Recently a friend asked me how to keep bears away from her cabin.
(Michigan Black Bears)
She described a bear that approaches the fire pit behind the cabin at night with the fire still burning and usually a few adults left sitting late in the evening. This did not sound like normal bear behavior. Typically, the Michigan black bear tries to avoid humans. I spent a lot of time thinking what would make a bear move in on a still burning fire with people visible. She told me the bear would walk around the tree line and could be heard huffing his/her breath. When reported to the local DEQ/DNR they said they were unable do anything about the bear unless the bear makes entry into a dwelling. I guess the bear has been trained to approach cabins by accident.
Cabin and homeowners in this same area have been encouraged not use bird feeders especially the sweet hummingbird feeders and the suet cake feeders.
Not understanding our shared spaces lead to the bears being relocated at great cost to taxpayers and an elevated risk to the wildlife workers and bears.
Some simple behavior changes for property owners, campers, backpackers and hunters can have a very positive benefit to our shared space.
Bears are omnivores and spend the majority of their time grazing or hunting.
A bears diet is truly amazing– devouring everything from moths to berries and 25 percent animal flesh. When human food is introduced, the effects are damaging in some uncommon ways. Our human food is incredibly addictive with added sugars, sweeteners, and high calorie high fat content. When our food ran free it was lower in fat content. Lean beef! But with the invention of barbed wire not only did we put the cowboys out of business we also increased the fat content of our grass and grain fed food stock. Animals prayed upon in the wild may have already exhausted their fat stores leaving a weak, sick or vulnerable protein feast for nature to consume. How can we keep our bears from becoming addicted to our food and keeping them at a safe distance?
For landowners: Don’t use liquid hummingbird feeders or suet cake feeders. For regular bird feeders, bears will still try to graze on what the birds have dropped.
So if you can’t keep the bird feeding area free of dropped seeds, you may want to use it only after the bears have retired for the winter. Another area of concern is garbage. Put your garbage out on the day of removal in a latched metal container. (Something with a chain and latch combination.) Also, good housekeeping is a great way to keep bears away. Store BBQs and grills in a safe location so you won’t feed the bears or burn down the garage. Items left outside and around fire pits like paper plates, beer cans/bottles, or even burning your trash won’t stop a bear from exploring. Food waste needs to be removed. When working around the house/cabin make noise! Throwing food to a curious bear, is not a peace offering. It will only make them come back for more.
Hikers/Backpackers: The use of a bear can or bear bag with a scent-reducing bag will help prevent bears from getting your food supply. (You should be familiar with bear safety and leave-no-trace practices.) Avoid wearing headphones if you’re hiking alone and take turns listening to headphones in bear country. Make noise in camp and on the trail. Change your hiking plan if bears and cubs are spotted. Keep your distance. Use a bear bag/canister nightly. Read trail reports and hiker warning signs.
Hunters: Keeping an eye out for bear indicators like rubs, spoor (paw prints), and clawing marks as well as scat evidence is paramount. When hunting, beware of a phenomenon called the dinner bell. This is when a single gun shot is heard and the local bear knows there will soon be a gut pile from a newly field dressed deer kill. If possible, move your kill to a clearing and have a lookout when field dressing. Also, bears have an amazing sense of smell and your scent you that you tried to cover may only put you closer to that bear encounter you have been trying to avoid. You may also be trying to be quiet in the woods which is the opposite advice given to hikers and backpackers. So be aware of the local bear natural signs!
The encounter: If you find yourself too close, you should first stay calm. Talk to the bear in a low voice while backing away. Make yourself look larger by keeping your arms away from your sides but not over your head. If you’re dangerously close, the bear may charge you to scare you off. Bears have been reported to turn at the last second. I personally don’t want to find out. With Black Bears, be ready to fight for your life! Playing dead will only get you really dead. In a bear dense location it may be good to carry bear pepper spray/mace. (An effective defense against an attack.)
Scary but curious bear behavior: Bears may stand on their hind legs to get a better look or just smell the air, or scrape at trees or to sharpen and clean their claws. Rubbing on trees and branches leaving large clumps of hair is like spring cleaning/hair cut.
They truly want nothing to do with us. We can enjoy them from a distance and share some space without harming each other. The most important message is to keep our food and waste away from the bears.
Be safe out there! Sherpa Sean
Special Thanks to Dave P (AKA Peach)
*The disclaimer* Don’t go ill prepared and read more than one article about any potentially risky subject before you set out.
I read the Michigan DNR bear page by Cory Olsen as well as the Colorado parks and wildlife department page and some of my own experiences as well as friends and borrowed ideas and recommendations for this page! Altho bear encounter may be rare it could leave you with debilitating injuries or a slow and painful death.