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#135508 - 06/11/08 07:21 AM First trip to bear country in Northern California
dweste Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 02/16/08
Posts: 2463
Loc: Central California
My first ever camping trip into bear country in Northern California is coming up. Previous forays were fishing trips on boats with stays in motorhomes or motels, but with my new down-sized economic circumstances ....

I am starting my bear safety research and thought I would throw open the topic for this knowledgeable community, also.

For all I know we won't see a single bear, but knowing and practicing appropriate bear country ettiquette seems like a wise idea.

Thoughts?

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#135513 - 06/11/08 08:04 AM Re: First trip to bear country in Northern California [Re: dweste]
dweste Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 02/16/08
Posts: 2463
Loc: Central California
Here is the preliminary research:

http://www.yellowstone-bearman.com/campw_bears.html

“Never camp in an area that has obvious evidence of bear activity such as digging, tracks, or scat.”

?But we are supposed to stay in approved camp sites that have supposedly bear-proof boxes. Doesn’t this mean we are required to camp in areas of known bear activity?

“Odors attract bears, so avoid carrying or cooking odorous foods. Keep a clean camp; do not cook or store food in your tent. All food, garbage, or other odorous items used for preparing or cooking food must be secured from bears.”

And:

“Treat all odorous products such as soap, deodorant, or other toiletries in the same manner as food. Do not leave packs containing food unattended, even for a few minutes.”

“Sleep a minimum of 100 yards (91 meters) from where you hang, cook, and eat your food. Keep your sleeping gear clean and free of food odor. Don't sleep in the same clothes worn while cooking and eating; hang clothing worn while cooking and eating in plastic bags.”

“Food bags should be hung a minimum of 10 feet from the ground and a minimum of 4 feet horizontally from any post or tree. Garbage should also be treated the same as all other food items, and suspended or secured in a bear proof container. Deposit human waste at least 200 yards from camp.”

“ Check your campsite out carefully before spending the first night. If you do find garbage or other food items on the ground left by the previous campers, it would be recommended that you increase the distance you set your tent from the cooking area at least double. Remove and secure any garbage left behind by the previous irresponsible campers and report the incident….”

“If you have a bear come into camp late at night keep in mind that this is different from a surprise encounter during the day while hiking. If a bear comes into camp, you must treat this encounter seriously and react aggressively.”

And:

“Individuals who have aggressively yelled at the bear, banged pots and pans, or thrown rocks or other objects to distract the bear generally have then had time to move away to safety or, they drove the bear away with the first yell, and aggressive action.”

“Hikers and hunters who have stood their ground, stayed calm, played dead or have sprayed "bear spray" have generally walked away with few, or no injuries. Spraying pepper spray (bear spray) and or falling to the ground and "playing dead" should ONLY be done as a last resort.”

“Making plenty of noise, and alerting any nearby bears of their presence.”

“Predatory attacks by bears usually start off slowly and calmly when one or two hikers encounter a bear at some distance and the bear slowly approaches them and the hikers try to move away only to have the bear follow them. Basically what is happening is the bear is testing the hikers, and possibly the bear may have done this in the past and had a timid hiker drop their pack or even food on the ground and the bear has obtained a food reward and has learned that pushing people will result in a "reward". Or, the bear may actually be looking at the hiker or couple as a potential food source.
This latter scenario is more common with black bears although it has happened with grizzly (brown) bears and if the bear is not aggressively pushed back or sprayed with "bear spray" the bear has finally attacked and then consumed the person.”
• “Dropping a hat or coat seems to work, while slowly backing up,
• Talking softly seems to work very well and helps to diffuse the situation.
• Never take your pack off.
• Drop down and lay flat on the ground with your hands on the back of your neck.....only as a last resort when it becomes obvious that the charging bear is not going to stop and is about to make contact. Do not move or make noise until it is obvious that the bear has left the area.
• Spray "Bear Spray" only as a last resort, but before dropping to the ground.
• There is some evidence that you should not look the bear directly in the eye, but look down and to the side acting submissive keeping the bear in your vision.
• Periodic sounds of clapping and maybe a "Hey Bear!" once in awhile just seems to fit better and do as well, or better than the constant ringing of bells.
Recommended bear spray:
http://www.counterassault.com/html/beardeterrent.html


REI
http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/bear+resistant+canisters.html
A bear's food-stealing repertoire includes:
• Bashing windows of locked vehicles to get to food coolers (which bears have grown to visually recognize and associate with food). Bears have broken open vehicles just because a soda can or gum wrapper was left visible. (Solution: Don't leave such items inside a vehicle, or at least conceal them thoroughly—only if no other food-storage options are available.)
• Breaking the rear windows of cars, then clawing through the back seats in order to get at aromatic items locked in trunks. (Solution: Remove food from a vehicle when you park; if available, store it in a bear box.)
• Sending cubs up trees to dislodge nylon food bags dangling from limbs. (Solution: Use a portable, bear-resistant food canister.)
• Gnawing through limbs several inches thick to make suspended food bags drop. (Solution: Same as above.)



