What To Do During A Bear Encounter?
Experienced hikers and backpackers are aware of the difference between encountering a bear near crowded camping areas or seeing one off the beaten trail where few humans venture. They will pick the latter every time. Bears that hang around campgrounds where barbecue grills smoke, dumpsters overflow with tasty morsels, and food is left on picnic tables, are infinitely more dangerous than bears that rarely see a human. Campground bears see humans as an easy source of food and are likely to get aggressive when confronted. Wilderness bears will normally avoid humans unless curious or startled.
Generations of hikers and backpackers have relied on not hiking alone, and that is still great advice. Preparing meals a good distance from your tent, hanging foodstuffs from a tree branch or stashing it away from camp in a bear canister, and never having food in your tent will never be bad ideas. New research has discounted some of the other long held methods of avoiding bruin surprises.
Hikers from the Appalachian Trail to the Colorado Rockies have long trusted bear bells to warn the animals of their approach. Black and red cans of pepper spray were clipped to belts. The caustic spray was said to be an effective bear deterrent. Backpackers set up brightly colored tents supposed to make bears shy away from the strange sight in their environment. Those same colors could also serve as easily seen markers for lost hikers or search teams.
In issues of Backpacker Magazine in 2000, authors Michele Morris and David Peterson discounted some of the long held beliefs about bears and hikers. The logic seems unbeatable when you remember that the ursine species is inherently curious by nature.
Bear bells were found to have one of two effects. Bears either ignored them or came closer to find out what the noise was. The clapping of hands, its crack like the snapping of branches, was a natural sound that bears responded to by moving away. Singing might bolster the confidence of hikers, but it does nothing for bears.
An Alaskan bear researcher proved that not all bears are repelled by pepper spray. He coated a section of ground with a liberal amount of the substance. A grizzly bear, attracted by the odor came and sniffed around without any deleterious effects, then proceeded to roll in the spot like a dog that had found a dead rotted bird. There is little doubt that aimed directly in to a bear’s eyes pepper spray would cause it pain, but how long would it last?
Vividly colored tents bring out the curiosity in a bear. They are more likely to wander over to have a look at the weird rocks. Research found that camouflaged tents were usually ignored. Cover a colorful tent with a more natural looking fly that can be removed if needed.
Don’t let a fear of bear encounters keep you from hiking and camping in the wilderness, just use common sense and follow some simple rules. Take the time to learn how to spot bear sign. Watch for clawed logs, scat and tracks that can warn you if bears frequent the area you are in; plus it makes hiking more fun. In the event you do see a bear, stay calm because chances are it will want to avoid you.