If there’s a stereotypical worry of any backpacker, camper or backcountry hunter, it’s camping in bear country. It’s probably safe to say that most of us have heard horror stories of people being dragged out of their tents, or hunters coming back at the end of the day to find their tent and camp completely destroyed. In order to hunt these brown bears, we had no option but to camp in some of the most bear-infested alder thickets in the world. We were between the mountains where they hibernate and the beaches they come to feed at — right smack dab in the middle of brown bear heaven. While there are plenty of schools of thought when it comes to camping among bears, here’s how it worked out for us.
The most obvious thing to be careful about when camping with bears is food. It’s important to be aware of what you’re doing when it comes to storing, eating and preparing your food. What SHOULD be done, of course, is to hang food from a tree, and cook and eat away from your tent. However, real-world conditions are rarely ideal. There were no trees in the area we hunted, so that precaution was out of the question. Second, the weather on the Alaska Peninsula is generally nasty enough to force you to cook and eat in your tent vestibule.
So what we did is store our food a short distance from our tent in waterproof dry bags. Since it was mostly vacuum packed, it cut down on the scent as well. Although I was basically cooking in my tent, I was careful about not leaving any food packaging or scraps in or around the camp. We put our trash in a five-gallon bucket that we kept away from the tents. There are some “bear-proof” food storage containers available on the market, but I’m not much of a fan of them. The Park Service requires you to use one of these little polymer drums if you are camping in a national park. But in my opinion, they are worthless. I can fit about two days’ worth of South Beach Diet food in one of them, and larger ones are a huge pain to transport.
Along with food, another problem is that bears (especially grizzly or brown bears) have a tendency to completely tear up anything that has foreign scents. They are cantankerous by nature and the way they “check out” anything that is out of place is by tearing it to pieces. In all of the places I’ve hunted with high grizz populations, I’ve never really had problems. I believe this is partly due to the fact that in these areas, bears still associate anything with human scent with danger.
Most of the problems occur in national parks and other areas where there are a large amount of bears getting used to the smell and presence of people without being shot at. Once they realize that people don’t mean danger, their curiosity gets the better of them. We made sure to keep everything close to our campsite and peed on all sides of our campsite. This was to make sure there was plenty of human scent to deter a wandering bear.
The video here shows one such bear that was headed straight toward camp one evening. You can see his reaction as I finally got to a spot where he could wind me. All the bears we saw that were able to smell us tore out of sight as fast as their paws could take them, and we didn’t have a single problem with them.
So keep your camp as clean as possible and you’ll be off to a good start. Do any of you have stories about bears tearing into your camp? Let ’em rip in the comments.