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#135514 - 06/11/08 08:11 AM Re: First trip to bear country in Northern California [Re: dweste]
aardvark Offline
Member

Registered: 03/11/06
Posts: 109
Loc: So. California
You will probably want to check the regulations of the place you will be backpacking through, some require the use of bear canisters to store food and won't allow bear bagging from trees. Also, there is the trick of eating early and hiking to a different non-normally used spot to camp for the night since bears like to come to the established campgrounds.

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#135535 - 06/11/08 02:02 PM Re: First trip to bear country in Northern California [Re: dweste]
OldBaldGuy Offline
Geezer

Registered: 09/30/01
Posts: 5695
Loc: Former AFB in CA, recouping fr...
Most of the Yellowstone info is probably directed at grizzly, something you won't see in CA. Here you will have his smaller cousin, Mr. Black Bear. Far as I know, the general rule of thumb with blacks, in addition to the clean camp stuff, is still to try to run them off with noise, rock throwing, etc. If attacked (a very rare occurance), fight tooth and nail, don't play dead. I have tent camped and backpacked all over CA, much of it in Yosemite National Park (home of the worlds smartest bears), and never had a problem. In fact, I have never even seen a bear in Yosemite, even in the back country! Now Sequoia NP, that is a different story, but you aren't going there. Just take normal precautions like keeping a clean camp, storing food out of sight, etc, and don't worry...
_________________________
OBG

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#135549 - 06/11/08 02:54 PM Re: First trip to bear country in Northern California [Re: OldBaldGuy]
Colourful Offline
Journeyman

Registered: 11/14/07
Posts: 86
Loc: Yukon
The first reply has a good definition of a predatory bear but talking nicely to one is not good enough.

You must fight a predatory bear and play dead only for a female protecting her cubs. Learn to recognize them.

A bear just looking at you just wants to know what you are. Talk to it nicely and leave.

My favorite video : Staying Safe in Bear Country.

While hiking, you want to let bears know that you are coming and they usually leave before you see them.

''Bear bells'' are useless, I tried. Tests were done and talking, whistling, claping hands, and signing will work better.




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#135558 - 06/11/08 03:42 PM Re: First trip to bear country in Northern Califor [Re: Colourful]
jaywalke Offline
Member

Registered: 12/22/07
Posts: 172
Loc: Appalachian mountains
Originally Posted By: Colorama
Tests were done and talking, whistling, claping hands, and signing will work better.


Bears know sign language? Sweet. ASL or SEE? :-]

Or are we talking about a big sign you attach to your partner's pack that reads: TASTES LIKE BACON or SLOW MOVER?


Seriously, I would add a +1 to the post that recommended not eating where you sleep. When in grizzly country I always used to eat dinner before dusk, then hike another mile or so before camping. I'd consider doing the same in an area with known problem black bears, but otherwise I just hang a bear bag.

Black bears are, by and large, more like big raccoons than predators. The only difference is, if a raccoon gets a hold of my pack I'd argue with him. If a bear gets it, it's his! Keep a clean camp, and you'll be lucky to see one. They are so quiet that you are more likely to walk right by one without noticing.

Here in the Appalachians they are still hunted with hounds. It's a debatable practice, but the upside for hikers is that if you bark at a bear they'll run like hell.



Edited by jaywalke (06/11/08 03:43 PM)

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#135564 - 06/11/08 05:26 PM Re: First trip to bear country in Northern Califor [Re: jaywalke]
dweste Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 02/16/08
Posts: 2463
Loc: Central California
I’m trying to put together a sensible set of best practices when hiking and camping in bear country. The suggestions so far leave me confused.

How do you safely carry food while hiking? In a bear canister only? No readily accessible snacks? No eating while hiking along?

