Bear precautions: how much is too much?

8:15 p.m. on February 18, 2009 (EST)
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Hello to everyone. I've long used the gear reviews here but only recently found the forum.

I've been camping since I was a boy scout in 5th grade, at what I would consider a recreational level (probably not near the level of some of the members here). I'm in Little Rock now for school and have recently started backpacking the ozarks (areas surrounding the Buffalo River, mostly). I don't have any friends here who backpack, so I've started doing something I never used to- going by myself.

Well, sleeping in a bivy in the sleet last weekend, I had a critter encounter which caused me to brush up on bear safety. I don't know what kind of critter it was... something small-medium dog sized pushed up against my bivy longways, and dreaming that it was a camping buddy of mine, I kicked at it and it ran off. So, obviously it wasn't a bear, but it piqued me to review anyway.

As I was reviewing bear safety, I found that some experts reccommended things that we NEVER did as scouts, and I can't decide if they are really necessary or not.

For example: never taking your pack into your tent for the night. Is this really necessary? I can't decide. If bears can smell as I've read they can, it would seem some smellables would cause my pack to smell too. On that note, my bivy, sleeping bag, etc. are IN my pack all day, so they probably smell too!

Another one was not to use sunscreen, toothpaste, lip balm, bug spray, or soap after 4:30. Really? I don't generally use soap in the backcountry anyway, but I burn to a crisp and always have chapped lips. I also usually don't brush before I have dinner.

One that bothered me the most was to carry separate clothes for sleeping. I usually only take one pair of pants and shoes, and I like to stick them in the bottom of my bag so that they're warm in the morning. I'm doing my best to gravitate toward lighter backpacking, and hulking another pair of pants along isn't going to help me any.

Just in case it wasn't obvious in my post, I have ALWAYS used a bear bag for dishes/food/smellables like chapstick, and I want to know the experts' opinions on whether or not I need to do some of these extras.

I appreciate any help you guys can give me!

8:37 p.m. on February 18, 2009 (EST)
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Hi east_stingray, and welcome to Trailspace.com.

Wow, you really know how to reopen a topic for discussion! Just when I think the bear topic has run it course, someone brings something new into the equation. Guess: This is going to be a long one.

All I am going to say is that ALL the things you questioned are good, sound advice.

As for the critter walking lengthwise along your bivy...that's classic opossum behavior. They don't see very well, but rather follow their very competent their noses along the edges of things, fields, fences, buildings, tents, and yes, bivys. If indeed it was an opossum, all of your questions about bears should now be answered. See, as well as opossums nose works, it's nothing compared to a bears sniffer. If an opossum found you by the scent of food, then a bear...well you see where I'm going with this.

Who's next?

9:19 p.m. on February 18, 2009 (EST)
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For example: never taking your pack into your tent for the night. Is this really necessary? I can't decide. If bears can smell as I've read they can, it would seem some smellables would cause my pack to smell too. On that note, my bivy, sleeping bag, etc. are IN my pack all day, so they probably smell too!

Necessary? Absolutely! If it isn't bears, raccoons (which you have in the Ozarks and Ouachitas) will unzip the tent doors or open the seams of your tent (sharp claws, and they are smart enough to find the tent's weak points). It is also a good idea to leave your pack outside with everything removed and all compartments of the bag open (so the critters can investigate without tearing the pack apart). The smellables should be put into the bear bag/bear box. That includes sunblock, lipbalm, deodorants (on a backpacking trip? Who carries that extra weight backpacking?), and the clothes you wore while cooking and eating (notice that spot of spaghetti sauce on your shirt?). You can prevent your clothes, sleeping bag, tent, and so on from picking up food odors by (1) cooking 100 feet or so from your tent (your tent being upwind, of course), (2) packing all your clothes, etc in individual plastic bags (good idea to keep everything dry inside that so-called "waterproof"pack (they never are truly waterproof, except for the very few, very heavy ones).

Another one was not to use sunscreen, toothpaste, lip balm, bug spray, or soap after 4:30. Really? I don't generally use soap in the backcountry anyway, but I burn to a crisp and always have chapped lips. I also usually don't brush before I have dinner.

Sunscreen - generally not needed after mid-afternoon anyway, unless you are on snow in the Arctic or Antarctic in 24 hours of daylight.

Toothpaste - brush in the area of your cooking and eating area, 100+ feet from your tent and sleeping gear. Rinse thoroughly, and put those clothes with the spot of toothpaste you dribbled (same ones you ate and cooked in) in the bear bag. Besides, my dentist assures me that it is the mechanical action of brushing, not the toothpaste, that keeps the teeth healthy. You could use the old salt and baking soda "tooth powder" trick.

Lip balm - Chapped lips? That says you aren't hydrating well enough during the day. Drink more fluids. If you still have to use lip balm, use one of the unflavored, non-scented type. Or straight zinc oxide cream (unscented, in tubes at your drugstore).

