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How to Be Safe Hiking Among Bears

While brown and black bear attacks are rare, it's still imperative for wilderness hikers to arm themselves with basic knowledge about where bears are commonly found and how they behave. Over the past decade bears have been responsible for an average of three deaths per year in North America. The incidents have primarily involved grizzlies in Canada and Alaska, but a number of deaths have been reported in the lower 48 states as well. So caution and alertness are called for while in any bear territory, which is often dense wooded or swampy areas with plenty of cover.

craggs trail summit - west slope pikes peak

It is safest to hike after dawn and before dusk, avoiding the times when bears are most active. Make lots of noise to avoid an encounter. Surprising a bear, especially when it is eating or has cubs to protect can invite an attack. A 'bear bell' may be too quiet to alert a bear of your presence. Blowing a whistle or making loud clapping noises and singing loudly on occasion should keep them at bay. Also, avoid using scented soap, lotion, shampoo, etc. Dogs can irritate bears, so it is best to leave them at home. Bear strength pepper spray can bring extra peace of mind while hiking in the wilderness. Since I live along the front range of Colorado and have relatives in northern Michigan, I have heard numerous stories of bear encounters and believe it's best to be prepared.

bear swimming When camping don't cook or store food near your tent. Clean everything thoroughly, burning or packing out trash, and hang food (along with toothpaste, bug repellant, soap and even chapstick) ten ft. above the ground and 5 ft. from a tree's trunk. Bears that become accustomed to people food become a dangerous nuisance and are often shot, so do all you can to encourage them to stick to their natural diet in the wild. Also, bears can swim over a mile, so don't assume you are bear-free if you are camping on an island.

black bear paw print at aiken canyon colorado Keep an eye out for bear tracks, scat (droppings), shredded logs and overturned dirt, the smell of rotting flesh (a kill - especially with a grizzly), or 2" long waist to shoulder high scratches on trees. Scat differs depending on the time of year and diet. Spring scat may be lighter tubes threaded with grass. When fruit ripens, the scat looks like a large pile of black mush dotted with berry seeds. Bears love to eat nuts, berries, insects, grasses, roots, fish, mammals and, of course, human food and garbage. Scan for bears as you walk through fields with ripe berry bushes.

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