Hey Ranger! Don't Feed the Bears

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August 8, 2008

NPS Photo by Melinda WebsterIf you were to compile a list of the terms most often associated with signs and regulations in parks, two would probably come to mind: “Keep off the Grass” and “Don’t Feed the Bears.”

The implications of ignoring the one about bears are obviously a lot more serious! I’ll share an amusing story in this post, but it is important to follow good safety guidelines when it comes to bears. For some useful tips about bear safety, click here.

Almost anyone who has camped for very long has heard or experienced “bear stories.” Some have become legends of sorts, and often serve as good examples of what not to do in the Great Outdoors. Whether they are true or simply woodsy versions of urban legends is sometimes hard to determine.

Bryan Kramer, a reader of this blog from Florida, sent an e-mail with the background of one of those legendary tales.

Bryan was camping with a friend in the Lower Pines Campground in Yosemite in the 1970’s. About 3 am they were awakened by “pots banging and lots of yelling. Bear in the campground I think.”

The pair climbed out of their tent and noticed a lot of commotion about 3 or 4 campsites away. They headed down to see what was going on and found that the bear was long gone.

As Bryan tells the story, “It turns out that this woman and her boy friend had arrived late. They were new to camping and poorly prepared. They were sleeping on the ground in sleeping bags, and before going to sleep the woman had slathered apricot face cream all over her face.”

“She awoke to find a medium-sized black bear licking the cream off her face. Loud screaming ensues and the bear runs off. When we got there the woman was still hysterical. She dragged her friend to the car and they drove off, leaving behind the little camping gear they had.”

Alas, another promising camping career, nipped in the bud!

This tale does confirm the wisdom of following advice about eliminating food odors and similar attractants around your sleeping area in camp.

Bryan notes that the he took his family to Yosemite a few years ago-thirty years after this incident. During a campfire program, a ranger asked if anyone had any bear stories, and Bryan told the story of the Great Apricot Face Cream Caper. The ranger said they still talked about it, but thought it was just a park legend.

And now… you know the rest of the story. Thanks, Bryan!

What about you? Have you witnessed any “sure wish we hadn’t done that” bear stories?

Jim Burnett


Life – it’s an adventure…. Find something to smile about today!

Jim’s book, Hey Ranger! True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from America’s National Parks, is available from Trailer Life Directory.com

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  5. Ron and Gary –

    Thanks for some great, “first-hand” experience stories. I doubt many of us can match Ron’s experience with bears, after his work as a game warden in Alaska.

  6. Gary Hauck

    When I was a kid about 10 years old and living in Pittsburgh, my aunt had a cabin in north central PA. We went twice a month and stayed there. There were apple trees and many kind of berry plants. This area used to be farms. We were picking blackberrys one day when this man came over and said there was a bear on the hillside about 75 yards off watching you pick berrys. well the berry picking ended quickly. But the moral of the story is when in bear country be very alert. During the course of my young life in PA there were many bear encounters but nothing serious, one of the funny times was when my mother threw out the pan of dish water in ones face, it was so dark you could not see very good and a black bear does not stand out well, the bear grunted and my mother screamed and ran back inside the cabin.

  7. As a former game warden in Alaska, I dealt with a lot of bears and bear stories over the years. One of the absolute best bear stories, though, came in the early 1980s near Fairbanks.

    It seems a young couple from somewhere in the Lower 48 came to visit her brother, who was stationed with the Army at Fort Wainwright near FAirbanks. Preparing for their trip to Alaska they had bought a small back-packing tent and other gear. The brother and his wife from Fort Wainwright were then relatively infamous in the area for the huge 12-foot-wide, 24-foot-long outfitters tent they used on their camping trips, and when they went for a weekend outing on the Chena River northwest of town, they offered the pair from down south the use of one of the “rooms” in their massive tent.

    Politely refusing, the couple insisted on using the small tent they had bought just for their trip and presently everybody was sleeping soundly.

    Sometime in the middle of the night along comes a young black bear, probably a two-year-old that had been chased out on its own by its mother in the spring and was just learning how to survive by itself.

    At any rate, the young woman in the small tent was sleeping on her stomach and in the small tent the bulge in her sleeping back over her fanny was pressing against the top of the tiny tent. As she breathed in an out, the tent moved ever so slightly in response.

    Putting the tracks together later, it appeared that the young bear had been attracted by the movement, sat watching it for awhile, then leaned forward placing one paw in the small of the woman’s back and the other on the back of her thighs and bit her on the butt. No serious damage was done as the thickness of the sleeping back reduced the assault to little more than a soft pinch.

    As you might expect, however, some screaming ensued, which confused the poor bear even more. It then scampered to the front of the tent where the only thing closed was the mosquito netting and sat down to watch. Thus we had a standoff. Two screaming people in the tent watching the bear through the screen while the bear just sat there apparently trying to figure out what was going on inside the tent.

    Alls well that ends well and the bear abruptly scampered off when the brother came out of the big tent to see what was happening. The brother was still laughing when I got there several hours later.

  8. Thanks for sharing your stories. Those are good reminders that bears are a quick study when it comes to the ways we humans store (and try to “secure”) food.

  9. ANOTHER BEAR STORY: Many years ago, before we discovered RVing, one evening, my husband and I were sitting by our campfire in an overflow lot in Yellowstone. Since it was still warm, my husband took off his jacket and put it on the bush behind him. When it turned cooler he turned to get his jacket and he startled an old Cinnamon bear, who had been behind the bush . I don’t know who jumped higher …my husband or the bear! The bear ran off in sheer terror, I think. About half an hour later there was quite a stir in the next tent space and we went to see what was happening. The campers there were laughing their heads off as that old Cinnamon was trying to roll a large cooler up the hill behind them. That is, until the realized the cooler was theirs. Then it wasn’t so funny. They turned their car headlights on the bear, yelled and threw rocks at it. It took off, leaving a badly mauled cooler, but better the cooler than the campers!

  10. Richard Mauldin

    Got to meet one in the GSMNP in 1994 at Balsam Mtn CG just off BRP. We had an ISUZU Trooper with sliding rear passenger windows. Had all food in cooler double bagged in zip lock baggies. We heeded Ranger warnings about cleaning campsite of food residue and getting food in cars overnight. Had seen bears 5 our of 6 days in campground.

    About 3 AM heard noise, got out of tent to look around and saw a cooler lying in road…it was ours. Bear had popped sliding window with claws like you open a candy box. Ranger said bears knew box shaped cars, trailers etc meant food so they might go in without a scent.

    Moved cooler in all groceries into restrooms (door opened outward) and parked Trooper with busted window next to a tree. Bear came back about 5 AM and tried to get in the back door while Ranger and I watched. He stood close to 6 ft tall. We banged cans and shovels, yelled, threw things. Bear looks at us and casually dropped down and walked off.