Tips on how to coexist with bears

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Camping, hiking, and hunting in bear country requires a certain amount of responsibility on our part to avoid wildlife conflict. Acquiring knowledge and developing good habits in the backcountry could save a life—yours or the bear’s.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department rounded up some of their bear experts to offer useful advice on what you can do to live in harmony with bears.

Hiking in bear country

When out hiking in bear country there is always the chance you will run into a bear. Fortunately, bears avoid people and 99 percent of encounters end with the bears leaving the area.  To reduce risk even more when hiking follow these suggestions.

  • Hike in groups whenever possible.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. When hiking look for evidence that bears have been in the area such as tracks, scat, or over turned logs.
  • When out hiking make a lot of noise in order to alert bears of your presence.
  • Avoid hiking at dusk and dawn since this is when bears are most active.
  • Stay on main trails because bears will often avoid these trails during the daytime due to the high activity.
  • Be mentally prepared in case you do encounter a bear.

Camping in bear country

Camping in bear country (WGFD)

When you are camping, keeping a clean camp is the key to human safety and is the law on most U.S. Forest Service lands in northwest Wyoming.  Bears have a highly evolved sense of smell and are strongly attracted to human food, garbage, livestock feed, and game meat.  When a bear gains access to attractants in a camp, it is likely to become food-conditioned.  Food-conditioned bears are less likely to avoid humans and can become destructive and even dangerous in their attempts to obtain human foods. A bear that has received a food reward from a camp will likely return or stay in the area, and may become a problem for other people.

Campsite safety

  • Never store attractants in your tent.
  • Store all food and garbage and any other odorous items inaccessible to bears.
  • If available store attractants inside a vehicle, hard sided campers, horse trailers, bear canisters, or bear boxes.
  • In the backcountry store food and coolers suspended from a tree at least 10’ to 15’ high and 4’ feet away from the tree trunk.  Also, sleeping area should be at least 100 yards away from food storage and the eating/cooking area.
  • All pet food and livestock she be properly stored.
  • Keep clothes worn while cooking stored with food and other attractants.
  • Burn all grease off camp stoves.
  • Wipe down eating and cooking area after each use.
  • Do not bury garbage; bears will just dig it up.
  • Dispose of all garbage properly and pack out any remaining garbage.

What to do if a bear comes into your camp

  • Remain calm and do not panic. Bears generally avoid people and they are probably attracted to odors of food.
  • Get your bear spray or gun prepared for use.
  • Do not approach the bear.
  • Try to scare the bear away by yelling, shouting, banging on pots, or shooting off a gun.
  • If the bear does not get a food reward they will usually leave.

If a bear tries getting into your tent fight back and use your personal defense.

Hunting and fishing in bear country

Hunting in bear country (WGFD)

Hunters and fishermen need to take extra precautions when recreating in bear country. Due to the nature of these activities we are predisposed to bear encounters or conflicts. As sportsmen it is our responsibility to behave appropriately in bear country. This information can greatly reduce the chances of a human/bear conflict.

Why hunters and fishermen are at risk of bear encounters

  • They quietly pursue game in the field or fish next to loud rivers and streams.
  • Masking of human scent and moving into the wind.
  • Being active during dusk and dawn.
  • Use of game calls.
  • Handling of big game carcasses or fish.

How to avoid bear encounters

  • Always hunt or call with a partner and stay within sight of each other.
  • Remain alert and watchful for bear activity; avoid “tunnel vision” while pursuing game.
  • Learn to recognize bear sign such as scat, tracks, and diggings.
  • Know where seasonal food sources are present and either avoid or be especially cautious in those areas.
  • Be aware that the presence of ravens and other scavengers is a good indication that carcasses or gut piles are nearby and a bear may be in the area.
  • Carry a defense readily accessible. The knowledge of how to use your defense should be automatic.

Proper handling and retrieval of game

  • The best way to minimize conflicts over a carcass is to pack and remove the game meat out of the field as quickly as possible. The longer game is in the field, at camp, or in the back of a vehicle the more likely it is to be discovered by a bear.
  • Separate the carcass from the gut pile with as much distance as possible.
  • Quarter and hang the carcass in a tree at least 10’ to 15’ from the ground and 4’ from the tree trunk.
  • If you must leave the carcass on the ground, place it in plain view so when you return, you can see if a bear is present or if it has been disturbed prior to making your approach. Placing something conspicuous on the carcass that may help you detect if there has been a bear at the carcass. For example branches or an article of clothing that can easily be seen from a long distance.
  • When returning to a carcass that has been left overnight, use caution.  Stop and view the carcass from a distance with binoculars. Approach the carcass upwind and make sufficient noise to alert a bear of your presence.
  • If you detect disturbance from a distance or if the carcass has been buried, a bear has probably been to the carcass or may be bedded nearby.
  • Never attempt to scare a bear off of a carcass it has claimed.
  • In camp, store game meat, capes, and dirty tools/clothes at least 100 yards from your sleeping area and preferably down wind.
  • Clean fish at designated cleaning station or at home. Wash all your gear to ensure there are no desirable odors for future use.