Soap - hey, you are backpacking. What's with the soap? And besides, you said you are in Ar-kansas. Do you want the locals to smell that fresh sweet smell that outsiders always put out? Well, you can use a plain, unscented soap, like old-style yellow laundry soap. It works better than the "modern" perfumed stuff anyway.

One that bothered me the most was to carry separate clothes for sleeping. I usually only take one pair of pants and shoes, and I like to stick them in the bottom of my bag so that they're warm in the morning. I'm doing my best to gravitate toward lighter backpacking, and hulking another pair of pants along isn't going to help me any.

Two reasons for this - one is that your clothes are probably sweaty and damp from your activities during the day (oops, excuse me! You are in Ar-kansas. Your clothes are very wet and sweaty from your activities, at least during the 10 months of the year when the weather is either 90-90 or pouring rain). You don't need to warm the clothes during Ar-kansan nights - they are always warm (yeah, yeah, I know, Arkansas, especially in the Ouachitas and Ozarks gets snow during the 2 weeks of "winter" - spent a fair amount of time in those hills). This dampness means (1) you don't sleep as comfortably, and (2) the clothes won't dry, just get your sleeping bag damp. They also get your sleeping bag dirty faster. The second set of clothes is also for when you wade through the mud (did that crossing Petit Jean "lake" one time when it looked dry one summer - gorgeous area, by the way). Or when you fall in the stream after slipping on the rocks (good reason to not hike solo in that area).

Maybe it was a possum (ya shoulda grabbed it - good eatin'!). Could have been a raccoon. Might even have been an armadillo in that area. Size of a dog? Well maybe not.

10:02 p.m. on February 18, 2009 (EST)
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I appreciate the replies so far. To clarify, I did try to find this by searching, but couldn't find anything on those specific items.

One of the reasons I was a bit confused as to whether those things were necessary is that I often read reviews from packers who I assume are more serious than I discussing cooking space under a tent vestibule, extra room in a bivy for boots, etc. The disconnect is what got me.

A few points of clarification: soap is one of the things I DON'T use in the backcountry. Last weekend (president's day), my pack thermometer said it was 20 degrees. I was in a 35 degree bag and a 15 degree bivy w/ long underwear on, and I WAS COLD! So, it DOES get cold here :D But hey, like they say, if you don't like the weather in AR, stick around for 10 minutes.

10:10 p.m. on February 18, 2009 (EST)
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Since I made you guys listen to my trip, feel free to look at the pictures I took while I was out there.

 

http://www.geocities.com/east_stingray/index.html

10:32 p.m. on February 18, 2009 (EST)
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hi east stingray,

I enjoyed your pictures, I have never been to the Ozarks, but the pictures look a lot like the area I backpack in. Hey, was that an Alice pack in one of those shots?

10:52 p.m. on February 18, 2009 (EST)
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I spent several years sleeping under a huge maple tree next to a church w/o a tent, using the standard bedroll(thermy and bag)and for many months I'd wake up before dawn and find a stray black dog sleeping up against the foot of my bag. As soon as the sky lightened the least bit, he was gone. Dang it, but I miss that fella.


Another time I left a Sierra Cup half filled with lentils resting by my tent door at another camp and had a skunk chow down and disturb my sleep. I lifted my head and the skunk stopped eating for a moment and our eyes locked. He kept eating and I went back to sleep.


Another time I was bedroll camping w/o a tent along a little creek valley and woke up around 3am when a screaming banshee howl froze me in midbreath. A deer wanted to pass thru and let out one of the worst sounds I ever heard, even worse than that time two hoot owls decided to carry on a long conversation in the Nantahalas.


I generally hang my food from rodents and raccoons but in a deluge or a blizzard I'll bring it into the tent vestibule. Bears have a keen sense of smell and I'm sure even if I hang all the food up they could still smell all the food inside my stomach which is inside my body which is ergo inside the tent. Can't hang up my stomach.


One time in Pisgah forest I got to camp at night and layed down my food bag to set up the tent. My backpacking buddy told me, "Hey Walt, go check your food bag, I saw a raccoon dragging it down to the creek." I found a long line of my food stretched from camp all the way to the water, and a half eaten stick of cream cheese with little paw prints all over it.

11:34 p.m. on February 18, 2009 (EST)
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All great info.. thanks for bringing up these questions. I'm new to Northern Virginia, and fairly new to being around black bears. A couple questions..

#1 - Bill, I think you meant to say cook downwind from your campsite, correct? Or that you want your campsite upwind from your cooking area.

#2 - My idea of a bear bag is basically what I've seen at the local REI. The huge, solid round container. I'm sure that's overkill. Is there a better source for bags that I could use?

