Bear Safety

Bears are generally shy creatures and don't want to come face-to-face with you any more than you want to meet up with them. However, there are some precautions you can take to avoid encounters with black bears if you camp and hike in bear country. You are responsible for doing all you can to prevent conflicts with bears. If a bear gets food from you, it's likely to behave more aggressively toward the next people it meets. Don't reward a bear for associating with people!

Black bears live on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests. They may be black, brown or cinnamon in color. It's likely you may encounter a bear during your visit to the Forests. "If you see a bear, give it plenty of room. Do not make fast moves and noises that will startle it. Slowly back off and retreat in the direction you came from," says Tom Holland, Forest Service Wildlife Biologist.

"Bears use all their senses to try to determine what you are. Their eyesight is good and their sense of smell is acute. If a bear stands upright or moves closer, it may be trying to detect smells in the air. This is not a sign of aggression. Once it identifies you, it will probably leave the area."

"In the unlikely event that a bear charges you, hold your ground and try to look larger than you are. It's not a good idea to climb a tree. Black bears will probably follow you up the tree," says Holland.

KEEP YOUR CAMP CLEAN - Odors attract bears! Store your food and garbage properly at all times. Keep your tent and sleeping bag free of all food smells. Store the clothes you wore while cooking or eating with your food. Burn all grease off grills and camp stoves. Wipe table and cleanup eating area thoroughly.

STORE YOUR FOOD SAFELY - Store all your food, coolers, and the clothes worn while you were eating in your car trunk or suspended from a tree - at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet out from the tree trunk. Don't underestimate the ingenuity of a bear!

DISPOSE OF GARBAGE PROPERLY- Put it in bear-proof garbage cans where available or secure it with your food and then pack it out. Don't burn or bury garbage. Bears will dig it up.

SLEEP WELL AWAY FROM FOOD AREAS - Move some distance away from your cooking area or food storage site. (if you have children, do not to let them bring food in the tent with them)

STORE ANY TOILETRIES SAFELY - Store them with your food. Like other scents, the smell of toiletries may attract bears. Abstain from sexual activity. Practice good personal hygiene.


NEVER TRY TO ENTICE A BEAR WITH FOOD. It's dangerous and against the law.

NEVER APPROACH A BEAR OF ANY SIZE. That includes cubs; their protective and powerful mothers are usually not far away. If a cub is nearby, try to move away from it. Be alert--other cubs may be in the area.

There are no definite rules about what to do if you meet a bear. In almost all cases, the bear will detect you first and will leave the area. Bear attacks are rare compared to the number of close encounters. However, if you do meet a bear before it has had time to leave an area, here are some suggestions. REMEMBER: Every situation is different with respect to the bear, the terrain, the people and their activity.

STAY CALM - If you see a bear and it hasn't seen you, calmly leave the area. A you move away, talk aloud to let the bear discover your presence. Don't turn around and try to run from it. This will excite the bear. It can easily outrun you.

Back away slowly while facing the bear. Avoid direct eye contact as bears may perceive this as a threat. Give the bear plenty of room to escape. Wild bears rarely attack people unless they feel threatened or provoked.

If on a trail, step off the trail on the downhill side and slowly leave the area. Don't run or make any sudden movements. Running is likely to prompt the bear to give chase and you can't outrun a bear.

If a bear visits your campsite, try to scare it away by making noise. If this doesn't work, leave immediately.

SPEAK SOFTLY - This may reassure the bear that no harm is meant to it. Try not to show fear.

Bears use all their senses to try to identify what you are. REMEMBER: Their eyesight is good and their sense of smell is acute. If a bear stands upright or moves closer, it may be trying to detect smells in the air. This isn't a sign of aggression. Once it identifies you, it may leave the area or try to intimidate you by charging to within a few feet before it withdraws.

FIGHT BACK - In the worst-case scenario that a bear should attack, try to distract it by dropping a back pack or item of clothing. If that doesn't work, fight back vigorously. Black bears have been driven away when people have fought back with rocks, sticks, binoculars and even their bare hands.

If you are caught by a bear, try playing dead, lying on your stomach or side with your legs drawn up to your chest. Clasp your hands over the back of your neck. Bears have passed by people in this position without harming it.


Black bear tracks are very distinctive - the hind footprint resembles that of a human. All bears have five toes, with the front foot short and about four to five inches wide. The hind foot is long and narrow, measuring about seven inches. Claw marks may or may not be visible.

Bears use trails just as people do since it's easier to travel on a trail than through underbrush. Being aware of tracks, droppings and other bear signs (claw marks on trees, rotten logs ripped apart and hair on tree bark from rubbing), will allow you to determine the presence of bears.

It's easy to recognize a black bear's sizable droppings of plant leaves, partly digested berries, seeds or animal hair.

Black bears are intelligent and curious. They can see colors, form and movement. Although their vision on good, they generally rely on their acute sense of smell and hearing to locate food and warn them of danger.

Adult black bears make a variety of sounds. However, the most commonly heard sounds are woofing and jaw-popping. The young ones whimper and bawl.