With an increase in the number of bears and dispersal out of core habitats, as well as more people recreating in bear country, bear-human conflicts are on the rise. Being informed and prepared in bear country is the best way to avoid encounters.
Know Bears: Know the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear. Distinguishing between black bears and grizzlies is important for both you and the bear. Black bears and grizzlies act differently. And if you are hunting, you need to be able to distinguish between the two so that you avoid mistaken identity (see MT FWP Bear ID for more).
You cannot tell the difference between black and grizzly bears by color! Some grizzlies are dark; some black bears are brown.
Recreating in Bear Country
There are a number of steps recreationists can take to reduce the likelihood of a bear encounter. People should take precautions when hiking/biking/camping/hunting, be aware of bear sign in order to avoid encounters, and know what to do if they encounter a bear. The best defense to an attack is to avoid an encounter. Some helpful tips:
- Be aware of local regulations. Review trailhead signs and government agency information before using public lands.
- Always carry bear spray in an accessible location (hip or chest holster), and be familiar with how to use it.
- Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
- Keep children and pets close and within sight at all times.
- Don’t hike alone. Groups of four or more tend to make more noise, appear more formidable, and can provide one another with assistance if necessary.
- Bears are most active dawn, dusk, and at night; increase your vigilance or avoid recreating at these times.
- Always be aware of your surroundings, and scan ahead periodically. Be aware when topping hills and when entering brush, forested areas or riverbeds. Make your presence known if visibility is low. Talk, sing, clap your hands, or call out to alert bears of your presence. Many encounters and attacks are due to startling a bear.
- Do not leave odorous items unattended or unsecured.
- Do not approach or interact with bears or other wildlife. Allow animals to move about undisturbed. Never feed bears.
- If you are camping in bear country, be aware of food storage requirements (check with government agencies).
Watch for Bear Sign
Awareness of bear behavior is the key to mitigating potential danger. Detecting signs of bear presence and avoiding interaction is beneficial for you and the bear.
Always carry bear spray when recreating in bear country. Keep bear spray accessible at all times and be aware of your surroundings.
Bear spray is a good last line of defense, but it is not a substitute for vigilance and following appropriate safety techniques. Always give the bear a chance to leave, or attempt to leave the area yourself. Bear spray should only be used if a bear charges you.
Proper Storage of Food and Garbage
If you are in the backcountry, be prepared to store your food so that bears and other wildlife cannot get to it. In many areas, doing so is required by law. Remember, a fed bear is a dead bear.
Several options can keep food, garbage, domestic animal feed, and game meat out of reach.
A bear pole is a horizontal log staked between two upright trees, 20 feet above the ground, used to store food or carcass of a game animal. To use a bear pole, throw a rope (at least 50 feet) over the pole, tie it to what you’re storing, and hoist the load up. Game hoists are useful aids to assist in hanging carcasses.
At some campsites, heavy steel boxes are available for storing food. These boxes must be latched properly to prevent bears from opening them.
Bear-resistant canisters and Coolers
Portable canisters certified as “bear resistant” by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee are helpful for those traveling on foot or horseback. These canisters come in a range of shapes and sizes and are very useful for backcountry travel. Yetti Cooler are currently the only certified bear resistant cooler on the market.
Encountering Wolves in the Backcountry
Wolves do not pose a threat to people unless they are habituated or sick. Never approach a wolf (or any wild animal). If you encounter a wolf in the wild that seems to be approaching you or your domestic animals (dog or stock animals), attempt to scare it off or retreat from the area.
Wolves may perceive dogs as competitors and stock animals as prey, and they may attack. Keep your domestic animals close to you at all times. Be careful tying them up in wolf country; dogs or stock animals that are tethered cannot escape or defend themselves against wolves.