12:15 a.m. on February 19, 2009 (EST)
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We always just hung a stuff sack from a tree limb. Much cheaper and lighter than the bear container you're talking about.

4:12 a.m. on February 19, 2009 (EST)
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Ok I got to ask whats with the rubber chicken ???

And can goods it has been a while huh lol.

Hay at least you had a good time and you got back safe that's all that counts. I have the same problem I end up solo most of the time too.

8:53 a.m. on February 19, 2009 (EST)
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So far that's what I've been doing. I double zip lock all my food, put it in a stuff sack, and hang it on a high tree limb. It's worked for me so far. I guess I need to start following these other precautions as well.

12:16 p.m. on February 19, 2009 (EST)
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#1 - Bill, I think you meant to say cook downwind from your campsite, correct? Or that you want your campsite upwind from your cooking area.

#2 - My idea of a bear bag is basically what I've seen at the local REI. The huge, solid round container. I'm sure that's overkill. Is there a better source for bags that I could use?

Thanks for asking for the clarification. Yes, you want the wind blowing from your tent toward the cooking area, or saying the same thing, blowing the food smells away from your tent. I edited that parenthetical remark to clarify.

#2 - that's called a "bear canister" or sometimes "bear box". A "bear bag" generally is taken to mean a soft bag you use to haul the food up into a tree, on a single line (really old school, and bears can easily spot the haul line to get it down, or even untie it), or two such bags counterbalanced over a branch, a cable strung between trees (seen in Philmont and in years past in the Sierra, until the bears figured out how to bounce the cable to get the bags off, or as in a photo series that I will try to find and link to that shows the bear climbing out along the cable to the food). The photos are at this site. But some people (at this site among others) claim the photos are fake. Having seen Yosemite bears do amazing things to get at food, and my brother-in-law having lost all his food in Lyell Canyon (Yosemite NP, south of Tuolumne) to a bear when it was hanging over a cable, I believe it is possible that the photos are in fact real, though apparently touched up a bit with Photoshop.

2:49 p.m. on February 19, 2009 (EST)
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Ok I got to ask whats with the rubber chicken ???

And can goods it has been a while huh lol.

Hay at least you had a good time and you got back safe that's all that counts. I have the same problem I end up solo most of the time too.

So the rubber chicken... it's an old boy scout thing. Lots of scout troops these days are sliding downhill fast in terms of leaders and what the boys actually do and learn. Ours was very good with leaders and with teaching, but man our leaders were quirky. For some reason, it was a bit of an unspoken rule with us that you can't go camping without a rubber chicken, and that held over even when I started camping on my own.

We used it for capture the flag and that kind of thing... I don't remember how it got started, but it stuck. Lots of times I throw it into pictures for scale.

 

The canned goods: I'm not naive enough to think that canned food is a good idea weight and trash-wise for camping, so don't think that. I was diagnosed last year with Meniere's Disease, and I'm on an EXTREMELY low sodium diet. I hadn't done any real backpacking since then, and I threw this trip together on short notice. I hadn't given any thought to HOW I was going to eat low-so on the trail, but I had some lo-so canned stuff in the cupboard. Since I got back, I've read about making my own dried meals using a dehydrator, so I'm going to try that in the future, but we all know how much salt the mountain house stuff has in it (LOTS, if you didn't know).

2:52 p.m. on February 19, 2009 (EST)
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I didn't intend for this to turn into a bear-bag discussion per-se, but since we're there, this site describes the method I always use, and as far as I know, there aren't any bears that know how to defeat it if you do it right. Plus, it's lighter weight and easier to do than all of those trucker-hitch, four-rope monstrosities:

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/bear_bag_hanging_technique.html

11:06 p.m. on February 19, 2009 (EST)
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east_stingray,

I don't know where you live and hike, but, to repeat what I and others have posted and re-posted numerous times - In most of North America, bear bagging (even single-rope, not just counterbalance) works just fine. However, in most of the Sierra Nevada (particularly Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs and Inyo National Forest), Yellowstone NP, Glacier NP, and Denali NP, the bears have learned how to get at all forms of bear bagging (go to the Yosemite website for photos and video of the bears getting all sorts of "protection"). In those areas, you are required to use either bear canisters or the provided steel bear lockers. If the rangers catch you backpacking without the canister, you will be escorted out and subject to a fine. Of course, there is a high probability that you have already lost your food to the bears.

The website you linked claims it works on the PCT. That's partially true - for the sections south of Tehachapi Pass and north of Hwy 88, but not the sections between, particularly the JMT part. Even people in car campgrounds who have left their food in their cars have discovered every day of the summer months how quickly the bears can break into cars to get food.

11:22 p.m. on February 19, 2009 (EST)
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I'm certainly no guru on bears... they're not really a problem here. I only meant that of the bagging systems, I like that one the best. Mainly because I've had problems with raccoons dropping the bag. They can't do that when hung like this.

