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Idaho Fish and Game


How to camp safely in bear country and avoid unwanted encounters


Bears and campers are a bad mix that usually leads to a dead bear

Summer is upon us, leading many to escape to the mountains to relax and camp. Before you head to the hills, Fish and Game wildlife biologists remind everyone to be mindful of wildlife, especially bears, when camping over the Fourth of July holiday and beyond. 

Food storage when camping is especially important, as evidenced by a recent report in the Magic Valley of a black bear getting into a tent where food was being stored. Bears are quick learners and have an excellent sense of smell. When food is improperly stored, it can attract bears that can easily get to the food. When this happens, it never turns out favorably for the bear.

Unfortunately, a bear conditioned to food accidentally supplied by people leaves Fish and Game officials wth no other choice but put the bear down to ensure public safety. 

To minimize chances of a bear visiting your campsite and finding food, campers need to keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Never store any food or scented products in your tent.
  • Store all food, camp garbage and even toothpaste, soap, lotions and bug spray in your vehicle or camper. Never leave food outside on your picnic table, or even in an unattended or improperly stored cooler.
  • A clean camp is very important to not attract bears. Clean all dishes and cooking utensils away from your tent and campsite after each meal.
  • If food storage in a vehicle is not possible, hang your food in a tree 10 to 15 feet off the ground, at least 100 yards from your campsite. Make sure that the bag is at least 4 feet from the tree trunk. Ideally, campers are encouraged to have a bear-resistant food canister to store their camp groceries.
  • Remember that pet food can also attract bears to your campsite. Be sure and secure any pet food after feeding your pet.
  • Do not bury food scraps or pour cooking grease on the ground, or in your fire pit.

Black bears are typically shy and unaggressive, but the possibility of a bear near your campsite may increase if a bear loses its fear of humans because it has learned to associate food with campsites.

If a bear visits your campsite, make as much noise as possible such as yelling, waving your arms, or banging on pots and pans to quickly scare the bear away. Be sure to give the bear room to easily escape the area.

Learn more about bear behavior and how to help prevent unwanted bear encounters around your home, campsite and when recreating outdoors.