I am hoping for more than anecdotal evidence about the negative effects on black bears of the human scent -- ranging from meh to Yecch.

This question is prompted by two anecdotes I have to offer: (1) I was sniffed by a black bear in my sleeping bag. The bear reminded me, even as I was rudely awakened. of a wine taster. Several Snuffles (intake) followed by several explosive Snorts. Fortunately, I was judged inedible. The bear wandered off. (2) A bear grabbed my pack from beside my sleeping bag, ripped it open, removed and eviscerated several packages of freeze dried food, but stopped at a barrier of filthy clothes, under which one package remained unscathed.

Is there evidence of the off-putting-ness of the human aroma more compelling than anecdotes similar to these? I am asking specifically about black bears, but would welcome answers about other predators at or near the top of the food chain.

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    Your anecdotes do not necessarily indicate the bear was "put off" by your odor so much as it may have recognized your odors and knew they weren't good for snacking. Jul 24, 2018 at 4:31
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    Animals smell different than people. They aren't repulsed by strong odors the same way we are, which is why you'll see dogs and other animals that can smell thousands of time better than we can stick their noses right in a pile of poop. Bears aren't repulsed by human smell, they are deterred by it. This may even be evolutionary, because their ancestor bears who weren't deterred by the smell of human ended up getting speared or shot and turned into a coat or a rug. We're seeing a shift now where bears are less deterred by humans, because we don't shoot them on sight anymore.
    – ShemSeger
    Jul 24, 2018 at 16:19

1 Answer 1


For certain, bears noses are good enough to smell humans, whether that is a deterrent or a sign that unsecured food might be nearby probably depends on the state of bear-human relations with areas like Yosemite where bears are used to humans being different from places with hunting.

Hunters hunting bears (or any other big game) will take care to hide their scent from bears, as otherwise the bears will simply leave the area.

As for the other parts of your question, bears have been known to hunt people and there is also a Skeptics question about whether lions and polar bears can sense menstruating women (yes for lions and polar bears, apparently not for black bears).

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