The first time I saw a black bear in the wild remains one of my most thrilling experiences in the woods. Camping in a tent or pop-up can be a little frightening for some, but there are precautions that can be taken to make your experience not only enjoyable but safe. Black bear are not as aggressive as grizzly bear and will often try to avoid contact with humans when possible.
If you are car camping in bear country…
1. Never feed the bears or attract them by making food available.
2. Do not bring food or anything with a scent in your tent; including soaps, lotions etc. You may want to invest in a bear proof canister for food.There are several bear canisters on the market and lots of sites such as the one below. You may want to do some research before you buy. https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/bear-resistant-canisters.html
3. Set up your kitchen area as far from your sleeping area as possible. Bears are attracted to anything that may smell like food.
4. Keep coolers and cooking utensils in your trunk or in the car with windows tightly closed. Hanging food in the trees is a last resort as black bear are excellent climbers and have become very adept at retrieving food stored that way.
5. Dispose of trash before going to sleep. When that is not possible, and you do not have a bear-proof container, keep the trash can well away from your sleeping area.
6. Don’t assume you will hear a bear coming. Black bear are surprisingly quiet when walking through the woods. A squirrel or chipmunk make more noise than a bear. They may be closer than you think, so always be aware of what’s around you.
If you encounter a black bear…
Should you encounter a black bear when you are in your campsite, quickly lock away any food in a bear canister, metal locker or trunk of your car, or carry the food with you (even if it’s in a cooking pot) as you back away. Make noise by yelling or trigger your car alarm. It’s important to NOT let a bear get your food. If he finds food in your campsite he will keep returning for more.
Keep a flashlight, your car alarm fob and bear spray in the tent with you. Do not use the spray like a bug repellent on the outside of the tent. This could actually attract a bear. The alarm will usually chase them away, but if spray is necessary, don’t spray while inside the tent.
Some people have a misconception of bear bells on hiking sticks. The purpose of bells are not to frighten the bears away, but notify the bear of your location.
It’s best when hiking with others to talk and make noise so you are giving wildlife the opportunity to avoid you. It is not advisable to hike alone. Bears are most active in early morning and late afternoon. Be extra careful when approaching running water, a curve in the trail and dense vegetation. These situations may increase your chances of surprising a bear. Be aware of you surroundings, and make plenty of noise before approaching areas where a bear may not see, hear or smell you coming. Generally, a black bear will avoid contact with humans.
If a black bear is coming toward you, Stand your ground and raise your arms to look larger and yell or make noise as loud as you can. if you are with others, group together to look larger and more imposing. The Bear’s primary interest is food and it will go away unless you do something to attract it. When the the bear leaves, do not follow it, move in the opposite direction.
If the bear won’t retreat
Never run from a bear. You will not be able to outrun it, and running can trigger a predator/prey instinct. Back away slowly and take another route. Get inside your car if nearby. Do not try to approach it to take a photo especially if there are cubs.
If you have bear spray, keep it at the ready and know how to use it. Don’t wait til it’s needed to read the directions. If a black bear is acting aggressively toward you, charging or attacking, use the spray and fight back.
Black Bears like any other wildlife can be fun to observe (from a safe distance) and leave you with stories to tell. And isn’t part of camping telling stories around the campfire?
We had a family camping in a pop-up, when they suddenly felt the bed they were sleeping on lift up and down and realized it was a black bear scratching his back on the braces underneath. My brother-in-law heard a noise outside and saw a bear walking on two hind legs pushing his grill across the deck. And another camper watched a bear rolling a cooler down the hill, seeing “Coleman” displayed with each rotation. He was frustrated he did not have a camera with him. It would have made a great advertisement for Coleman as the bear did not get into the cooler in the end.
For me, the best part of camping is being outdoors and enjoying the flora and fauna around me. But we all need to remember we are guests in their world and respect all mother nature has to offer. Car camping in bear country can be accomplished without incident by using common sense practices.