6:22 p.m. on February 20, 2009 (EST)
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Bill S. you mentioned these areas:

"However, in most of the Sierra Nevada (particularly Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs and Inyo National Forest), Yellowstone NP, Glacier NP, and Denali NP, the bears have learned how to get at all forms of bear bagging"

So I'm wondering...

Is this because of the amount of visitors to these areas, and are the bears (sows) teaching the other bears how to do this? Or maybe both? In GSMNP this is one of the reasons for some of the rules regarding food storage. In other words not only do you want to keep from attracting bears, and not only do you wish to keep from loosing your food of course, but they don't want situations that serve as food snatching lessons for the cubs.

2:57 p.m. on February 21, 2009 (EST)
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No, it is because all young bears are required to attend Sierra Bear High School, and the smartest ones get scholarships to attend Yosemite Bear University. YBU has an excellent academic rating, with lots of practical field work in the curriculum. The cost of running SBHS and YBU is covered by the fines charged the urbanites who allow their food to be stolen ;)

To get serious, bears are very intelligent, and the sows do a thorough job of training the cubs. Plus these areas do have a lot of human visitors, many of whom are urbanites who know essentially zero about the outdoors. The Smokies are another example (is there a rule about bear bagging in GSMNP?) Add to that the history of "feeding displays" in the western parks for much of the 20th Century.

In the western parks, if you let a bear get your food, you are cited and have to pay a pretty stiff fine. Yeah, it's sort of double jeopardy - you lost your food, maybe 20 miles from the trailhead, plus you have to pay a fine of a few hundred bucks. Does GSMNP have the same policy?

5:14 p.m. on February 21, 2009 (EST)
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I was getting a permit in Yosemite - a couple was insisting that they were only taking power bars, they would eat them all the first day and hike out first thing in the morning without eating breakfast so there was no need for a bear can. The ranger politely but firmly rented them a bear can to put the wrappers and their personal hygeine products in for the night. No can, no permit, no exceptions.

You will also be fined if the bear sees a plastic bag in your back seat at the trailhead and thinks there might be food in it, and it rips off your car door to get your post hike flipflops. You will also get to explain to your car insurance.... This has happened but it's less frequent than being camped in Little Yosemite Valley, cooking dinner, turning your back to get your spork out, and a bear darts out and makes off with your dinner bag. The ranger will probably fine you if he catches you being careless; since he lives at the ranger cabin up the valley and patrols every night, he probably will.

On an overnight near Hetch Hetchy (also Yosemite) I saw campers hanging stuff in a trash bag over their tent. Veeeerrrrry stupid. Just asking for a bear to stomp on their tent trying to get the poorly hung bag. People like that are the reason bears have figured out the bear bagging methods.

My group is going down the JMT to Red's Meadow in August - we are all carrying bear cans and will be stopping to make dinner, then hiking another few miles to pick a campsite; no cooking odors in camp that way. I intend to do minimal cooking and only boil water to rehydrate my meals, which I make and dehydrate (great use for leftovers).

Rangers are using paintball guns to chase bears from campgrounds these days. Just yelling and stomping hardly does it. I happened on a yearling on the trail - I waved poles and yelled, and he just looked at me, yawned, and moseyed away like he was bored silly. Yosemite bears don't act like other bears. There was a bear in one area of Sequoia/Kings Canyon that learned if it bluff charged a hiker, the hiker would drop its pack and run - there were signs all over telling people not to do that. There is no average bear, they all seem pretty doggone smart to me.

5:43 p.m. on February 21, 2009 (EST)
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uggh.. I miss Wyoming. I'm not used to high traffic trails. Shenandoah in Virginia is a joke. Hell, there's a ROAD across the whole hill. I have a feeling the bears will eventually have (or already have) the same reaction to that of Yosemite. You pave a road to any secluded place, the next thing you know, yuppies are showing up with a pack full of hair jell and caviar.

 

I'm moving to Alaska.

11:13 p.m. on February 21, 2009 (EST)
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Hey humble 67,

I think i would miss Wyoming too, I've never been there though. If you're looking for remote areas to backpack in, they do exist in your area. You are right about paving roads, it makes access easy, a little too easy.

Hey Bill S,

This a web page on the official Great Smokey Mountains. gov website, This is their page on bears, it covers fines for getting too close to bears, past and present bear management policy, but not bear bagging.

http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/black-bears.htm#CP_JUMP_95932

Bear bagging is required, at least it was last time I got a special "cross country permit". The permit allows you to camp most anywhere away from trails and streams. A "backcountry permit' requires that you stay at designated sites only.

The page that details proper food storage in not available, you get a "Page not available" message if you go to the address, when it is available I'll post a link.

