Photo credit: http://wildanimalsnames.blogspot.com/2009/03/black-bear.html
(if you are in Grizzly Country, good luck to you, the Grizz is altogether a different animal!)
This week the spring Black Bear hunting season ended, and with it ended the filling of bait stations everywhere. After three peaceful years camping out in Black Bear back country, my normally completely- out –of- sight, out- of- mind neighbours have started knocking on my door to borrow a cup of cooking oil….or a bucket full, if I’ve got it.
So yesterday I had to make a quick study of Black Bear behavior to learn how to re-establish a demilitarized zone around my cabin, a safe place for me and my family in the midst of wild animal country. I don’t want to become a bear hunter myself, and I surely do not want to become prey. In my quest for peace, I have learned several key points to getting along with Black Bears:
1. Black Bears (Ursus Americanus) are curious, intelligent and timid creatures by nature. Given their basic needs are met in their natural habitat (abundant berries and bugs, lots of space and good cover), they won’t impose on human neighbours for hand-outs.
2. Hunting season is a game changer.
I wish I had thought of all this BEFORE I agreed to let a hunter set up a bait station on my land. I realize that these bears have no natural predators, and population control is necessary from time to time. I’m really not against hunting. It’s just that I expected the huge bears from the trail cam to become nice cozy rugs in front of the hunter’s fireplace…I had no idea these same bears would not even be seen by the hunter in 6 weeks, or that they would carry off the extra bait to MY place, laughing all the way back to their dens. (According to trail cam, 3 or 4 different bears were involved, that’s a mob, imo.)
3. It only takes ONE TIME to train a Black Bear to eat un-natural food out of an un-natural package. From just a single experience, a Black Bear can become trained, or “food-conditioned”, seeking out any object resembling that prize food container (bait station) and will investigate any such container, even if it does not contain food. (By investigate, I mean tipping, rolling and puncturing with teeth and claws.)
I returned to the site of my little cabin in the woods this past Sunday after being away for a week. The 45 gal drum rain barrel was tipped over and the 45 gal drum that keeps our kindling dry had been rolled around, the baggie of dryer lint and matches inside had been thoroughly chewed. It took me a few minutes to realize that hunting season had ended the day before, and the cooking oil and sugary carbs were no longer being served out of ….you guessed it, a 45 gal drum.
I must give the bears credit here for not disturbing anything ELSE in my camp site, including my lawn chairs, my wooden clothes dryer rack, picnic table, benches, BBQ. So, thanks guys.
4. Black Bears ears are attracted to and eat just about anything. (Think GOAT).
Once “habituated” or conditioned to unnatural food, you have a “nuisance bear”. This bear will approach camp sites in spite of their fear of humans, to feed their craving for our food. Once the bear starts this behavior, the next step is usually a call to the conservation officer to have the “problem” moved to someone else’s back yard. Most people I talked to about this thought the answer should involve a loaded gun.
What I learned through my research into Black Bear behavior is that relocating a bear often doesn’t work (they come back.) Killing is not the best way to deal with conflict situations. We could run out of room to hide the bodies!
This situation is, after all, not the bear’s fault. (Think of STARBUCKS, or TIM HORTONS. Why is it so hard to just drive away?)
5. There may be a way to restore lasting peace in the wilderness without destroying the problem animal.
So, even if the local Black Bear population has collectively become hooked on cooking oil and day old donuts, I’m hopeful we can turn this around and resume our natural patterns of living. I have discovered advice on re-training bears to stay out of my camp site and I am hopeful that it works. I’m not a killer, and I don’t want to give up my Summer Paradise either.
I’m also hopeful as a human being that I can beat the Tim Horton’s effect myself – that I might prefer saskatoons over double chocolate dip, honey crullers or Boston Creams and coffee. If sugar makes us crazy, I guess it’s a good thing we don’t all tote guns around. (Put DOWN the donuts and BACK AWAY from the deep fryer.)
WHAT TO DO if you come in contact with a Black Bear
First of all, remember that Black Bears are timid creatures and fearful of those that stand on their hind legs all the time. (that’s us) Even if addicted to sugary, deep fried things, they are still AFRAID of us. Given the chance, they will flee the scene of the conflict rather than fight you for your donuts.
If a Black Bear wanders into your space:
In a firm manner, showing no fear, instruct the bear to leave. Point out the exit. Be stern. Make yourself as large as you can, get all your buddies to gather together with you, and do not back down. Get louder if at first you don’t succeed. If the bear keeps ambling toward you (it probably won’t), feel free to send a shot of pepper spray into the air above the bear’s head, or launch a rock from a sling shot. In much the same way that we need to establish and enforce boundaries with our horses and other pets, we need to enforce our boundaries with wild animals, for their safety as much as our own.
