"Bears and Cougars and Elks... oh my!" Personal Page by Camping_Girl

Fun to look at..... from a distance!

There are a lot of things that you need to be aware of when you are sleeping out in bear country. Bear country can be virtually anywhere in western Alberta, but especially in the foothills and mountains. All of British Columbia should be considered bear country. I'll never forget our surprise when we spent a week camping at Thunder Lake, AB, which is in the flat prairie west of Edmonton, and the morning we were packing up a black bear ambled across the parking lot right past our campsite.,... we hadn't been expecting to see a bear there! The ranger said they generally see one a year come through. Always report any bear sightings within the campground to the rangers, as they need to keep track of the bears and whether or not they are being a nuisance.

I am going to have to go through my old photos to find some good wildlife shots that I can scan & save on this page......

Keep a clean camp

Bears have an incredible sense of smell. They will smell food from a mile away. Dog food has an especially enticing smell to them.

Never leave food or coolers or pet food bowls outside overnight. Take everything into your rv. If you're tenting, put it into your vehicle. If you have hiked into your campsite, there should be a pole to hang your food from. If there isn't, make sure you suspend your food from a tree, at least 100 yards from where you are sleeping. It should be at least 20 feet up so that the bears can't reach it. Your camp stove should also be packed up at night.

Never throw food or garbage into the fire to burn. You may think that it has all burned up, scent and all, but a bear would tell you a different story, if he could talk.

Dishwater should be disposed of downstream from your camp.

Pack up your garbage at least once a day and dispose of it properly in the bear-proof garbage bins. If there are no garbage bins provided, you need to handle your garbage the same as your food, locking it up or suspending it at night and then you have to pack it out with you when you leave. =:>)

If tenting, never sleep in the same clothes you have worn during the day. Those clothes will have food scents on them and may attract bears.

Keep your camp clean. Pick up all food and garbage that gets dropped around the campsite.

Toiletries, such as deodorant, perfume, lotion, suntan lotion, etc is all highly scented and is an attractant to bears as well. It should be in the same spot as your food. Gum and candy are often overlooked, but they still have a great smell too, especially the fruit flavors.

And please, don't leave your food in your tent if you leave for the day! You may come back to find your tent destroyed by an eager animal, hungry for a treat! When you leave for the day, your food should be in your rv or car, same as when you go to sleep at night.

Remember: feeding any wildlife (even those cutesy little deers) conditions them to trust humans. Once an animal loses its fear of humans, it becomes a problem animal and it is only a matter of time before it has to be destroyed. Don't help contribute to this problem!

When you're out and about.....

Keep pets on a leash at all times. Walk them in open areas and only during the day. Always be on the lookout for wildlife, and supervise children at all times.

When driving, keep a watchful eye for wildlife. Slow down. When wildlife gets hit by cars, generally they are either killed by the impact or have to be put down because of it. If you meet another vehicle and it flashes its headlights, this is the universal signal for danger ahead. In the parks this generally means there is an animal (or animals) on the road. Dusk and dawn are the most dangerous times for encounters on the roads. Consider this: a female grizzly will on average produce only two cubs in her lifetime. For every female that is killed, the population is threatened.

Keep a safe distance between yourself and any wildlife. The recommended distance from elk, deer, sheep, goats and moose is 30 metres, or 3 bus lengths. The recommended distance from bear, cougars, and wolves is 100 metres, or 10 bus lengths. Do not make the mistake of thinking that because ungulates (elk, deer, etc) are not predatory that they won't hurt you. Elk in particular are very dangerous if you get too close. They WILL charge you. Females are most aggressive during calving season (May & June), while males are most aggressive during the rut (September/October). Check out this website to view a famous picture which exemplifies this fact: (scroll about halfway down the page to see the elk photo)


Any animal will attack if it feels threatened, or if it thinks that its offspring are at threat. Never get between a momma and her baby. Even a deer may attack in this situation.

What to do if you encounter a dangerous animal?

If you're driving, slow down and consider not stopping at all. I know how tempting this can be, especially if it is your first sighting. If you just have to stop, pull well off to the side and stay in your vehicle.

