Camping in Bear Country
"Take only pictures, leave only footprints."
Enjoy the outdoors in bear country. Bears typically want nothing to do with people, and will often run or hide when they sense your approach. However, there some important things you can do to help avoid conflicts with bears.
Bears are not cuddly teddies or ferocious killers; they are wild animals that deserve respect. Do not assume that a bear is friendly just because he is hanging around or doesn't run away when it sees you - there are NO "tame" wild bears, and all wild animals deserve respect and space.
Know your place
Are you camping in bear country? Check our map for a general idea of where it is common to see bears, but remember, bears can be found anywhere in Florida. Talk with a local park ranger, concessioner, or facility manager and see if bears have been active recently. Regardless of where you camp, its best to follow the steps below and assume bears could be in the area.
Make some noise
Wild black bears are typically shy and avoid people, but it is still best to be safe and make noise while walking in bear country to scare off any bears that might be in the area, especially if you see fresh bear sign like footprints or scat. While you could encounter a bear at anytime of the day, they are most active at dawn and dusk.
What's that smell?
When camping, the easiest way to prevent attracting a bear is to eliminate or secure ANYTHING that has a scent, including food, toothpaste, deodorant, bug repellent, suntan lotion, and other items with strong scents. Remember, bears are attracted to anything that smells - regardless of if you think it smells good or is food - even your trash smells like food to bears! Bag your food in airtight, odor containing bags, store the food in a sack or other container, and hang this at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet from the tree or pole away from your campsite. Burn off any food residue on your outdoor grills.
Keep it separated
Where you cook and eat, where you sleep, and where you store you food and other scented items should be separated from each other. Declare your tent a food-free zone. There are few things more startling than being woken up in the middle of the night by a bear licking the remnants of chocolate bar off your face. A vast majority of cases where black bears have entered tents involved food and scented toiletries. Keep them as far from your tent as possible, and store your dirty clothes or clothes you have cooked in with the food or trash- not in your tent
Recreational Vehicles and Cabins
Close and lock all accessible windows and doors at night and close any curtains that might provide a bear's eye view of your food stores. Don't let your car, camper, RV or cabin become a food source for bears. Many campground bears have learned to associate coolers with food, so hide them out of sight in your trunk, in a wildlife resistant food locker, or under a blanket in the cabin. Before you lock up, clean out your car every night and remember to check under the seat for leftovers and food packaging. Burn off food residue on your outdoor grills, and use a heavy duty ammonia-based cleaner to clean your RV or camper's exhaust vent.
Hunting & Fishing in Bear Country
Be alert. Since you can't make noise, try to stop frequently, look around, and be on the lookout for fresh bear sign to try and prevent startling a bear.
Deer Feeders. Deer feeders are wildlife feeders, and bears will be attracted to them, especially if you are using corn. Switch feed types from corn to soybeans, which are less preferred by bears. We have provided a list of frequency of bear use of common deer food items. Set up your feeder so it is out of reach from bears. Hang the feeder at least 8 ft high and 4 ft from the attachment point. You can also set up a solar powered electric fence around the feeder. Deer will be able to jump the fence, bears cannot. Planting food plots is the best way to attract deer while reducing the chances of attracting bears.
Dogs and bears. If you hunt with dogs in bear country, be aware that your dogs could lead you to - or bring back- a bear. If your dog(s) and a bear fight, the best thing you can do for your dog is to stay out of it. If you get involved, your dog can't focus on trying to protect itself because it will try to protect you instead. You put your dog at more of a disadvantage when you get involved because you distract its attention. It may seem hard to not do something, but remember the best thing you can do is stay calm and stay out of it, your dog has a better chance of not getting hurt if you do. Believe it or not, most dog and bear tangles end with neither animal getting hurt, and the bear looking to retreat as soon as it can.
Hogs and Bears. Hog hunters must be certain of their targets before pulling the trigger, bears and hogs can look very similar in the woods.
Avoid gut piles or other common dumpsites if you can, and never leave yours on a trail or road.
Keep your fresh catch secure. If you have to leave your fish or deer carcass for more than a few minutes, stash it at least 25 to 50 feet from your gut pile. Either hang it at least 8 ft high and 4 feet from the attachment points, or cover it with tree limbs or brush. When you come back, make plenty of noise. If a bear has beaten you to your kill, you can try to scare it off from a distance with noise but be prepared because a bear may be willing to defend its new found food.
Be ready to spray. If you hunt in bear country, consider carrying bear pepper spray. There are several manufacturers of bear deterrent spray- just make sure whatever you buy specifies that it is for use on bears and isn't a general pepper spray (e.g., www.counterassault.com).
WARNING: Be aware of wind direction before spraying or you may incapacitate yourself instead of the bear.
If you encounter a bear. If you see a bear from a distance, enjoy the experience, but do not move toward the bear. If you are close, do not make any sudden or abrupt movements. Back way slowly and be sure the bear has an obvious escape route.
If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice.
- Do not turn your back, play dead, climb a tree or run. Back away slowly into the house or secure area.
- Avoid direct eye contact. Bears and many other animals may view this as aggressive behavior.
- Report any bear that is threatening the safety of humans, pets or livestock, or causing property damage to the FWC office nearest you.
If the bear paws the ground, huffs and puffs, clacks and snorts, or runs directly at you, they are trying to scare you off. If you stand your ground, the bear will likely stop and move away.
No matter what happens, do not run away. Continue slowly backing away, talking and holding up your arms. The bear may charge or vocalize several times until he is comfortable turning his back on you and leaving.
While we have not had a predatory attack on a person by a bear in Florida, people have been bitten and scratched by bears. If a black bear attacks you: Fight back aggressively. People in other states have successfully fended off black bear attacks using rocks, sticks, or even their bare hands!
Bears are wild animals and must be respected. Even though they are typically quiet and shy animals, they have the potential to seriously harm or kill a person. Do not take unnecessary risks!