Pepper spray is a controlled substance, available at your local hunting outfitters. If you have a sling shot, fire away. The bear will learn that human food is not worth having if it’s this much trouble getting.
If you accidentally stumble upon a Black Bear while hiking or berry picking:
This is a completely different situation and requires a completely different response.
It is important that you NOT act aggressively now. In this situation, the bear will be frightened and may not feel that it can get away from you. In this case, the Black Bear can become defensive and attack you out of sheer fright. The thing to do in this situation is to speak to the bear in a soft tone, backing slowly away by the same route you came, not making direct eye contact.
All the bear really wants is to feel safe by having lots of daylight between itself and you. If the bear is snorting, huffing or “whoofing”, smacking the ground with a paw or even charging you, it is most likely BLUFFING in an attempt to move you away. It is not a good idea to further escalate the bear’s anxiety by becoming aggressive yourself, so just back off the pressure, slowly. Even though you will be shaking in your boots, be strong and very courageous, don’t show your fear.
Do not turn around, and do not run from the bear. Don’t bother trying to climb a tree either, as the Black Bear is the undisputed master of the canopy, and actually feels MORE confident up there than they do on the ground.
All this is easier said than done, of course. Your best bet is to conduct yourself so that you don’t end up in a situation of conflict to begin with. Follow a few simple precautions and enjoy your time outdoors in the woods:
Always travel in groups of 3 or more, make lots of noise, and stick together. Keep your eyes open for signs of bear presence and if you see a bear in the distance, give it lots of space. If the bear has a carcass or cache of food, alter your route! If you give the bears half a chance to steer clear of you, they usually will, unless guarding food or their young. Just stay away. In all my time in the woods, I have not encountered a bear face to face. I make noise and they stay out of sight.
Don’t let children wander far from the group, keep pets on a leash as a free-roaming pet can irritate and provoke a bear. Try carrying a long walking stick with a bandana tied to the top. Wipe your sweaty brow on the bandana, steady yourself on the trail with the stick, and if you do stumble upon a bear, hold the bandana end of the stick out to the bear and carefully drop it as you back away. The bear is all about a proper introduction, and wants to explore your scent. He will likely be satisfied to investigate the bandana sample of you while you slowly and calmly back up the way you came.
Do not approach a bear or in any way attempt to make contact with a grown bear or cub. It goes without saying that you should not entice a bear to approach you with food, DO NOT FEED THE BEARS. Keep your campsite clean, take all solid garbage out frequently to secure containment and bury all liquid waste. Don’t keep food, bait or any scented toiletries in your tent. Don’t sleep under the stars.
Carry a sling shot or pepper spray at all times while out in bear country, just in case. In the highly unlikely event that a Black Bear approaches you aggressively and won’t stop coming on, use the spray or pelt it with rocks from 20 or 30 steps away. Remember not to turn and run, don’t try to climb a tree, and under no circumstances ever drop and play dead with a Black Bear. If the bear makes contact with you, fight it off with everything you’ve got, striking the head and eyes, making lots of noise.
Remember that Black Bears have been living around humans for hundreds of years, and in all that time there have been very few outright attacks and even fewer fatalities. Keep up your courage out there and take your place as a human, without fear, the bears will respect that.
The bears thought it would be a good idea to store a jug of oil over at my place. I was told a bear will eat his fill at the bait station and haul the leftovers to a “safe place”. Evidently they have watched me enough to know that the deep fryer insert that came with my cast-iron dutch oven has never been taken out of the box, so apparently storing oil at my place is a great idea. I noticed they didn’t store any leftover donuts though….
6. It is not necessary to have a nuisance bear removed or destroyed.
I have been advised to pick up some bear spray and an air horn, having these close by so that I can re-train the bears to stay out of my space like they used to. I am told that a sling shot rock works well to chase a Black Bear away, and that the normal order will return.
In my research of Black Bears, I learned that I am more likely to be struck by lightning or win the lottery than to be harmed by a Black Bear in the woods. I hope it’s true. I really don’t want the conflict.
Stay tuned to see how this all turns out. If the next post is written in bear paw, then you know what likely happened to me. I’m off to buy a lottery ticket now!
Gillian Thiessen, Sales Representative www.HorseOwnerToday.com
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 306-292-6768