By Bob Difley

bear-in-campgroundThere was another bear attack (this time a grizzly) this week on campers. Kevin Kammer of Grand Rapids, Michigan was dragged from his tent in Soda Butte campground in the Gallatin National Forest in northeastern Yellowstone National Park near Cooke City, Montana. Kammer was dragged for twenty-five feet where he was killed. Fish and Wildlife personnel blamed the attack on a sow and her three yearling cubs. At least one of the bears fed on the man.

The bears were also believed to have attacked another man who started punching the bear as it was biting him on the leg and it ran off.  The bears attacked another woman and her husband who were tent camping nearby.  The woman received bites and a broken arm.  The woman said she had bear spray in her tent but couldn’t get to it when the bear attacked. She played dead and the bear wandered off. The sow and all three cubs have been captured and DNA tests determined that the sow was the attacker. She was destroyed and her cubs will be sent to a zoo.

This is at least the second incidence in the last few weeks of a person who had bear spray being attacked by a bear but did not have it handy enough to use it. The other was a trio of bicyclists in Alaska. The bear spray was in a backpack when the bear attacked. If you don’t have bear spray and are camping or boondocking in bear country, get some–and a holster or clip so you can attach it  to your belt to keep it handy. It  works!

Another disturbing aspect of this latest attack was that the campers seemed to have done everything right and had done nothing to provoke, frighten, or surprise the bears. (The Alaska attack came when the leading bicyclist rounded a bend on the trail and surprised a sow and cub.)

However, there are few incidences of bears invading campgrounds and attacking people, and no records (that I know of) of bears attacking people in RVs, though some bears have  rocked or banged on RVs. Black bears are more common than grizzlies, usually more docile and easier to frighten away than the more aggressive grizzlies.  And even though bear attacks are rare, and shouldn’t deter RVers from camping in bear country, a few bear country tips to follow would be a wise plan:

  • Have bear spray (available from my Amazon store) and keep it handy at all times.
  • Leave no food or traces of  food or  smelly articles (toothpaste, sunblock, etc.) outside in your campsite.
  • Keep ice chests inside your rig.
  • When hiking, make enough noise to let dangerous wildlife know you are there and can get out of your way.
  • Don’t leave pets tied outside your rig when you are not around.
  • Avoid camping near (or report to a ranger) any campers that keep a campsite likely to attract bears.
  • Throwing objects, yelling, and banging pots and pans will likely frighten any bears away.
  • Make every effort to avoid a sow and cubs.
  • Report bear sightings to rangers or camp hosts.

Visit my Healthy RV Lifestyle website for RVing tips, and health & fitness and RV destination articles. Also check out my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, and 111 Ways  to get the Biggest Bang for your RVLifestyle Buck.

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  338. Hockeyguy

    I live in Ontario, and under no circumstance are guns allowed in the parks or even in the country unless you are on a sancitioned hunt. There are for all intents and purposes no hunts allowed in the Provincial Parks or National Parks.
    Bears are increasing in numbers in Ontario and contact with them also. The spring hunt was cancelled some years back and the consequence is now that there are more bears virtually everywhere including in the edges of the largest cities on some rare occassions.
    I tell my family what to do but they have not yet had any experiences with bears so they tend to ignore what I tell them . I am hoping that they only have a sighting and a scare that will help with them cleaning up after eating and not leaving food outside.
    I have had a couple of encounters with bears a couple of times but none that resulted in any problems other than a torn tent and some lost food.

  339. Gerald Strickland

    I strongly disagree with one of Bob’s suggestions: “Throwing objects, yelling, and banging pots and pans will likely frighten any bears away.”

    There are black bears and brown (grizzly) bears. The two bears are very different in most respects. Some brown bears are predators and a few blacks are predators and those bears will stalk a human (the brown is more dangerous but you cannot rely on color alone for I.D). Even non-predator bears can be very dangerous if you surprise them, particularly a brown sow with cubs; and any bears that have become accustomed to humans and associate them with a free lunch (form trash or improperly stored food) is dangerous.

    I have backpacked and hiked all over the U.S., including Alaska, and have led groups on extended back-country trips and I cannot over emphasize the importance of educating yourself on the habits and behavior of the bears. It will keep you a lot safer than bear spray and shot guns. Plus, it makes interesting reading when the weather is not good for hiking.

  340. We enjoy hiking in National Forest and National Parks where there are bears present. It is always a concern but doen’t prevent us from hiking. It is up to each of us who enjoy walking in the Forest to be aware of the precautions necessay to prevent bear attacks. Unfortunately, there are times when wild animals seem to attack for no apparent reason.

  341. Geoffrey Pruett

    This is a perfect storm year, spring weather has delayed and limited the normal food supply in many areas and only humans still go into the woods by calendar. The areas we go to escape are supermarkets for wildlife and people wrapped in canvas are just one more display item. The restrictions on weapons insure that bad habits among meat eaters will be reinforced, at least on a temporary level. When you leave the 911 coverage you have to consider if you are safer having your fellow campers disarmed by law as a “public safety” measure or is this just an “everybody knows” myth. When we mess with (adjust) the predator/prey mix as public policy are we really serving the public, or just doing something even if it is wrong.

  342. Tom

    Last year, we were in Stuart AK and the campground owner’s own trailer had the door ripped off and his wife was about to become lunch except for the owner’s possession of a firearm. A quick warning shot and the bear was gone in a flash. The rangers set a few bear traps (big barrels) about the campground (Bear Creek, If memory serves) and we were told to keep an eye out and to not let the boy (10) wander alone. It took them two days but, they caught a bear. Not sure if it was the same bear.


