Thursday, July 1, 2010

Backcountry Bear Basics

Backcountry Bear Basics: The Definitive Guide to Avoiding Unpleasant Encounters (Mountaineers Outdoor Basics)
My first experience camping in bear country was at a private camping ground, car camping near Pike's Peak.  In the middle of the night, I heard a loud sniffing around my tent and saw a very large shadow.  I thought it was a bear.  I shrunk down into my sleeping bag, praying it would go away.  Thankfully, it did, because that was the wrong reaction.  Had it been a hungry bear, I might not be writing this blog today.  (It was a family of raccoons that found a cooler full of food that the neighboring camp left out.)

The next year I bought a can of bear spray and kept it in my sleeping bag at night.  The plan was to spray any bear that dared to enter my tent.  According to Dave Smith, the author of Backcountry Bear Basics:  "You'd better hope it deters the bear for a while, because you will be incapacitated after spraying inside your tent."  Ooops again...

I met with a group of 5 other members of Bayou City Outdoors in New Mexico and we were discussing what we knew about bears before we drove to Colorado for our backpacking trip in the South San Juan Wilderness.  One person heard you were supposed to get as big as you can and make a lot of noise.  I heard not to make any threatening movements and talk softly.  Someone suggested it was different depending whether it was a brown or black bear. 

We hung our food in camp, but I now know that while we didn't really do it improperly, we didn't use the best method.  The ones we used were described as sufficient against inexperienced bears.  Apparently the bears that are in places such as Yosemite know our tricks, and it would have taken only a few seconds to get our dinner.       

A lot of the things I thought I knew about bears were wrong.  This book tells you how to avoid conflict, the correct way to hang food, what to do if there is no place to hang the food, and how to protect yourself and survive if there is a close encounter.  It addresses myths such as the one that menstruating women should avoid bear country, whether sexual activity attracts bears, and "bluff" charges.  It's written in an entertaining and informative manner that kept me turning pages.  I read it cover to cover in one night and will keep it as a reference.  I highly recommend it for anyone who lives in, camps in, drives through, or otherwise visits bear country. 

Oh...my new plan for if I hear a bear outside my tent (from the book):

1)  Fight the urge to quietly shrink down into your sleeping bag.
2)  Talk softly to the bear so it can identify you as a human being.
3)  If you have bear spray, get it ready.
4)  Pick up your flashlight, quickly unzip your tent door, turn on your flashlight, and shine it at the bear to momentarily blind it.
5)  If the bear does not take off, whoop, holler, and make noise, or spray it with bear spray if you have it.

I bought mine at park headquarters in Great Sand Dunes National Park.  It's also available at Amazon.com.  

17 comments:

sage said...

I have had a number of encounters with bears. Here is a post I did about them: http://sagecoveredhills.blogspot.com/2006/04/recalling-encounters-with-bears.html

I should do a post about how to hang food in bear country.

Brian Miller said...

had a bear come through our camp about 2 years ago...he kept going luckily but it was pretty intimidating...

jack69 said...

Good advice about bears. traversing the Smokies we met a kid who had a tug of war with a black bear over his pack. Black Bear won. ripped the pack open ate his meds and food then left the pack.

Backpacking can be fun and educational.

buffalodick said...

I hear they dislike large caliber handguns...

Christiejolu said...

I would be so scared if I ran into a bear...LOL! I would probably get mauled for sure....Good thing I am a city girl....Not many bears in downtown Tucson....

Kelly said...

The book sounds quite interesting. We have black bears in south Arkansas again (they were re-introduced by Game & Fish awhile back) but fortunately I haven't seen any.

I heard a great program about bears at one of the BOW events I attended. Fascinating topic.

John McElveen said...

Click--BOOM! Totally agree with Buffalo---however the Park Rangers get so pissed!

John

WELCOME BACK JEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Heather said...

Thankfully I have never seen a bear, but then again I never go anywhere. I sure hope the book is right and you survived your other incounters.

Jen said...

The book addresses the gun issue, too. If you're a hunter with a gun in your hand and a bear charges - shoot. You'd better be a damn good shot, though.

That corgi :) said...

sounds like a good book for those that get out in the "wild". I know we used to always see signs about being in bear country and use proper handling of food etc when we lived in Montana and went to Yellowstone. I always had hoped I would see a bear from afar when we went but never did (we always stayed at hotels, LOL)

funny story though, on our recent trip to Montana, hubby had stopped and gotten some coffee to drink to keep away in middle of night. So early morning he has to take care of "business". We are in the middle of nowhere so he pulls over and gets out and does what he needs to do. As he is looking down, he sees this HUGE paw print on the ground in front of him and realizes it is a bear print. We were on a road close to Yellowstone. He quickly finished and got back into the car as he looked around wondering who might also be in the area

betty

Tempo said...

Bears...stuff that.
I just wouldnt be camping there... but where you are you can buy guns, surely the best thing is a huge gun?!

Vince said...

Still you would have to say that a swift prayer would do little harm even if you were going all Dirty Harry on the animals ass.

Kathleen Scott said...

Thanks for this--it's the best summary I've seen. My sister in Canada hikes backcountry weekly. Her tips are: Don't go alone. Wear a 'bear bell'. Watch for scat on the trail and other signs of bear activity--if you find them, go another way. Hang food away from the campsite. Hope.

Thanks for visiting and commenting at Hill Country Mysteries. Unfortunately, bears are nearly extinct here but any given day I'll see deer, foxes, raccoons and a wealth of birds out my front door.

....Petty Witter said...

Never mind fighting the urge to shrink into my sleeping bag, my first instinct would be number 5 - holler. I shouldn't laugh but I have pictures of spraying the bear not working so you then beating the bear off with the empty can.

Jen said...

Why do you people want to shoot my bears? They've done nothing to you!!!!

Bear spray has proven more effective in stopping bear attacks than guns. There is no reason to shoot the bears!

alady'slife said...

Usually I find most wild animals would avoid man and if you leave a radio or something to make noise they will not come that way. But a bear who tasted humans will not be deterred by anything. Do they not have these silent electrical devices which hurt an animals ears if he comes near? I saw one skinny bear run across the highway into a camping area and after seeing how high he can jump and how quick. I don't think anything you do will help you if he decides to make you a target.There's just no competition between man and bear.
One other thing I learned from TV is to keep a sharp pointed pole beside you when you sleep and if one decides to attack you you lift it just as he rises to fall on you and instead he falls onto the pole which kills him instantly because of his weight.
It takes skill to learn this not to mention guts.

deb said...

catching up here a bit tonight , you are so incredibly inspiring!
My husband and I learned about the hanging the food tip a little late once too.

reading about your ventures makes me want to do something more than my little jogs or walks. My husband does a half marathon or two every year... perhaps I'll join him this time.

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