Even if I was to follow the advice of letting bears know I am in the area, keeping my cooking and anything that smells at least 100m from my camp & downwind, etc, suppose a bear finds my tent and likes the smell of it.

What do I do? Suppose I do have a means of defending myself (maybe a canister of bear spray and/or a gun of some description)?

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    Don't wear firearms - ever. Related: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/6987/… outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/6845/…
    – Wills
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 21:45
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    This isn't a very useful question, since it requires us to assume something that isn't true: that black bears attack humans in order to eat them. I can't tell if the part about the bear spray and shotgun are a joke.
    – user2169
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 22:00
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    @BenCrowell - I'm from bear country, Black Bears WILL attack you to eat you. It's rare, but everyone here knows that if a black bear is following you then you're likely going to have to fight it off or shoot it.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 22:19
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    @Wills In most cases I would agree with you, but there are some specialized cases where it makes sense. For example, around here it makes sense to carry a pistol with snakeshot - because there are big snakes that don't tend to like people. Yes, I could be diplomatic with the snake, but I'd really prefer to just kill it, or at least be able to kill it.
    – user2928
    Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 17:51
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    @Undo Why would you want to kill a snake? They're really valuable to the local ecosystem and they don't actively seek to hurt humans. You can easily avoid them. The only reason I could think to kill one would be if it was living in your yard and posing an active threat to your pets or family.
    – Blackbear
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 17:16

5 Answers 5


I've been up close with grizzly and black bears before, I've had them come sniffing through my camp and I've done nothing but lay quiet in my sleeping bag and wait for them to wander off, which they usually do. Most of the time I don't even know they were there, I just find their tracks the next morning.

Believe it or not bears spook really easily. I've never had to use bear spray or shoot at a bear, they always run off as soon as we let them know we're getting close. So if you're in your tent and a bear is taking his time investigating your site, all you have to do most of the time is just announce yourself and that should be enough to scare them away. The human voice is the number one deterrent for bears, so just start making loud noises.

This will work most of the time, but the real problem bears are the ones that are used to humans, especially the ones that have been fed by humans in the past or found food in camps before, if one of these bears wanders into you site and doesn't act like it intends to leave without first finding something to eat, then get your bear spray out, get out of the tent, act big and keep shouting. You need to be pretty close for bear spray to be effective (30ft/9m or closer) so only spray it if your other attempts don't work and the bear is approaching you, or letting you approach him. Do NOT spray it inside of your tent, you will immediately regret it and possibly do yourself some serious harm. Try to get upwind of the bear if possible, and aim for his nose. One good blast and that bear should take off real quick.

Most people only cary one or the other, bear spray or a gun. A warning shot from a gun does just as good as bear spray does. People around here (Canadian Rockies) that hike with shotguns load it with 3 different types of ammo; the first round is just bird shot, to shoot in the air as a warning shot; the second shot is a slug, to shoot past the bear so he can hear the ball whistling past him; the rest of your rounds are all hollow-point bear stoppers, to put the beast down, because if the first two shots don't scare him away then nothing else is going to stop him.

Hunters have bigger problems with bears than campers do, because hunters typically have a fresh kill with them that the bear wants (usually grizzly bears), with campers and hikers, it's usually a case of the hikers sneaking up on the bear unintentionally and surprising it-in which case the bear acts defensively- or bears happening upon a campsite because it's on the side of a trail (bears use trails too) and finding food there.

Shotguns are only necessary if the bear charges, tries to get into your tent, or is following you and you can't shake them off your trial. This is especially true with black bears, if a black bear is following you, and isn't scared off by any of your attempts to get him to leave, then odds are good you're going to have to either fight it off or shoot it, because there have been incidents where black bears have been known to stalk people for food. These incidents are very rare, and will typically only occur in the most wild areas where bears don't have much contact with humans.

... suppose a bear finds my tent and likes the smell of warm man-flesh inside of it.