I get cooking far from where you camp, but change out of clothes you cook and eat in? Treat cooking and eating clothes like food and put in a smell proof container? Is a freezer-type ziplock good enough?

No deodorant on your person or in your car?

We are supposed to stay in approved camp sites that have supposedly bear-proof boxes. Doesn’t this mean we are required to camp in areas of known bear activity?

Leave no food in your car. But what about my BOB and car kit emergency food? Isn’t it sealed in packages that eliminate odor?

Between the bear spray and at least one bear canister for food, another almost $200 is required!

Going 200 yards from camp at night to pee? The old pee bottle is no longer a wise option?

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#135569 - 06/11/08 06:08 PM Re: First trip to bear country in Northern Califor [Re: dweste]
MDinana Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 03/08/07
Posts: 2184
Loc: Deep south... Carolina
Don't change clothes... just don't spill on yourself when cooking. No, freezer bags are NOT good enough. Get a good bear cannister; REI rents them for cheap. There are also soft-sided bear containers. We usually had a bear cannister, but would bear-bag the majority of our stuff. Never had a problem with either.

Correct, no deoderant in the car. If you bring it with you, toss it in the cannister or bear-bag at night. But, you might smell yummy if you use it, so personally, I wouldn't.

No food in the car. Period. Unless you like a broken-into car. Many places have bear cannisters at the parking lot; look into it.

When hiking, it's food. Keep it with your bag. You can snack. Eat, drink, and be merry. No, the bear won't stalk you trying to get your power bars.

It's the wilderness. There's bears. And bugs, fish, other hikers, marmots, mountain lions, coyotes, squirrels, etc. Providing bear boxes is a courtesy. They probably got tired of people complaining about bears eating campers' food because they didn't take proper precautions.

I've never tried the pee bottle - it's never been a "wise idea" IMHO, simply cuz I have no hand...er... pee... coordination at night. I might stumble 10 yards from my tent. Just don't pee on your friends tent. I don't think bears are like dogs where they have to run over, smell it, then pee on it too.

Everything OBG has said is right on. You'll be dealing with black bears, which are basically big wusses. yell, make noise, toss rocks if you see them. They tend to run off. The only grizzly left in CA is on the state flag. Don't pick up the cubs. Worry more about the hordes of mosquitoes than the bears. Buy some after-bite.

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#135570 - 06/11/08 06:14 PM Re: First trip to bear country in Northern California [Re: dweste]
LED Offline
Veteran

Registered: 09/01/05
Posts: 1474
Like OBG, I've camped backcountry in Yosemite lots and never seen a bear (only a mountain lion). Cook away from sleeping area, store food in lockers and canisters, etc. Might want to change the shirt you cooked in before bed, especially if you spilled something on it. And for added insurance you can always buy bear mace (and a holster) and keep it handy. When hiking, food in your daypack is fine, just remember to remove left-over gorp and food wrappers at night and put your pack away from the tent. And if you're hiking into dense brush with limited visibility, make ample noise so the critters know you're coming. Have fun.

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#135573 - 06/11/08 06:18 PM Re: First trip to bear country in Northern Califor [Re: dweste]
jaywalke Offline
Member

Registered: 12/22/07
Posts: 172
Loc: Appalachian mountains
I carry food in a nylon stuff sack in my pack. If you want to be anal, look out for crumbs, but I wouldn't stop eating on the move. Bears aren't like muggers.

I don't change cooking clothes, even in grizzly country. Perhaps if I was smoking meat or fish and standing in the smoke . . . other than that, no.

I don't wear deodorant while hiking. One shot with the mineral stone before I leave, then au naturel. It's not because of bears, though, I just prefer it that way. After I come back from a week in the woods, everyone in town smells like chemicals to me.

If the camps have bear boxes and you use them, you'll be fine. Bears are smart, and they quickly learn the futility of a good bear box. Worry about mice.

I don't bother with bear spray for black bears, either, or leave camp to pee.

The only trouble I know of with cars and bears is in Yosemite. They've learned to recognize coolers, so don't leave them in sight.

Basically, there is, every few years, an incident where a black bear comes into a camp and acts curious/predatory toward humans. No one knows why for certain, so experts try to suggest removing all possible stimuli, when in actuality it may be that the fact that there are a few sick and crazy animals in the same way that there are sick and crazy people in the world. You are much more likely to be struck by lightning on your trip, and many times more likely to be flattened by a semi on the drive to the trailhead.

Take precautions with your food in camp, and don't let irrational fears ruin your trip.

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