Here are the rules and regulations compendium, a PDF. Page 10 briefly mentions food storage. It says you must use hanging cables, but does not elaborate further.

http://www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/upload/07%20Compendium.pdf

7:23 p.m. on February 22, 2009 (EST)
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Every time I put much more than about three seconds into thinking about this, I end up thinking that maybe the most effective tactics in the long run are to fine the ever-lovin' Beelzebub out of anyone who through poor practices ends up encouraging a bear into bad habits.

 

There could be a graduated system. Car-tourists taking pictures and ogling a bear dumpster-diving would be fined $500 each. Same for those who leave food visible in vehicles in certain of the NPs, like Yosemite, Glacier, Jellystone, etc. A fine of $400 would be assessed to those who camp in known bear-trouble areas and don't hang their food or put it in a bear canister. $300 if they hang it over their own tent. $200 if they hang it not over the tent but within 25 yards of the tent, and so forth. I'm sure this system would have to be adjusted and added to, etc., but it's a start. Maybe for each "problem bear" that is destroyed, ten "problem tourists" are banned from all Nat. Parks, Forests, and Wilderness Areas? Maybe they aren't even allowed outside city limits?

8:14 p.m. on February 22, 2009 (EST)
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Hi Perry, I agree with banning the problem tourists! Maybe we should throw rocks and sticks at THEM too. I've heard of people keeping bears away from the dumpsters with a couple M-80's.

3:37 p.m. on February 26, 2009 (EST)
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In light of the rising of human/grizzly bear conflicts, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is advising hikers, hunters, and fishermen to take extra precautions and keep alert of bears while in the field.

"We advise outdoorsmen to wear noisy little bells on their clothing so as not to startle bears that aren't expecting them. We also advise outdoorsmen to carry pepper spray with them in case of an encounter with a bear.

It is also a good idea to watch out for fresh signs of bear activity. Outdoorsmen should recognize the difference between black bear and grizzly bear scat:

Black bear scat is smaller and contains lots of berries and squirrel fur. Grizzly bear scat has little bells in it and smells like pepper."

I cut and pasted this from a website I go to all the time so don't mind the keyword links. Most likely its been seen here but I couldn't resist :)

6:15 p.m. on February 26, 2009 (EST)
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HaHa, very good!

Welcome manalishi.

3:51 a.m. on February 27, 2009 (EST)
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Manalishi,

That's golden. I really enjoy the sense of humor you all have.

I'm not all that experienced in all of this and was wondering: Once bears go into hibernation, does the chance of meeting one lessen? How hibernated are they really? Do they come out to see what's making that little ringing sound?

6:43 a.m. on February 27, 2009 (EST)
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Black bears are not true hibernators. They are a lot like us. If they get wet, hungry, too hot, too cold, or even sometimes, if they have to go to the bathroom, they will emerge from dens - at any time of the year.

9:06 a.m. on February 27, 2009 (EST)
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f_klock, It's funny that you mention that. My dad and I went Fishing last weekend in the westen carolinas and I talked to a DNR guy while we we up there and he said that some campers had reported seeing a black bear the weekend previous.

1:18 a.m. on February 28, 2009 (EST)
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Thanks Trouthunter and Blackbeard

As to your question Blackbeard, f klock is correct. I haven't seen any in winter and don't want to if their anything like me when I wake up ;)

I do have bear spray and bear bell but most times I keep it in the little bag it comes with that has a magnet to stop it from ringing. I like taking video and don't want to scare the deer.

I have only had one close encounter with a blacky last summer on a hike. Didn't see him at first nor He seen me till I was about 50 meters away. I let out a, Hey Bear! We locked eyes and I slowly side stepped away until I was back behind the cover of the trail. Walked backwards after that for abit until I thought I had some good distance between us. I would have loved to get some video of him but didn't want to provoke him, to close for my likeing. He was eating grass so he might have thought time for some protein :)

Heres a couple of videos I uploaded to the net awhile ago to test it out but looks better on my HDTV. No bear videos.

Bobcat http://www.vimeo.com/1101195

Deer fawn http://www.vimeo.com/1058636

8:58 a.m. on February 28, 2009 (EST)
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Manalishi, I just tried to see your videos but was blocked

1:33 p.m. on February 28, 2009 (EST)
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Too funny didn't even know I could block the videos maybe that why it has no views.

Should work now.

2:42 p.m. on February 28, 2009 (EST)
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cool video, thanks for sharing.

2:47 p.m. on February 28, 2009 (EST)
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Very cool videos!

11:20 p.m. on February 28, 2009 (EST)
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Glad you liked them, I got alot more just need to do some more learning on my editing skills. And my computers not the fastest for doing video.

1:29 a.m. on March 13, 2009 (EDT)
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For those who might be interested; I was at BassPro Superstore a while back and in the hunting section (apparently for bear hunting!) they have an entire half-aisle dedicated to human scent removal: laundry soap, bar soap, wipes, scrapers, sandpaper, whatever you can think of, they've got it.

