Stay Safe While Recreating and Keep Your Favorite Places Wild

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BEAR SAFETY HOMEPAGE // FOR LANDOWNERS // FOR VISITORS // FOR COMMUNITIES

Whatever your favorite outdoor fix is, there are always safety and gear considerations to account for. Bear safety is just another thing to add to your checklist to make sure you’re prepared to make it a fun and safe day outdoors. With plenty of tips and tools available, we’re here to help you take the necessary precautions and empower yourself and others to enjoy your preferred outdoor sports while coexisting peacefully with wildlife. 

For all outdoor activities, bear spray is an essential tool to have on hand. Make sure you know how to use it before getting out into the great outdoors.

General Tips

Grizzly bear and trail closure sign
Before recreating in national parks or other high-use areas within grizzly country, be sure to check for any potential closures related to bear activity.

Most aggressive encounters occur when a recreator surprises a bear. Always stay alert, make noise and watch for bear signs. Avoid carcasses (foul odors and scavenging birds) and areas with heavy or recent signs of bear activity. 

When possible, travel in groups and avoid recreating at dawn and dusk to decrease your odds of running into a bear and startling them. Always carry bear spray with you and know the basics of bear behavior so you can respond appropriately if you do find yourself in an encounter. While being able to tell black bears and grizzlies apart can be helpful, bears are individuals and their behavior is often more informative than their species. If you do find yourself in an encounter, be prepared to use bear spray and follow these guidelines.

Check out our blog and our partners People and Carnivores for more details on these tips.

Trail Sports

Our general tips apply for running, mountain biking, skiing, hiking or any other sport you do on the trail. Bears are well known for their excellent sense of smell, but they also rely on sight and hearing to detect potential dangers. When moving quickly or through dense forests and thick brush, it’s especially important to do what you can to alert bears of your presence early by clapping or shouting a favorite phrase like “hey bear”. Even if you’re in a big group, everyone should carry their own bear spray and be comfortable using it just in case. 

Thru-hikers on the Continental Divide Trail should check out their specific bear safety tips and resources.

Camping and Backpacking

In addition to our general tips and advice for using trails, keeping a clean camp is essential if you’re in the front or backcountry. Food and other smelly attractants can draw hungry bears to your campsite and must be locked securely to prevent conflicts. Many campsites in the region are equipped with bear boxes, but there are also options for personal bear-resistant storage containers if you’re planning to backpack or use unmaintained campsites. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee provides a list of certified bear-resistant products and advice on how to store campground attractants securely, including reminders to put locks on coolers and follow local regulations that generally involve keeping food and any other attractants in a, “locked, hard-sided vehicle, camper, or trailer, hung 10 feet from the ground and 4 feet away from anything climbable, or put inside an approved and working electric fence system.”

Hunting and Angling

fly fishing
Whatever your preferred sport, go prepared and always carry bear spray (Photo: Scatbelt.com).

We encourage you to always check local regulations and guidelines, but Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks tips for hunters and anglers are a great place to start. Carrying bear spray and staying alert, especially when moving through dense brush in pursuit of fish or game that bears are also attracted to, is even more important when hunting and angling than in other recreation situations. 

The stealth needed to pursue game and fish can make you more likely to surprise a grizzly, so other precautions like walking with the wind, watching for bear signs, carrying bear spray, avoiding dawn and dusk, and traveling with a group are even more essential. Be especially cautious and noisy anytime you’re dealing with guts or returning to a carcass. Follow FWP’s guidelines or contact your local office to make sure you know how to properly dispose of animal or fish entrails before your outing. 

Pets

Like people, your pets can trigger a bear to act nervously or aggressively. When possible, keep your pet on-leash and under your watchful eye. Make sure they’re trained to stick close by and leave animals alone when you tell them to. While pets can provide an added sense of comfort and companionship in the outdoors, their curiosity or defensiveness might provoke a bear and lead to an aggressive encounter. Follow general tips for alerting bears of your presence and avoiding areas of high bear activity, always carry bear spray and keep your pet close by and under control. 

Bear Bells

There is lots of conflicting information out there about the efficacy of bear bells and little research on the subject. The National Park Service cautions that bears likely won’t hear a bell until you’re already in close range and anecdotal evidence suggests many bears are indifferent to the sound. If you decide to use one anyway, bear bells should never be relied upon as the sole or primary method of deterrence. Clapping or shouting, traveling in groups and always carrying bear spray are more effective at keeping you safe. Learn more here and if you do choose to travel with bear bells, you can buy them right here via our Vital Ground Bear Mart!