Bear Proofing: Go Beyond Hiding the “Pic-a-Nic” Baskets

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Yikes, a Bear, not Yogi, has Visited Your Property or Campsite! What Now?

You have been hyper-vigilant about bear proofing your home and property. Trash cans are kept inside the garage. Pets are fed inside and not left outside. You don’t leave food in the car. All this and you still see signs that a bear has come to visit. As we all know, bears can be very destructive.

Growing up watching Yogi Bear and Boo Boo was very entertaining. Yet despite the charming Brooklyn accent, Yogi is not any kind of example of a real bear. Also, keep in mind, generally bears do not want to interact with humans. However, if they find your house or property is an easy source of food, aka “pic-a-nic” baskets, they will remember and become a return Air Bear-n-Bear guest. In addition to leaving terrible reviews, regular bear visitation is not something you want to encourage.

Before we begin - do you notice the photo above? I took that photo on a day when a black bear decided to approach one of our open windows. What you cannot see in the photo are lids to pots and pans that we were banging to startle (and hopefully scare) the bear while we closed that (and other) windows.

This was only ONE bear - There were others

That was an interesting summer, and evidently natural food sources that bears prefer were scarce. Our local Fish and Game officers were regular visitors in the neighborhood that summer, and unfortunately, at least one rather rogue bear had to be shot (when officials were called to a friend's house where a bear had broken into his kitchen even though doors and windows had been closed).

Let’s take a look at ways to be more bear-wise.

While it is not possible to make your bear-country trip or home 100% bear proof, there are steps you can take that will likely make a bear reconsider their shopping options.

The bare facts about brown and black bears.

While I personally don’t plan on being close enough to a bear to determine its type, here are some facts about bears. According to Bear Smart, the most common bear in North America is the black bear, which can be black, white or brown. The photo of our visitor is that of a black bear.

The other common bear is the brown bear. Brown bears in the interior are known as grizzlies, while coastal brown bears are called Kodiak. One thing they both have in common is that they are big and should be avoided.

Brown or Grizzly bears (as pictured at right) are the bigger of the two and can way up to 1500 pounds, over half a ton. Black bears range in size from 200-500 pounds. Another distinction between the two is their diet and ways of life. Because they generally search for burrowing animals, Grizzlies have longer claws and humps of muscles to enable efficient digging. Black bears have prominent ears and a “Roman Nose”, brown bears have a concave or “dish” nose.

How to Deter Bears - Bear Proofing Home

Other parts of their lives are similar. Both brown and black bears spend 6-8 months eating a lot of omnivorous food while prepping for lean winters. They both hibernate in their dens. They don’t sleep full time during hibernation, but they don’t go out to look for food.

Just how aggressive are bears?

According to Richard H. Yahner, who is a professor of wildlife conservation, grizzly or brown bears are more aggressive than black bears. Black bears climb to escape danger while brown bears, due to their size, are not climbers and must “stand their ground.” Grizzlies also produce fewer young over a lifetime and are more protective of cubs than their black bear cousins.

Brandon Hodgins at Grit states that bears are worthy competitors for homesteading property. When we relocate to live off wild land, we need to expect some challenges, bears being one of those challenges. Hodgins and company recommend learning “to live with the bears, not fight against them.” Remember, in the long term, we are the more adaptable creature. We understand, ahead of the bear, that we have options that they don’t. One option is moving away, but that defeats the purpose of homesteading.

What about an Electric Fence for Bears?

If you grow family vegetables, you will need to protect them. If you raise bees, you will need to protect them. Electric fencing is your friend. However, crops like corn and honey can be too tempting for the persistent Winnie the Pooh and they may need other, more low-tech enticements to go away.

In addition to electricity, think about cladding your apiaries with wood and/or create unwelcome mats by driving nails into boards. Place the boards with the nails pointed out and even the peskiest ursine will likely leave. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department demonstrates some real-life applications of these useful tips for bear country.

Electric Fence for Bears - How to Deter Bears

Let’s talk about deterring bears at my home.

Your idyllic getaway in the mountains can become Bear Central Station if they find out that food is available. Bears, like any living mammal, look for the food source of least resistance. I feel you bear, I do. You want to live in harmony with your wildlife neighbors, but you never want to encourage them to follow your diet.

Like camping, smells of any kind attract wildlife. By reducing smells and access to food at the same time, you reduce the chances that bears will come calling.

