Bear Repellent Ideas & Safety Tips

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If you live in bear country, you know that despite their cuddly, cute appearance, bears are several hundred pounds of muscle with long, sharp claws, a mouthful of powerful teeth and the ability to tear the door right off your car if they smell a candy bar inside.

There are three types of bears found in North America. The smallest and most common is the American black bear (Ursus americanus), which despite the name, is not always black, but can also be dark brown, reddish brown or even a light, blonde brown. Once found throughout all forested regions of North America, the black bear is now restricted mostly to forest areas with little human population. However, the destruction of the bear’s habitat, combined with the spread of humans into areas once home only to bears, has caused an increase in human/bear confrontations.

Black bears tend to be shy, and fatal attacks on humans are rare. Left to its own devices, a black bear is likely to disappear long before you spot it, or run if it feels stressed by your presence. Loud sounds such as banging pots and pans, air horns or even shouting are likely to send the bear on its way.

The second specie of bear found in North America is the grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis). More properly called the brown bear, grizzlies are found in Alaska and the northernmost portion of the continental US up into Canada. Grizzly bears are far more dangerous than black bears, and likelier to attack a human, particularly if the bear is a mother with nearby cubs.

The third, and largest, specie of bear found in North America is the polar bear (Ursus maritimus), which inhabits the Arctic regions of Alaska and Canada.

bear repellent ideas

Don’t Feed the Bears!

Bears are smart, curious, and hungry. This can be their downfall. There is a saying in bear country, “A fed bear is a dead bear.” This means that once bears become accustomed to human food, they will continue to return to campgrounds or homes where they can obtain it, causing them to be termed “nuisance bears” and often shot as a menace to humans. Bears have an astonishingly good sense of smell; while bloodhounds have a sense of smell 300 times better than a human, a bear’s sense of smell is 7 times better than a bloodhound’s. This means bears can sniff out potential food sources from miles away, and a bear’s definition of “food” is quite broad.

If you live in a forested area frequented by bears, you need to take steps to keep any potential food source out of their reach.

  • Don’t feed pets outside your home, and don’t leave pet food on the porch or in the yard. Keep pets in the house at night. Rabbits or guinea pigs should not be kept in outdoor hutches.
  • Trash is extremely interesting to bears, filled with good smells and tasty treats. Garbage should be in a bear-proof trash container, or kept in the locked garage and only put out on the curb right before pickup. Wash your trash containers out with a hose frequently, and use ammonia to deodorize. Trash should be double-bagged inside the container.
  • Only leave bird feeders up during the winter months when bears are sleeping in their dens. Bears are also attracted to hummingbird feeders, so if you want to enjoy the birds, plant flowers that attract them and forgo the feeder.
  • Clean barbecue grills thoroughly after use. If you have a portable grill, store it in a locked shed or garage after cleaning.
  • If you have several fruit trees, consider electric fencing to protect them. Pick up fallen fruit from under the trees.
  • Install electric fencing around a vegetable garden, especially if you spread compost, organic fertilizer or chicken manure on it.
  • Compost containers should be bear proof. Use electric fencing around open compost piles, and don’t put particularly pungent scraps in your pile.
  • Don’t leave your garage door open or unlocked when not in use. Take particular care if you store food, fertilizer, garden soil or birdseed in the garage.
  • If a bear looks into your house, spots what looks like food and is hungry enough, the bear will have little problem in pulling open an unlocked window. Don’t leave food, plants or cans where they can be seen through a window. Keep windows and doors in your home closed and locked when leaving the house, and pull down kitchen shades.
  • If your car cannot be parked inside the garage, clean it out each evening, and always roll up the windows completely and lock the doors. Bears can smell one French fry or forgotten candy bar wrapper, so check the floor of your car, especially if you have children.

Don’t Approach a Bear!

It should go without saying, never approach a bear or encourage it to come near you. Though most black bears are cautious and unwilling to approach a human, if the bear feels threatened, it may possibly attack.

  • If you encounter a bear in your yard or near your home, you can likely scare it away by making loud sounds, clapping your hands, shouting or banging items together. Never block a bear’s escape route, or make it feel trapped in anyway.
  • In the very unlikely event a bear enters your home, do not get close or block its escape route. Open any doors you can, turn on the television or radio, and make loud sounds. The bear will likely leave the same way he came in.
  • Never run from a bear. Not only does this make you appear to be prey, a bear can easily run you. Move slowly without turning your back on the bear, and don’t lower your head or eyes. Keep upright, with your arms outspread so you look as big as possible.

Bears are impressive, interesting and intelligent animals, and for the most part, they are not interested in conflict with humans. If you live in an area with a bear population, keep your home protected, and maintain a healthy respect for these forest dwellers.

Last Updated: June 14, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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