If you are on foot, there are several things to consider:

If you encounter a cougar, wolf or coyote, send a clear message that you are not prey. They like easy targets, so pick up small children. Instruct older children to back up and stand behind you. Maintain eye contact with the animal at all times. Yell and stomp your feet, extend your arms out to the sides to make yourself appear larger. If you have pepper spray, ready yourself to use it. Fight aggressively (pepper spray in face, punch, kick, yell) if you are attacked. DO NOT crouch down, play dead, run away or turn your back on the animal. Dogs tend to look appetizing to predators, so always keep them on a leash and try not to take them hiking with you if at all possible. Don't leave your pets outside at night.

If you encounter a bear, stay calm. Bears will try not to attack unless they absolutely have to. They only have six months to eat enough nuts and berries to store enough fat to enable them to survive the winter. They don't want to waste their precious energy on you if they can avoid it. If the bear stands up and sniffs towards you, he is trying to identify you. Stay in one spot and talk calmly so he knows you are a human. If you are wearing a backpack, don't take it off. It may offer some protection if the bear attacks. Bears will occasionaly bluff charge, which is where they run towards you and then turn away at the last second. As impossible as this sounds, try to stay calm. A scream or sudden movement could threaten the animal and lead to an attack.

If the bear just stands there watching you, pick up small children. Make sure the bear has a clear escape route, so he doesn't feel threatened. Talk loudly and stomp your feet. Tell him to hit the road. lol. Wait for him to leave. If he doesn't, back away slowly. Never, EVER run. A bear can run faster than a race horse. Don't run.

If a bear attacks, use your pepper spray. Try to get it right in the nose or eyes. If it keeps attacking, play dead, to let him know you're not a threat. Lie on your stomach with legs apart, cover the back of your head and neck with your hands. An attack is generally defensive and will end in less than 2 minutes. (They will be the LONGEST 2 minutes of your life, though!)

If a bear stalks you and then attacks, or attacks at night while you are sleeping, it is actually after you, specifically. This sort of predatory attack is extremely rare, so don't swear off the hiking trails! Try to escape. If you can't, fight back with everything you've got. Let the bear know you are not an easy target.

How to minimize your risk of an encounter

Hike in a group, preferably six or more people. On some higher risk trails in the national parks this is a requirement because of its effectiveness in warding off a potential encounter.

As you walk along, make lots of noise. Talk loudy, clap every so often or sing a song. This announces your presence in advance, so you won't startle an animal. Bear bells are not recommended. Not many people know this, but the bell actually mimics the mating call of a cougar, so you may be scaring away bears and calling in cougars at the same time!

Stay on the established trails, as bears already equate these trails with humans. Don't hike after dusk - this is the most active time of day for wildlife.

Practice safe handling of food and garbage (never throw garbage along the trail, pack it out with you). Leave the perfume, scented lotions etc in your car. You're just asking for problems.

Know how to recognize the signs of wildlife: look for fresh droppings, fresh tracks, signs of digging on fallen trees. If you come across a large dead animal, leave the area immediately. This is a huge attractant for bears and predators.

Is it a grizzly or a black bear?

There are several subtle differences between grizzlies and black bears. Size and colour are not among them. Most black bears are actually brown. Go figure.

The most discernable difference between the two is that a grizzly has a very visible hump on its back between the front shoulders. A black bear does not.

The other obvious difference is with their tracks. A black bear has shorter claws than a grizzly. When you see a print in the mud, you will see the paw print and then above the paw print you should be able to see the toes and "dots" where the claws have dug into the ground.

With a black bear, the toes are very close to the paw and the claw marks will be very close to the toe print, less than half an inch above the toes. Often you will see a longer mark of almost the whole claw, like a line, rather than just a dot.

With a grizzly, the toes are further from the paw and the claw marks will be further away from the toe print, about an inch to an inch and a half above the toes. The claw marks will generally just be a dot from where the end of the claw has touched the ground.

For more information....

Here is a link to a website with information on the differences between black and grizzly bears. It shows a picture of each paw print, with the easily-identifiable differences between the two:


This website gives a great explanation of the various differences between grizzlies and black bears:


  • Page Updated Feb 24, 2013
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