Living in grizzly country

Living in bear country (WGFD)

To reduce the risk of problems with bears on or near your property, we urge you to follow this list of simple precautions. Avoid attracting bears to your residence. Please do your part so people and bears can live together.

Garbage should be stored where bears can neither smell nor gain access to it: either in a bear-resistant container or inside a building bears can’t get into. Use outside garbage cans for non-food items only. Haul garbage to an approved disposal site as often as possible, but at least once a week, to avoid build-up of odors.

Fruit trees attract bears, especially when wild foods are scarce. Electric fencing is the most effective way to keep bears out of orchards. Pick all fruit from trees and the ground as soon as possible; do not leave fruit through the fall.

Vegetable and flower gardens also attract bears. Gardens should be located away from forests or shrubs, which bears use for security and travel. Bears will dig up carrots and bulbs; so electric fencing is a good idea.

Composting is not recommended, because the odors attract bears. If you do compost, use an electric fence or enclosed, bear-resistant composter. Don’t put meat, grease, or bones in a compost pile.

Livestock and poultry feed, along with pet food, should be stored in bear-resistant containers such as a 55-gallon drum with a lid that seals—preferably inside a sturdy building that bears can’t get into. Reduce spillage of oats and pellets by feeding from buckets or other containers, and don’t leave leftover livestock food out overnight.

Dogs and other pets should be kept inside at night. If possible, feed pets inside. If you must feed pets outside, feed only during the day in amounts that will be consumed immediately. Don’t leave bowls and pet food out overnight.

Sheep and pigs are easy prey for bears. Sheep should be closely herded. Consider electric fencing for pigs, or not keeping pigs. Do not bury dead livestock—bears will dig them up! Haul them to a landfill or rendering plant.

Bears love honey as well as bee larvae found in hives. You can protect the hives with electric fencing or by elevating the hives on platforms supported by metal poles that bears can’t climb.

Bird feeders can also attract bears. Feed suet only during the winter months, and suspend hummingbird feeders out of reach of bears—at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet away from any tree trunk or pole.

Closely supervise children when they are playing outdoors. Make sure they are home before dusk and not outside before dawn. Talk with children about bears and teach them what to do if they encounter one.

If bears get into garbage or other food, remove the attractant immediately and call Game and Fish. Avoid giving bears a repeated food reward. Bears that associate people and places people live with easy food rewards can become dangerous, and may eventually have to be killed.

Bear encounter

In most situation bears will avoid humans. If you encounter a bear in the field and it does not avoid you, you need to determine if the bear is exhibiting predatory or aggressive/defensive behavior. In most situations, grizzly bears act defensively to protect their personal space, a food source, or their offspring. A defensive bear often displays stress behaviors such as moaning, woofing, jaw popping, or paw swatting. Remember, the bear is acting aggressively to defend something and if you are not perceived as a threat, the bear should leave the area.

What to do if you encounter an aggressive/defensive bear at close range

  • Try to remain calm, slowly back out of the area, and have a defense ready.
  • Never run away from the bear.
  • Do not challenge the bear with any aggressive body language or direct eye contact.
  • If the bear begins to approach, stand your ground and use bear spray if available.
  • If a bear makes contact or is about to make contact, drop and cover by lying flat on your stomach and inter-lacing your fingers and placing them on the back of your neck. Do not fight back.
  • Once the bear feels the threat is neutralized it will stop attacking.

Unlike defensive bear attacks, a bear that is acting in a predatory manner is NOT defending anything. Predatory behavior is often recognized when a bear appears to be intensely interested in you or deliberately approaches you without displaying any stress behaviors. If a bear enters your tent, it is behaving in a predatory manner. In a predatory bear attack, you should fight back by any means necessary, do NOT drop and cover!

What to do if the bear is acting predatory

  • Do not back away from the bear but instead stand your ground.
  • Act aggressively towards the bear.
  • Make yourself look as big as possible by holding your arms out and using your coat and standing on a log or rock.
  • Yell at the bear in a loud firm voice.
  • Use branches and rocks to deter the bear.
  • Use bear spray or a weapon to protect yourself.


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