will descend to within
Where bears already know about food
being hung, hanging it might be only a delaying tactic to give you
time to personally protect it. Pans hung on the food bag so they
will rattle if a bear shakes it can alert you. Nonburnable garbage
should also be hung and should be packed out when you leave.
Bears learn that coolers, backpacks,
food bags, and other containers might contain food. Keeping empty
containers out of sight (in a car trunk or away from camp) or
leaving them open so bears can easily determine they are empty will
reduce property damage. If the containers smell of food, hang them
with the plastic food bags to prevent bears from carrying them off.
Food odors in empty containers are minimized if the food was packed
in plastic bags that can be taken out of the containers and hung.
When leaving camp, tie tent flaps open so bears can easily check