Might be of interest for washing clothes destined for bear-rich areas, or for stocking up on wipes. I'm not sure whether a human scent removal wipe can actually be used for cleaning & washing or how well it also removes food scents (?). I plan to re-visit their website to see more precisely what they carry.

6:09 p.m. on March 24, 2009 (EDT)
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I am in Southern Ontario, no worry bout Bears here.

 

Black Bears arn't scary, unless their going to eat ya. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

11:48 p.m. on March 24, 2009 (EDT)
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Happened to catch the tail end of a show on Animal Planet network (I think) the other night, wherein the host/narrator was visiting Alaska and "experimenting" with local brown bears regarding what they were attracted to, preferred to eat, whether a human voice would scare them away, etc.

In one scene, our intrepid narrator is seen ensconced in a "predator shield"--essentially a plexiglass box--with a human mannequin sitting against the outside of it. Some bears obliged the cameras by coming by, investigating the mannequin, and, in spite of the warning voice of the man inside the box, attacking and making off with the mannequin. So much for shouts of "Hey bear!" achieving anything on their own.

In another scene, they set up a tent, with mannequin in sleeping bag inside tent. Bears came along, did a couple of professional wrestling-style body slams on tent, then made off with the whole thing, dragging it off into the brush.

Yet another "experiment" involved laying out a smorgasbord of edible temptations on planks in a row. The offerings included a raw salmon, a pile of trail mix, some hot dogs, some muffins, and some apples. Didn't take long for a bear to show up. First it investigated the apples, briefly, but then it quickly moved on to the salmon, grabbing it and making off into the bush with it and another bear in pursuit.

Another (or same? dunno) bear later came along, and quickly devoured the hot dogs. Then went the muffins and, I think, the apples. Interestingly, the trail mix was consistently left untouched. During all of this, the heroic host was once again watching from inside his "predator shield". Why, I have no idea. But his presence and scent did nothing to deter the bears.

Finally, they also did a bit wherein they parked a van with the predator shield in the back, host inside. Within an hour, a couple black bears came along and started investigating the van. They then broke into the van, both obtaining entry via front-seat windows, one on each side. They pretty much tore up the inside of the van looking for edibles, then departed. Thankfully, they left the keys, and our brave narrator was able to drive back to wherever.

Interesting stuff, but I couldn't help thinking, especially with the buffet experiment, whether they hadn't actually contributed to the problem of bears considering human surroundings as food sources. Also, if they were going to go to this trouble, would it have been appropriate to test pepper spray in the context of a bear showing interesting in a mannequin or tent, say? Would the noxious spray be in the end any more detrimental to the bear than teaching it that it's okay to attack things with human scent?

12:49 a.m. on March 25, 2009 (EDT)
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Ya it is on again on thursday at 8! I missed it my friends saw it pretty cool stuff.

 

Listening to Ride of the Valkyries.

8:57 p.m. on March 27, 2009 (EDT)
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Do you guys think that areas with heavy hunter usage, the bears avoid human contact and scents more than areas where hunting is prohibited?? In my opinion I think that would make a big difference. I am in no way any kind of expert, I am actually fresh to the backcountry scene, but I would assume the actions of the bears would definitely be very different if they are hunted at times of the year compared to those that are in areas where they are protected. Any thoughts??

10:20 p.m. on March 27, 2009 (EDT)
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Interesting question, I would have to be honest and say that I don't have an educated opinion right now. But I'll find out. Just off the top of my head I would think it wouldn't have much impact on a hungry bear unless the hunting pressure was pretty heavy as you asked. Hungry bears could break into hunters trucks just as fast as any other I would think. Bears in the GSMNP ( no hunting allowed ) are very used to people and will occasionally approach without fear to try panhandling.

I do know for a fact that in the Southern Appalachians Black Bears have been transplanted by game management officials to areas outside the Park including hunting zones to lessen the chance they would home (return home ) to the Park, or to Urban areas close by.

http://www.bearbiology.com/fileadmin/tpl/Downloads/URSUS/Vol_3/Beeman_Pelton_Vol_3.pdf

12:25 a.m. on March 28, 2009 (EDT)
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Don't know of any data on the specific question of the habituation of bears to human contact in areas of hunting vs. non-hunting. I will note, however, that in that TV show I caught, the filming was done in Alaska, where, if I understand correctly, the governor has a bearskin rug in her office. Maybe it just pisses 'em off?