  343. Regarding firearms in national forests, the following is from the “Law Enforcement FAQs” of the Tonto National Forest website ( “The possession and unconcealed carry of a firearm on the national forest is not restricted by federal law or Forest Service regulations . . . ” except possession by those who are prohibited, like convicted felons. “State laws regarding the concealed carry of firearms and the carrying of weapons within or on a motor vehicle apply to all National Forest System lands.”
    Also: “National Forest regulations prohibit the discharge of a firearm within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site, or any other occupied area; across a road or any body of water adjacent to a road; into or within a cave; or in any negligent manner that could endanger life or property . . .”

    This is of interest also: “Although state and county law enforcement personnel have full authority to enforce state law on national forests, only forest officers can enforce the federal laws, rules and regulations that apply to the protection of the national forests.”

    Thanks for all the good comments. I especially liked the small, light weight, hand held air horn. I had one on my boat and can verify that they are REALLY loud. And they also might help to notify others in the area of bears. The walking stick with bells on is also a good suggestion. My wife, after encountering two mountain lions while on a morning run, was advised by a ranger to tie bells into the shoelaces of her running and hiking shoes.

  344. HJ Lamb

    Bears are becoming more frequent visitors to areas they have long been scarce. The primary reason is encroachment of civilization into their territories and reduction of food sources. In less habitable areas such as National Parks and National Forest campgrounds, trash visitors who fail to follow directions or just don’t care, leave garbage and trash laying about which attracts bears. Now I don’t mean to be nasty, but sometimes visitors even go potty behind a convenient bush instead of using a grifter (container specifically designed to haul human waste out of remote areas). In addition, female campers, some but not all, also leave their monthly cycle pads as well. Both of these attract bears, from great distances, as the scent carries. Bears have extremely sensitive noses and can follow a scent trail better than any trained pig or bloodhound. Kind of like a land based great white shark following a blood scent from miles away. It may not directly affect the camper doing it at the moment, but Joe/Jane camper coming into the area previously soiled may fall victim to visiting aggressive bears. Keeping aware of your surroundings, carrying bear spray and a good hiking stick with bells attached (sleigh bell sized), and yes, even a shotgun (loaded with #4 buck shot up front followed by 00 and a slug) that you can access and know how to use are a few suggestions for boon docking in wilderness or remote areas.

  345. Another effective method for bears that gets to close is a hand held Air Horn, the kind they use on boats that are in the fog.

    The noise from one of those babies in the face of a bear works real well!

    Greg McCormack,
    Wrangell, Alaska

  346. Phil Schoner

    Regarding firearms in parks, thanks to an ammendment to the credit card protection act passed last year, firearms are now permitted in all national parks. However, discharging a firearm in a national park is not permitted. Go figure.

  347. Karl Schaefer

    When we went to Yellowstone we were told we had to have a hard sided camper and that tents were not allowed. We were surprised when we saw tents in the Soda Butte campground and wondered why the Park rangers allowed that and many other violations to take place. I understand they are understaffed so they would miss families resting on a blanket after a picnic beside a sign saying not to get off the path because of thermal features. (I took a picture), but tents in a non tent area should not be missed because you can see it from the road. They are not fully responsible for some peoples idiocy, but have a responsibility to save some people from themselves.

  348. Fletch

    I too would like to see a discussion of the firearm regulations from Bob.

  349. Fletch

    Possession of firearms. The possession and unconcealed carry of a firearm on the national forest is not restricted by federal law or Forest Service regulations with the exception of “prohibited possessors,” such as convicted felons (see 18 USC 922g ( and ARS 13-3101 ( ). State laws regarding the concealed carry of firearms and the carrying of weapons within or on a motor vehicle apply to all National Forest System lands.

    Section 512 of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, Section 512 becomes effective on February 22, 2010. Section 512 affects implementation of the existing NPS regulations regarding the possession of firearms in national parks, by now allowing individuals to possess firearms if
    (1) they are not otherwise prohibited by law from possessing the firearm and
    (2) such possession is in compliance with the law of the state in which the park unit or that portion of the unit is located.
    Section 512 applies to possession of firearms within the National Park System regardless of the jurisdictional status of the unit—exclusive, concurrent or proprietary.

  350. catchesthewind

    Yes, its their neighborhood and their backyard and we are just visiting. That being said bears are nasal creatures that have a keen sense of smell. Food, all food even the snacks in your tent must be in air tight containers. You ladies are at a special risk with, and I am trying to be delicate here, those monthly odors that attract wildlife from long distances. If we understand wildlife and take their unique abilities into account we can all have a pleasant experiences.

  351. MAB

    Sad, sad, sad! Wild life are trying to live each day by doing what comes naturally to feed themselves and their young ones. It isn’t with evil intent, it is for survival. Why we feel justified killing a bear for doing what comes naturally is wrong, wrong, wrong. Humans camp knowing the risks and accept those risks.

  352. Jim G

    Bob, This was certainly a very tragic event and especially ironic in light of your recent posting about the risk of bear encounters. I also predict that, as was the previous posting, several folks will post comments about carrying firearms as a deterrent. In anticipation, am I correct or misinformed that firearms are prohibited in National Forests and NF campgrounds and can firearms be legally kept loaded and within reach? I pose this not to be controversial but rather to elicit accurate information, which I always rely upon from blogs on RV. net

  353. It’s thier niehgborhood, thier backyard. We are just visiting the area. Just the fact that we don’t see or hear them dose not mean that thay are not there. Follow the advice given here and at the campground and rangers in the parks. Enjoy the your time camping.