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Camping in Bear Country

HELENA - The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest has finally thawed after a long winter, and we’re all ready to revel in the summer months ahead. However, grizzly and black bears are also taking advantage of the warm weather and will be catching up on feeding through late fall. While you’re out recreating in the forest this year, always be bear aware!

The Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF has a food storage ordinance requiring proper storage of all attractants. As more people are living and recreating in bear habitat there will be a higher rate of bear encounters. If bears get access to attractants and become food conditioned, they are often removed from the ecosystem due to human safety. The only way to prevent this is to keep all items with a smell away from bears.

To store attractants properly: 1) put in a hard-sided vehicles with windows and doors shut and locked; 2) store in a certified bear-resistant container; 3) hang in a tree 10 feet above the ground and four feet from supporting structures. Remember, regular coolers are not bear-resistant! Attractants include food, refuse, sealed cans and bottles, alcoholic beverages, hygiene products, pet food, fish parts, and chainsaw bar oil. Where possible, camp 100 yards from attractant storage and cooking areas.

Several campgrounds have bear resistant food storage lockers available for campers to use. Remember to remove your food and trash from these lockers when you are done camping. Officials also recommend changing your clothes before going to bed. Often smells from cooking food linger on the clothes worn while cooking and are considered an attractant to bears.

Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Offices have a popular bear-resistant container loaner program to help forest visitors comply with food storage regulations. Forest visitors can check out bear-resistant horse panniers, backpacking bags and bear-resistant coolers for planned outings.

When hiking in the woods, your best defense is bear spray. Here are some tips on how to effectively use your bear spray: draw it from an accessible location; remove the safety cap and press the trigger; spray at 30-60 feet away; aim slightly down and adjust for crosswinds; discharge the spray in front of the bear’s face; the spray will create a cloud in front of you; keep spraying until the bear changes direction. It is also a good idea to carry two canisters of bear spray if you are travelling alone. When you buy a can of bear spray, make sure is clearly marked for use against bears, not humans, and replace it when it has exceeded its expiration date.

Be prepared to play dead if attacked by a bear or to fight back in a predatory encounter (when a bear is following you or approaching unsurprised and unprovoked) with either bear species. Bear spray has proven to be extremely effective at preventing injury in 98% of encounters. Statistics show that people who use firearms against bears show the same rates of injury or death as if they had not used their gun at all. Remember that you can expect to see black bears and grizzly bears anywhere on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

For information about local regulations or about bears, go to the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest website at, or stop by a local Forest Service office.

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