9:05 p.m. on March 28, 2009 (EDT)
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But tags to hunt the bear, I would assume, are very expensive for non Alaska natives. If wanted to hunt in Idaho or Montana for example, it is very expensive. If you are a resident, the price is unbelievably(sp) cheaper. Also, the the show might have been filmed in an area where bear hunting is prohibited, and therefore the bears may have been more accustomed to humans and all our great possiblities, dramatically changing the reactions of the bears. If it was in an area where hunting is allowed, and hunters from all over the world come to, to hunt these magnificent creatures, the bears may be a bit more edgy, keeping there distance and doing there very best with there remarkable senses to avoid contact. When humans are around theres loud bangs and things die, so they stay away. Possibly changing the outcome of those test. Or I could absolutely be way off.

10:25 p.m. on March 28, 2009 (EDT)
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Hey guys,

I would like to point out that in Grizzly country Brown Bears are attracted to kills and this poses a danger to hunters who must work quickly to dress their kill and get out of the area. I have a couple books that discuss this, and it is mentioned in several studies that are available online. Most are in PDF format and are very informative.

Here is one about Deer hunting on Kodiak Island where it's impact on human / bear conflict is discussed. Included are incidents such as bears raiding hunt camps.

http://www.bearbiology.com/fileadmin/tpl/Downloads/URSUS/Vol_9/Barnes_Jr._Vol_9.pdf

9:26 p.m. on May 18, 2009 (EDT)
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1:50 a.m. on June 19, 2009 (EDT)
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10 Easy Steps to Tie Your Food Up in a Tree
1. Put a rock into a Ziploc bag and tie bag to rope. Locate a tree with a suitable branch that will hold your food. 2. Try to fling bagged rock over branch and avoid hitting someone with rock, repeat as often as required. Find that Ziploc bag is not strong enough to hold rock securely. 3. (a.) Try tying rope directly to rock, when rock flies off, on first swing, then… try re-tying rock more securely, and once again repeat as often as required. (b.) Bandage head of kibitzing bystander. Try Step #3 (a.) again. 4. (a.) Divide food, trash and ‘smellables’ into two bags of even weight. (b.) Tie one food sack to one end of rope and hoist it high into the air. (c.) Discover your branch choice was a bit to flexible or not high enough. 5. Spend next hour finding a better branch. (Note to self: Start process earlier next time to avoid hunting for suitable tree branch in the dark) Re-fling rock over branch (Step #3. (a.) [Try to avoid Step #3. (b.)] Then repeat Step #4. (b.) 6. Tie second sack as high up on rope as possible. Discover the weight of each sack was not as even as you thought, untie bags and sort contents, repeat as needed. 7. Coil remaining rope and attach it to second sack. Send second sack up even higher, with a great fling. Observe that both sacks are now totally out of reach of the bears …and you. 8. Finally go to bed and spend the night worried about your food, and jerking awake at every noise because you just KNOW that’s the sound of your food being destroyed, because the NPS has told you that: “hanging your food is not considered effective”. 9. When bears, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, porcupines, marmots etc. or bad weather have destroyed your food, then gather the remains and packaging trash and place the entire mess in a garbage bag and carry to the trailhead for proper disposal. 10. Buy new food locally (at outrageous prices) or cancel the rest of backpack outing.

3 Steps to Using a Bear Canister
1. Put food, trash and ‘smellables’ in canister and secure lid. 2. Walk 50 feet outside of camp and put canister down. 3. In the morning walk 50 feet outside of camp, open top and get food. Secure lid.

From: http://www.pineapplefish56.net/Scouting-Fun

2:15 a.m. on June 19, 2009 (EDT)
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pineapplefish56

I read that off of your website and I laughed my butt off the I emailed it to all my friends (yes both of them) ho yea I sent it to my mom too she loved it she said she could see me doing some thing like that lol.

12:23 a.m. on July 2, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks!

I found the inspiration for that at a Yosemite Ranger Station, but of course it NEEDED improvement!

1:56 p.m. on July 8, 2009 (EDT)
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(I'd like to throw a few questions into this general discussion, hopefully without hijacking it. If I fail at that, please let me know!)

My camping realm is the Sierra so bear contact is limited to those garbage hounds, the black bear. I'm returning to backpacking by visiting an area out of Red's Meadows that didn't have bear issues when I was there before, so there's much to learn. We've prepared with canisters and visited sites like http://www.sierrawildbear.gov to improve our bear awareness. Some of my concerns:

 

1) We're shopping for products like unscented soap and sunscreen (my wife and daughter are going, so there will be soap and personal hygiene). Any particular brand recommendations or techniques that work well with less smell?

 

2) I've read that packs, etc. should be left open at night so curious bears can inspect without (hopefully) destroying gear. What about daytime? Can things be stored in the tent to tidy camp during day hikes, or is this inviting disaster?

 

That's Step One. Thanks for any assistance!

2:29 p.m. on July 8, 2009 (EDT)
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Be sure to talk to the rangers about the current situation when you pick up your permits (fire, wilderness, etc). They will be able to tell you if there are any problem habituated bears. Actually, they are supposed to give you a briefing, but if they don't, ask anyway.

