There is hardly a hiker or backpacker alive who looks forward to a close encounter with a bear in the wilderness. It’s a safe bet that every outdoors enthusiast, at one time or another, has imagined what it would be like to encounter a bear in the wild, and what they would do in the event of a bear encounter. Since prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the old saying goes, the best way to deal with a bear encounter is to avoid one in the first place. Here’s how to do it.
1. Leave your food at home. Bears have a highly-developed sense of smell, so unless you are going to be in the wilderness for several hours or more, leave your food at home. There are lots of hikers and backpackers who lug around enough food to feed a small army. By leaving your food at home, you not only reduce the likelihood of a bear encounter, you lessen your load as well.
2. Make some noise. Most bears attack either out of a protective reflex toward their cubs, or because they are surprised. When a bear is surprised, it will trigger the a fight-or-flight response in the animal. Unfortunately, if you surprise a bear when it is nearby, you increase the likelihood of trouble. If a bear is startled several yards away, it will almost always prefer to run away. In other words, it’s a smart idea not to be too stealthy while hiking or backpacking.
3. Don’t be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bears are more active in early morning, early evening, and at night. They are also more likely to attack when they come out of hibernation and are hungry, and before they go into hibernation when they are attempting to pack on pounds of fat. Therefore, you are much less likely to run into a bear at, say, 2:00 in the afternoon in July than you are at 5:00 in the morning in October.
4. Steer clear of cubs. If you see a bear cub, there’s a pretty good chance there’s a very protective mother nearby. Always, always, always avoid the temptation to get closer to a bear cub, even if it’s “just to get a better look”. Bears that attack because they are startled, curious, or after food are easy to fend off, but a bear that is protecting her offspring won’t back off until you are incapacitated or dead. If you should ever come across a bear cub in the wilderness, slowly and quietly back away in the direction you came from.
5. Smell like a human. Bears would like to avoid you just as much as you would like to avoid them. Bears, like most wild animals, know what humans smell like. And like most animals, they have come to associate certain smells with human beings. These smells are things like soap, shampoo, fabric softener, detergent, and other “man-made” odors. Remember- a bear’s sense of smell is seven times greater than that of a bloodhound. This means that a bear can probably smell the toothpaste you used that morning from a half-mile away.
By following these five tips, you will be able to greatly reduce the likelihood of a wilderness bear encounter.