If you’ve been an outdoorsman for any number of years, odds are you’ve befriended a few outdoorsmen. And if you know quite a few fellow outdoorsmen, odds are you’ve heard a story or two about bears. Bear encounters are not a matter of “if,” but rather seem to be a matter of time in the outdoors. However, the vast majority of bear intrusions into campsites—or more accurately, peoples’ intrusions into bear habitats—is due to laziness and poor planning on the camper’s part. Keep reading to learn more about how to bear proof your campsite so your next trip doesn’t become another bear story.

Bears aren’t man-eating creatures that seek out campsites for blood; they’re simply animals in search of food and when they smell something tasty, they’re going to find it. They’re very crafty and resourceful and have no reservations about climbing onto picnic tables or into the beds of trucks for that opened package of hot dogs or the half-eaten s’more that was left by the fire.

If you’re camping in bear country, odds are your campsite will possess bear-proof garbage cans. These specialized cans utilize a mechanism that’s designed to keep bears out, but still enables humans to throw things away. If you have a large supply of food or supplies, such as toiletries, that will last for a few days, store them in air tight containers and keep them in the trunk of your car; never store food or toiletries in your tent. Bears have a remarkable sense of smell, as well as strong jaws and paws, so anything that smells like food that’s left within reach can and will be opened and consumed. After eating, always clean your dishes thoroughly and store food and garbage immediately following the meal. Also, if you’re grilling, be sure to clean the grill as best you can after use.

In the backcountry, where garbage cans and access to your vehicle aren’t available, you’ll need to prepare beforehand. Bring a long rope and plenty of trash bags so you can store any food or scented products in the bag and hang it high in a tree, far away from your campsite each night. Furthermore, don’t make camp near any fruit trees or shallow portions of a river, and if you’re travelling through bear country, it may be smart to invest in a can of bear mace, just to be safe.

While you’re away from home, there are still basic cleaning practices that need to be employed to ensure that your campsite remains bear-free. Bears that have become used to people and leftover food will lose their fear of humans and are bold when it comes to campsites, so it really pays to take a few extra moments to clean up after yourself and not give the bears a reason to investigate. After all, no one likes waking up to find last night’s food and garbage strewn all over the campsite. 

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