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Be Bear Aware When Recreating Outdoors

Remove or Secure Food Attractants and Keep a Clean Campsite


As spring weather approaches, we’re all anxious to head outdoors, and bears are leaving their winter dens. This time of year, they are waking up from hibernation and are pretty hungry. So, it’s best for you, and for the bears, not to leave out anything that will attract their appetite or their curiosity.


If you’re outside working or recreating, you need to be aware that bears are out, too. Anytime bears are not in hibernation, which is typically between the beginning of March and the end of November, is the time to be bear aware, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Wildlife Information Specialist, Danielle Oyler.


“Being bear aware means that you assume bears can be around, even if you don’t see them,” Oyler says. “You shouldn’t leave anything around your home or campsite that will attract a bear.” These attractants include garbage, bird feeders and pet food. The most common human-bear conflicts involve unsecured food attractants. Bears can be found throughout Montana. In recent years, grizzly bear populations have expanded and can be found anywhere west of Billings, Oyler stated.


“Most bears want to avoid contact with people,” Oyler says. “But the best thing to do to avoid an unpleasant encounter with a bear is to assume bears are around and be prepared.”

This includes carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it. Oyler explains to deploy the spray when the bear is about 25 feet away.


“If you feel threatened, stand your ground and use your bear spray,” she said.


Here are some general tips to stay bear aware:

  • Travel in groups whenever possible and plan to be out in the daylight hours.

  • Avoid carcass sites and concentrations of ravens and other scavengers.

  • Watch for signs of bears such as bear scat, diggings, tornup logs and turned over rocks, and partly consumed animal carcasses.

  • Make noise, especially near streams or in thick forest where hearing and visibility is impaired. This can be the key to avoiding encounters. Most bears will avoid humans when they know humans are present.

  • • Don’t approach a bear.


Camping in bear country:

  • Keep food and anything with a scent out of tents.

  • Dispose of garbage in bear-resistant containers; otherwise, take it with you and dispose of it properly elsewhere. Do not bury or burn garbage.

  • Properly store unattended food and anything else with a scent. Food storage options are:

  • Bear boxes

  • Hard-sided vehicles (car, truck, RV). Avoid leaving attractants in vehicles for extended periods of time (backcountry trips)

  • Certified bear-resistant containers

  • Electric fencing


Fishing in bear country:

  • Make noise when approaching streams or rivers where visibility is poor and/or rushing water makes it difficult for bears to hear you approaching.

  • Carry bear spray on you, especially if you are wading or shore fishing.

  • When possible, clean fish at a designated fish-cleaning station, or at home.

  • If you live in bear country, place entrails and fish waste into the freezer until the morning of garbage day. Do not leave fish waste outside in garbage cans for multiple days, as bears will be attracted to the smell.

  • Cut filleted fish carcasses into smaller pieces that can be easily carried away in the current.

  • Toss all fish waste into deep, fast-moving currents. Do not leave entrails or other fish waste on the bank or in shallow water.

  • Store fish on ice in a certified bear-proof container. Coolers are not bear proof. If you use a cooler, keep i near you and closely attend it.


Biking and running in bear country:

  • Anyone traveling quickly on trails is at higher risk of surprising a bear.

  • Traveling fast around corners can increase the chance of an encounter.

  • Watch for signs of bear activity and avoid riding in these areas.

  • Avoid being on trails at night or at dusk or dawn.

  • Avoid riding fast on trails that feature seasonal food sources for bears, such as berries.

  • Do not run or ride while intentionally impacting your ability to hear natural noises (i.e. wearing ear buds or headphones).

  • Make noise when line of sight is poor.

  • When possible, ride in groups and stay together.

  • If you encounter a bear, stop, get off your bike, and follow bear encounter recommendations.

  • Never try to outrun or outride a bear.

  • Carry bear spray on your person not on your bicycle or backpack.


Thanks to the Gardiner Newsletter

for this article

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