Black Bear Safety

Here at The Cottage Chronicles we’ve tackled deer in the garden, bats in the belfry and mice in the cottage, so it was only a matter of time until we took on black bears in the compost.

Black bears are very abundant in many places in North America, and cottage areas are no exception.

One of the reasons for this is that humans often produce what bears want, like gardens, food in the garbage, bird feeders, apple trees, and scraps around barbecues etc, and they are very good at finding it.

They are also very good at getting inside of things like garbage cans, and even camps and cottages. Often if a bear breaks into a camp and is successful finding food, they will break into other cottages in search of the same thing.

Since I began my foray into cottage life and fishing at the tender age of 2, I have been fortunate enough to have had somewhere in the vicinity of 6 or 7 bear sightings, some of them closer than I might have liked, but none of them ended in anything more than a delightful memory, even though on a few occasions, it could have gone either way.

I remember coming around a bend in a river one July morning to meet a big black bear standing in the middle of the river fishing. He reared up and ran ashore, on my side of the river but fortunately for me, I must have looked kind of frightening myself because he hightailed it for the woods.

Needless to say I spent the day fishing while looking back over my shoulder. I wish I had of had a copy of Backcountry Bear Basics: The Definitive Guide to Avoiding Unpleasant Encounters (Mountaineers Outdoor Basics) although I really can’t describe any of my own encounters with black bears as completely unpleasant.

We’ve also had a few visits around the cottage, and on one occasion my neighbor looked out his kitchen window one evening about suppertime only to see a curious black bear staring back at him from a foot or two away.

Banging on a pot was required to put the run to that young bruin. So what can you do about it, if anything?

Natural Resources provide some ideas about what might help, here are some of their tips:

1) keep garbage in containers with bear proof lids, and empty them frequently. Take your garbage home when you leave. Don’t keep garbage close to the forest.

2) keep your cottage kitchen clean and ventilated so cooking odors don’t linger

3)cook fish and bacon outdoors so the smell dissipates quickly

4)don’t dump food waste or cooking fat near the cottage

5)never leave spoilable food like meat or bread in the cottage when you are not there. (I’ve heard that stale bread is a black bear favorite)

6)inspect your cottage windows, doors and siding for signs of rot which can weaken the structure…now this one scares me a little, makes me think that big picture window in front of the cottage might not have been such a good idea after all.

7)fruit trees and berry bushes attract bears, remember that when planting these types of things around your cottage, keep them as far away from the cottage as possible.Young bears are more curious and likely to approach things they haven’t had experience with like barbecues, however they are often a little more likely to be scared off quickly. Older bears who know that the barbecue or garbage can has food in it, may be a little more difficult to discourage or scare away.

So, if you try to be bear smart around the cottage, and still come face to face with one on your way back from the outhouse some night, what should you do?

Who knows….although much has been written about the proper way to deal with a bear encounter, they are wild, and therefore unpredictable animals, so it’s not easy to say what will work.

The first bit of advice, and probably the one thing that will help you is to stay calm….stay calm…stay calm….slowly back away from the bear while speaking calmly to him, some people advocate saying something like, “go away bear, go away bear”…however, I’m thinking “oh dear Jesus…oh dear Jesus….” might be more likely what I would be saying…or “MOMMY!!”

Whatever you do, don’t look him in the eyes, try to get upwind of him so he can smell you. Bears don’t have great eyesight, and sometimes one whiff of you is all it takes for them to skedaddle.

Don’t corner him (as is you are going to try to corner a bear…ha!)or block his escape route, remember, he probably is as afraid of you as you are of him.

If the bear starts to follow you as you back away slowly, remaining calm….drop something on the ground like your shirt,(women especially should do this periodically whether they see a bear or not, just to be on the safe side) But not food, do not drop food, he might think you have more.

The idea is to distract him with the shirt etc to get his attention long enough for you to get some distance between you.

Don’t make any threatening gestures or sudden moves unless you are being attacked, in which case it’s all gloves off fighting, fight for your life with everything you have, and make as much noise as possible. Now would be a good time to use that Bear Deterrent Spray you have in your pocket…oh-oh…you didn’t buy any did ya…???

Forget about climbing a tree, black bears climb almost as good as a squirrel and unless you are speedy gonzales or the road runner, he can outrun you and will, and he might be a pissed off when he catches ya, so running and tree climbing are not good options.

I will say this though about tree climbing. If all else fails, and you have time to get to a tall tree and you can climb it quickly. You might be able to get high enough quick enough to get out of his sight and smell. I have also read that bears can be reluctant to climb to the top of trees if they are spindly. But then again, so am I…so I guess tree climbing is pretty much out…he might decide to pull the tree down, or just shake you out of it, in which case if you break a leg in the fall running is going to be even more difficult…swimming isn’t much better…unless the choice is between being mauled to death or drowning, drowning is said to be a little easier….it’s unlikely you will come across a bear that can’t swim.

I know I have approached this with a certain amount of lightheartedness but, I take the possibility of a bear attack seriously, and do try to be ‘bear smart’ both around the cottage and anytime I am in or near the woods. As I mentioned earlier, there is no sure way to avoid a bear encounter or survive a bear attack, the only real two pieces of advice that I can give you are try to make a little noise as you go through the woods to warn bears of your presence, and remain calm…remain calm…remain CALM

The above suggestions are the opinion of the author and not necessarily valid or useful….don’t sue me later if they don’t work…oh..wait a minute…if they don’t work you may not be able to sue anyone…..

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