Sierra bears are active day and night. So if you are away from camp, you need to store smellables (including supposedly "unscented" soap) in the canisters day or night. Bears have a different sense of smell than humans, plus a lot of curiosity. The Sierra bears, especially in heavily touristed areas like Inyo NF (Reds Meadows is in INF), have learned to equate pack=food, tent=food, etc. So they will investigate. But with the general practice of most backpackers to use canisters and the permanent bear boxes found a an increasing number of the designated backcountry sites (as well as front country campgrounds), they tend to leave backpacker tents alone (unless they smell something). So put food, dirty cookware, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, etc etc in the canister during the day about 100 feet from your tent. Leave the pack empty and open a few feet from the tent leaned against a tree so the curious bears (and other critters) can investigate easily (seeing it open, the bears have learned that open empty pack = no food, so don't waste time).

It is generally safe to leave your sleeping bags and clothes that have not been worn for eating or cooking in the tent during the day. I usually take a large stuff sack to put the pack contents in so I can put the empty pack outside.

When preparing meals in the evening or morning, get only the food you will actually use out of the "safe". Keep the rest in the locked canister or bear box.

Also be aware that if a bear does get your food despite precautions, you may be subject to a significant fine when the rangers find out.

5:09 p.m. on July 8, 2009 (EDT)
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The unscented products are mostly to prevent or reduce the amount of attractive odor we're adding to ourselves, our gear and clothing, rather than the problems created by storing the products themselves. This is why I pose the question to see if there are alternatives or you have to go without. We looked at hunting supplies and found some "masking" products, but how does this equate to using unscented or hypoallergenic products? They're all going to smell like their ingredients.

 

While on this thought, another **very** useful substance would be an unscented or neutrally scented analgesic balm if anyone can suggest something. My wife and I creak enough that we're firm believers in Icy Hot, but its strong menthol content and fragrance rule it right out of the picture. Can it be replaced effectively -- or do we just add a couple ounces to the medicinal flask . . . ?

10:00 p.m. on July 8, 2009 (EDT)
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I hang my empty pack and put everything else chewable in trees or hung from my hammock suspension. Marmots chew on salty stuff, pack straps, socks and trekking poles are sweaty....

I don't want to talk about it.

7:54 p.m. on July 24, 2009 (EDT)
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Interesting! I know what you mean I'm very paranoid about any animals eating my food or getting to close to my campsite!

1:20 a.m. on July 25, 2009 (EDT)
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Pineapplefish, you have been spying on me. I have had it take me nearly 2 hours to hang that confounded bear bag. I have found that I have not seen any bears, but the darned chipmunks are the demons to watch out for on a more immediate basis! And the camp robbers! Cheeky little bugger swept down literally next to 2 golden retrievers to snitch their dog food!

 

Thanks all for lots of good tips for dealing with stuff. I do have a bear canister. Hope to test it out very soon!

 

Maybe the Yosemite bears watched too much Yogi Bear...

2:34 a.m. on October 4, 2009 (EDT)
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I have just finished my bear hang system and will go out tomorrow to try it out, to see how it works. I have probably gone overboard, but nothing sucks worse then being way up on a trail and lose your food to a hungry varmint. The situation can get real dire at that point, if you can't make it back to your car quickly. I have had no problems with bears, (yet) but will take no chances. The Rocky Mountain National park requires bear canisters, but some places are now requiring a bear canister, and hanging it. So that is how my system works. I will hang my pack on the line with the bear canister next to it, that way I am covered if he gets it down. I have had raccoons wreck a backpack, so that is why I will hang the backpack too.

My brother in law was hunting Elk one year when in the middle of the night, a noise woke him. In the moonlight he saw the silhouette of the bear just outside his tent. He had been stupid and left his food in a cooler next to camp, and the bear tired of trying to open it it came into the tent. He shot the bear in the face, and killed it....and was damn lucky.

You are out there to enjoy the outdoors, (as we call it) but it is the bears home. You do all these things to save the bear! In this case, if my brother in law had at least placed the food 200 feet from his camp, the bear would most likely not have bothered him. And died as a result.

Leave no trace!!

5:20 p.m. on October 4, 2009 (EDT)
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Living in the NW bears are not a real problem,though cougar are starting to be in certain areas.Birds,mice and goats can be though.I do not concern myself with the bear problem much unless in areas with large bear populations or grizzley areas.In Mt Rainer Nat Park the bears will invade your food stash and it is good to have a bear canister or tie your food up.The good news is that we do not have bear attacks on humans in this area.Does not mean it will never happen but it is not a problem like many other areas were people and bears are in constant contact,such as yellowstone,sierra,alaska and the like.All this does not mean i ignore the peoblem of food and wildlife but most of the damage to gear i have had is from mice or marmots.ymmv

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