PredatorGuard recommends:
  • Keeping trash and recyclables out of reach of bears by using bear-proof trash cans or securing lids with bungee cords. 
  • Putting trash containers inside garages and sheds is effective.
  • Ammonia is a good deterrent smell. Spray trash areas with ammonia or use a commercial product such as Expel Natural Animal Repellent.
  • When composting, make sure animals cannot access the compost pile. Enclosing the pile is the most effective way to keep bears and other wildlife away so that you will have compost when needed.
  • Keep barbecue grills clean. Again, smells of food attract bears and other animals. Bird feeders are also highly attractive to bears. During summertime birds can access plenty of food. If you feed birds in the winter do so away from the home and try to place the feeders at least 10 feet off the ground.

How to protect chickens and other small farm animals

As a reminder, it is always best to be proactive by not having anything easily available that attracts bears. Bears are omnivores, just like humans. They also look for easy food sources, again, just like humans. Hmmm, a pattern? Joking aside, anything you can do upfront to keep bears from seeing your property as a potential super-Bear Mart is a win for all.

Creating buffer zones

Bear is a site dedicated to the successful cohabitation of humans and bears. With more humans moving into bear country, it falls to the human to protect their farm or homestead. Remember, we became their neighbors. The first and most immediate way to bear proof if you have small livestock is to create boundaries. The best boundary is a buffer. Locate all small animal enclosures at least 100 meters from the edge of any wooded area. Among other things they do in the forest, bears live in the woods.

Keeping small livestock inside a barn or shed structure at night will also go a long way to preventing bears from habituating on your property for nocturnal food runs. Sorry humans you are on your own to deter your own nocturnal food runs.

Other barriers to consider

In the case of open pastures, you absolutely want to consider fencing ASAP. When making decisions around fencing, it is suggested that electric fencing works better than other fencing. Installing electric fences at the beginning is most cost-effective than retro-fitting a regular fence. However, any fence is better than no fence.

If you are installing non-electric fencing, the addition of noise-makers and flashing lights has been found to be effective. While having the extra benefit of turning your field into a disco, strobe and other flashing lights have the startle advantage. Startled bears normally stay away from things that startle them because they are the ones who usually startle others. Keep in mind, noise makers and strobing lights can also disturb the animals you are trying to protect, so a night shelter is probably wise.

There will be the need to change up the noise and light patterns over time because older, wiser bears become desensitized to the same noises and lights over time. Bears, like humans, figure out after a while that if there are no consequences to breaching the noise and light source boundaries, they are probably safe to pursue their prey.

Bear proofing you

If you love to hike in bear-populated areas, here are a few suggestions to make sure you arrive back safely: 

  • Follow and stay on well-travelled trails. Bears truly want to avoid people, so staying out of their habitat is best, all around.
  • Do not hike alone. Again, bears are not fond of people and less so of people in groups.
  • Wear a loud bell such as Coghlan’s Bear Bell (about $20 when we looked)
  • Use a Frontiersman Bear Horn (about $12 or so) that signals any bears up to ½ mile that you are coming through so they can seek shelter from you.
  • Carry (and learn to use) a Bear Deterrent Spray - we covering that in detail in this post, because there are several highly rated sprays. 
Bear avoidance is always the first rule!

Keeping bears away from your campsite

Campsites easily attract bears because humans carry food and other things like mint flavored toothpaste! According to REI, the outdoor supply co-op, the most important rule for keeping bears or any wildlife away from your camp is to keep anything with an odor away from where you sleep. Commercial bear canisters or bear bags stored properly and at least 100 feet from your tent is the first defense. Keep all food, toiletries and anything else with an odor in the bear container. Always check local camping regulations to make sure you are following their wildlife protection policies.

Cooking, waste and rest room procedures should also be done away from your tent or bedding and away from the storage area. Remember, we are in their home and need to be respectful visitors. Again, the key is avoidance.

Using Bear Deterrent Sprays

If you are in an area where regular bear sightings have happened, it would be wise to also have bear spray with you, such as Counter Assault Bear Spray, (again, we'll discuss this at length in another post). Familiarize yourself with how to use the spray before you go camping. You don't want to spray yourself instead of an encroaching bear. Effective at only between 12-30 feet, this should be a last resort protection measure.

Good news about black bears

Black bears are the smaller and more common of the two bears found in North America. They are also more easily deterred, even just by you. If they find out that your food source is well protected, they will most likely run back to the forest. Black bear attacks on humans are very rare. They really do not want to get to know you.

They run away from noises and people because they don’t know what to expect. Even though that chicken or kibble is right there for the taking, if that food becomes associated with noises or other consequences, black bears will usually turn back.