Coming from bear country, if shouting at it doesn't scare it away and you have a gun, ten out of ten people where I'm from would say shoot it. Right through the tent. Don't even feel guilty about it, because if you don't shoot it, then a ranger probably will as soon as you report the encounter (assuming you managed to scare it off some other way). They don't tolerate bears that behave that way because they're a risk to people's safety. You've probably heard the saying, "A fed bear is a dead bear." They say that because 99% of the time, bears that get hand outs or find human food end up getting put down because they always come back for more.

If you have a bear trying to get in your tent, and you don't have a gun: FIGHT IT. You are literally fighting for your life, so kick, scream, hit it in the face with anything you've got. Bear spray will only work if there's nothing in between you and the bear, so try to get out of your tent before trying to spray it, or like I said already, you can actually make things worse for yourself if you spray it inside of your tent.

For Reference: To put it in perspective, deaths from black bear attacks in North America are about as common as shark attacks, and in many of the fatal encounters with black bears, the bear had fed on the victim.

  • 4
    I have a problem with recommending the reader should shoot an unidentified target through the tent. This Alaska news article relates a story of a teen who accidentally shot a friend before identifying the friend and verifying the friend was not a bear. People also approach tents, sometimes with good reasons. Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 14:19
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    @steampowered I also have a problem with recommending people shoot unidentified targets, which is why I would never suggest anyone do something so stupid and irresponsible as shooting at anything without first positively identifying it. You'll notice in my answer I say shoot it after you have attempted to scare it off by other means. Shouting at a bear to make it go away implies that you have identified an animal as a bear, shooting at a bear that is trying to come into your tent is different than shooting at a mysterious noise outside your tent.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 15:45
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    @steampowered I've had bears roaming around my tent on multiple occasions, they do not send like people moving around your tent. The sound of their breathing alone makes them pretty easy to identify, even without first seeing them.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 15:45
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    All I ask is that you be responsible in how you recommend a reader should kill something he or she can't see with a firearm. I realize it might be possible to identify a hostile entity outside a tent without seeing it, but great care should be taken. Thousands of people are injured or killed by accidental shootings every year. One could easily make the argument an armed camper is more of a threat to other outdoorsmen than any wildlife. Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 19:07
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    When you see a bear he most likely knew you were around before that. It is up to the bear whether it wants to precipitate a fight. It is its choice not yours. I am uncomfortable with being at the mercy of a large predator. The trend seems to be moving in the bears favor. More and more it comes near man and all that happens is some panicked yelling and waving of arms. Again, it is the bears choice to move in closer or not.
    – bobbym
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 0:00

People getting killed by black bears is exceedingly rare. There are roughly 1 per year in North America, and most of those in Canada and Alaska.

If you are in your tent at night and hear what you think is a black bear outside, the best thing to do is nothing. I have been in this situation a few times, and in all cases the animal (never saw it so can't confirm black bear) wandered off after a minute or two. They aren't interested in you. If it's a regular campsite, they may have learned that occasionally there are scraps of food to be found. They will sniff around and then leave if they don't find anything.

If you have bear spray with you (I didn't on any of these occasions), then get it ready in your hand. That's not because you'll need it to defend yourself, but it will make you feel a little more secure so that you're less likely to do something stupid that will get you into trouble.

In the unlikely event that the bear starts poking at your tent, make loud sounds. Yell at it at the top of your lungs. Unless this happens to be the 1 in 1,000,000 encounters where the bear is predatory, it will run off and leave you alone. In the very unlikely event it is a predatory bear, use the bear spray. However, you have to spray at the bear, not inside the tent. This requires you opening the tent, unless of course the bear has already ripped thru it. Seriously though, you are more likely to get hit by lightning than have a black bear break into your tent trying to harm you.

Leave the shotgun home. The chances are much greater that you'll have a accident and hurt yourself with it than getting hurt by any bear it might have stopped.

