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switchbackkid

Scaring off bears at night?

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switchbackkid

So I'm very comfortable hiking in bear country during the day light hours since I carry bear spray and am alert and on my feet, but when it comes to going to sleep and being woken up by a bear at my tent I feel a lot more vulnerable. I will ask my question right away for those in a hurry and if you choose to read the story it will be in the paragraph below. Obviously at night everything is quite, theres usually no human voices and the wild life, i feel gets more comfortable and browses around. I have no problem shouting at a bear when its 50ft from me when the suns up and we both see each other but when there is a bear right outside your tent sniffing under the rain fly I'm a little hesitant to start yelling and startle it... I feel like slowly making a little bit of noise and then getting a little louder gradually lets it know there is something awake in that little fabric shell, or could it make it more curious if you're not loud enough? Has anyone had a thought about this kind of encounter or had one happen?

I took my girlfriend out car camping last year here in Idaho to see how she liked sleeping in the woods before she joined me on some hiking trips. It was during late fall so there was no one anywhere and the campsites have been pretty quite for the last month or more. We had a fire going about 150ft from the tent near where the car was parked and had been cooking different things and drinking most of the night ( pros of car camping, lots of food and beer ) I was tired and went to bed about 1am and she was going to have another beer and come to bed in about 30 minutes, so i told her 2 important things before you come in for the night, 1 make sure you put out the fire ( we were by a river with plenty of water and also have a shovel for sand ) and 2 put ALL the food back in the cooler with pots and pans, empty bottles back in the car so animals don't get into it. Well about 5 in the morning I woke up to some sticks cracking around the tent, Im used to hearing weird noises and animals at night so i just closed my eyes again but kept listening. A few seconds later i hear what sounded like the big snout of a dog sniffing under the rain fly of my tent, Im thinking it could be anything but had the feeling it was a bear so I didn't want to start yelling and freak it out and have it attack the tent so I rolled over in my sleeping bag making a little noise and then in a low voice a few times said hey, hey, hey. Of course this woke my girlfriend up and she asked what i was talking at and I just said there was a coyote scratching around by the tent so i was making it leave ( trying not to alarm her ) and then said its fine, go back to bed. Well about 1 minute after that I heard the frying pan get knocked over the rocks where the fire was and I looked at her and said you didn't put the cooking stuff away did you!? At this point I was convinced it was a bear out there going after the oil and flavors on the pan. While i was laying there trying to decide if I should step out and scare it away or just let it lick the pan and leave I heard the suspension on SUV start to squeak as if someone where rocking it back and forth and then the door handles flicking like someone without fingers was trying to open the door! At this point i decided i better go out and scare off whatever it is before it gets into my car and tears it up! as soon as I was unzipping the zippers and making some noise i could hear crashing through the brush and when i get out and shined my light over there was nothing to see... I yelled out a few times and went over to the car and put the pan in the cooler and locked the doors and we both went back to bed, a little nervous but morning was right around the corner and i felt the commotion I made was going to keep animals away for the next couple hours until sunrise. I looked all over in the morning for any kind of animals tracks and couldn't find any, the ground was pretty hard and didn't take prints easily. even the car didn't have any scuffs or marks of any kind on it so I never really found out what was out there but i have heard many campers before say they have seen bears in that area so i'm pretty certain thats what it was especially since deer and coyotes aren't big enough to rock an SUV back and forth.

So thats my story and my first encounter with a bear being right next to my tent. I have had them come to camp and heard other people shout them off at night but never have been solo with no one around for miles and had to deal with it my self. So back to my question above, I feel like theres a bunch of ways you could see this situation through a bears eyes and it probably depends on a lot of different factors on what the right thing to do is but in general what would most of you do? I feel like the obvious answer is to make noise and get the bear away from the tent but I'm sure some of you can see if from the angle where you don't want to startle it that close and have your tent attacked with you in it. I have done a lot of camping and never had this happen ( that I was aware of ) so i hope it never happens again but if it does I don't want to be waiting and thinking about what I should do. 

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PaulGS
Posted (edited)

I occasionally take a small air horn with me backpacking for when I’m sleeping. A loud whistle blast at night could well be effective too.

Edited by PaulGS

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balzaccom

You know how to whistle, don't you?  grin

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Aaron

I would say step one is doing everything possible to avoid this type of situation to begin with - cooking and eating away from your campsite, storing your food away from your tent, etc. - I covered more strategy on hiking and backpacking in bear country here:

https://www.trailgroove.com/blogs/entry/142-bear-country-backpacking-tips-for-the-trail-and-in-camp/

However, in the situation you described, I would personally be making a lot of noise and subsequently exiting my tent headlamp on with my bear spray ready. I like to call it being assertive without being aggressive. Sounds like in this case you were in somewhat of a classic scenario where a bear was used to getting food rewards at that location / had in the past, and was making its nightly rounds.

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jay

This is actually a great topic for me, personally.  I have a trip planned into bear country soon and to be honest, I have not really had that much experience with bear country.  Virtually all of my trips have been in bear free areas.  Thanks for bringing this up, its one of the reasons I like this site so much.

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