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

2 Answers 2


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).


Bears are teaching their young that humans = available food nearby. We call these bears " garbage bears". They break into garbage cans, and often chew on any containers they find. A bear chewed on my chainsaw's 2 stroke fuel oil can, causing oil to leak out. They've destroyed boxes of stuff with no food inside, they make a huge mess. The moment they smell food, they make note and wait for a time of no human activity, then raid. I've cooked outside in the forest where I live (Lake Tahoe vicinity), go inside after eating, come back out and have seen bears running away. It's unusual for you to see them, because they know how to hide. But they are accustomed to people not being out at night, like I am. They're confused by me. Especially if you've got night vision, and chase them away, they will keep stopping and turning to look at you, it's a weird feeling. Wolves do that too. But yes, bears around camp sites and rural homes often go for the easy food, garbage. Then teach their young. It's no Bueno.

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    What do you conclude about the effect of the scent of humans on bears? As I read your Answer, I concluded that sophisticated bears, such as you have where you live, are not bothered, certainly not repelled by the scent of humans; they are focussed on food. AND, if they will bite into a fuel can, they are not repelled by strange odors, because lurking in that stinky can may be food! Add something to this effect (assuming you agree) and you will have answered the Q, and I will upvote. Feel free to add what I said directly.
    – ab2
    Nov 29, 2023 at 21:58

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