I have encountered black bears in the wild while hiking by myself at least three times that I can remember now (probably 4 or more if I thought about it some more). More accurately, those were times when I noticed the bear. Surely there were many more times when a bear noticed me that I wasn't aware of. Each time the bear ran off as soon as it saw me. To give you a better feel for black bears, where is what happened each time:

1 - Northern Yosemite National Park well out of the valley on a trail heading to Hetch Hetchy. I saw a bear about 50 feet in front of me standing sideways across the trail. It saw me about 1/2 second after I saw it. It immediately ran off sideways, and I could hear it running thru the forest for a good distance. The total visual encounter was maybe 1 second.

2 - On top of Mormon Mountain in north-central Arizona, Coconino National Forest. I was standing in the middle of a dirt road and saw a bear cross the road maybe 100 feet in front of me. I stood still and it didn't notice me. It came diagonally closer by going off the road but also partway in my direction. It found a old rotted log 50 feet from me and started clawing at it and was breaking it apart, most likely looking for grubs. I had a camera with me and was going to take its picture, but thought I'd pick up a nice size rock first. I tried to do this when the bear had its back turned, but it caught my movement anyway and ran off so quickly I couldn't get the camera to my eye and focus before it got out of sight into the forest. Again I heard it running some distance into the forest.

3 - On the road down from Mt Greylock in northwestern Massachusetts. It was dusk and I saw a dark blob maybe 200 feet ahead. I thought it might be a bear, but it was too far and too dark to be sure. I kept walking and at maybe 100 feet I could tell it was definitely a bear. As I was deciding what, if anything, I should do about it, the bear saw me and ran up the steep slope at the side of the road. I couldn't see it after it entered the woods, but could hear it running up the slope a ways. Although I tried, I did not see the bear again as I hiked on the road past the spot it had been.

  • Where I'm from, it's not untypical to see a bear pretty much every time you go out hiking. Especially if you go hiking in a national park.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Apr 12, 2015 at 17:07
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    @Shem: OK, and did you ever have a encounter with a black bear (specifically excluding grizzlies) where you felt threatened at all? Since you have a lot of data points, it might be useful to use them to illustrate the concepts. Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 16:39
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    I think it's pretty foolish not to consider a predator that annually attacks and sometimes kills humans as a potential threat. I'm never comfortable when bears are around. I've never had to face off with a bear, and I never intend to, it's the mindset that a bear won't hurt you that leads to dangerous encounters. I consider every bear (and every large mammal for that matter, especially moose) to be a threat if I encounter them in the wild. The wisest thing to do is to prevent encounters.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 17:08
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    Thanks for a sane answer. The human brain seems to be really bad at rationally evaluating risks, especially when it involves something emotionally charged like a wild animal.
    – user2169
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 22:15

Black Bears simply don't like the smell of warm man-flesh; in fact, if one notices you, it's likely to take off. I've had bears sniffing around my camp before. Assuming all your food is safely stored already and you don't need to scare it off to protect your supplies, a perfectly valid option is just to stay still, and wait until the bear leaves. If you want to encourage the bear's departure, making a lot of noise is an effective deterrent as well. Shout, bang metal together, etc. If the bear is still sticking around, getting out of the tent, and waving your arms while shouting will be likely to drive away most black bears. In a properly secured camp, bear spray - let alone a firearm - are unlikely to be necessary.


I would make noise to confirm the bear is aware of my presence. I would try to gently get out of the tent and take some distance (10 feet / 3 meters) from the bear and tent acting normally. And I would wait it out.

I ran into this situation once and this worked out just fine for me.

Personally I would not use the shotgun or bear spray. If I had the bear spray with me, I would only use it if the bear charges towards me which is unlikely.

I believe the key points are:

  • Calm behavior
  • Provide space between you and what the bear has interest in
  • If cubs are involved, be extra extra cautious

Wild bears don't like the smell of warm man-flesh. So, you're inside your tent, make some noise, move around, talk. The bear will go away. You don't need to use your shotgun, you don't need to use your bear spray.

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