When money is no object for bear-proofing your home

As with any home improvement, there are different budgets for bear-proofing. An electric fence, while more expensive than a non-electric option, is a lower cost investment than some other deterrents on the market. Electric fences are also a great, humane investment for the long-term. In addition to keeping bears away, they keep your livestock in their pens. Ranging from $200 to $700 per 2-mile length, electric fencing gives a lot of bang for the buck.

If curb-appeal is important for your mountain retreat you might consider adding these beautiful bear proof windows to your building list. NanaWall Aluminum Framed Folding Glass Wall BEARricade provides strong security while limiting any obstructions to the view. Basic systems start at around $700.00 per linear foot.

For possibly the most bear-resistant beverage cooler, we would have to go with the Yeti Tundra 350. At 110 pounds, it is designed for commercial fishing boats where rugged wear and tear is expected. It does a very good job at repelling bears.

Weighing in at just about two pounds the ultra-light Bearikade by Wild Ideas is at the top price range for a bear canister at around $290. Carbon fiber construction is what keeps the weight down and the protection strong. It does require a tool to unlock.

For quite a bit less money, and yet allowed by the US National Park Service is the Backpacker's Cache - Bear Proof Container (about $70 or so) - we'll talk about this further in another article.

Lighting systems are great deterrents to human and animal predators. At around $25.00 per fixture, the cost can be minimal or high depending on your specific property. With new solar technology, most fixtures turn on and off automatically at sunset and sunrise. Wired lighting is usually more expensive because of labor.

Natural, but exotic, methods of bear proofing

Under the idea that you can find anything on the internet, bear proofing searches do not disappoint. From buying used forks at garage sales to use as ground stakes to spreading broken glass and sharp rocks around your perimeter, the ideas behind low-tech bear-proofing are ingenious.

Things to consider before implementing such plans are:

  • Can I remember where my boundary is?
  • Would my pets and animals be negatively affected by these deterrents? 

We have to keep in mind that cats and other small animals roam regularly, and we don't want to purposely injure an animal if there is a better option.

As for planting, it is recommended not to plant berry bushes or fruit trees within 200 yards of your house. Bears like sweets, plain and simple. Avoiding is key to bear-human cohabitation, so preventing temptation is the secret to successfully preventing bear attraction to your home.

It is best not to put a refrigerator or freezer in your garage if you live in bear country. The rubber seals around the doors of refrigerators and freezers hold on to odors. Odors attract bears.

To protect your car when left outside overnight, do not leave anything that has an attractive smell. Sunscreen, car deodorizers, food all smell good to us and to bears. Make a habit of taking everything into the house with you from the car. My next door neighbor woke up to an entirely torn truck bench seat about 2 summers ago when (guess what) he left some food scraps in the cab, AND left a window open just a little. It doesn't take much.

Bears can become curious about houses. They smell good. They have food. To avoid a bear home invasion, always secure windows and doors when away and at night. No need to encourage our nocturnal friends into bad habits. (Remember what happened to the bear that broke into my friend's home.)

Let’s recap

You have happily relocated to a wonderful homestead or get-a-way in a wild setting. You now have new neighbors that are lovely and exotic but can be predatory. Bears are on the top of the list of predatory wild animals. They are beautiful, majestic creatures that come with rules if we are to successfully cohabitate. Let’s review some of the key principles to living in bear country without becoming a bear’s meal:
  • The best deterrent is avoiding any interaction with a bear.
  • Bears like things that smell good to us and somethings that don’t smell good to us. Keep your items that smell good locked away for your use only. Trash and food scraps need to be secured at all times until proper disposal is arranged.
  • Keep livestock secure with fencing and bring them inside at night.
  • Install sound and light barriers that have random responses. Bears do not like to be startled and will leave if they are frightened.
  • When camping, keep food and sleeping separate from each other. Stay in well-travelled areas. Use bear canisters. Carry bear spray.
  • Low-tech options work just as well as high-end solutions, in most cases. Spray ammonia near trash and on property boundaries. Keep guard dogs. Make noise when out and about.

Remembering why you are here

You spent many years preparing for a move out to the country. There was a reason you wanted to move out of suburbia or the city. Enjoying your rustic, new lifestyle is well-earned, but it does come with necessary precautions. Keep in mind, you can adapt much easier than the wildlife. Most of us want to live at peace with our wildlife friends. Installing fences and lighting, remembering to be vigilant about trash and domestic animals, should ensure years of happy homesteading. Now, how about some lemonade on the deck?

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