While black bear encounters are rare in Missouri, it’s better to err on the side of caution, taking the necessary steps to keep them away from your campsite. Here are some safety tips.
Keep your campsite clean. Your pots and pans, utensils and any other items that come into contact with food will attract bears if you keep them out in the open. Keep food and any items that come into contact with food in your car.
As soon as everyone is done eating clean all your utensils and cooking items and never pitch cooking grease or any other food residues into the campfire. The smell of cooked foods will only attract bears.
State parks have bear-proof containers or dumpsters that prevent bears from smelling or gaining access to food. Place your garbage in these designated containers or dumpsters. Never burn or bury your garbage either because bears will dig it up.
Avoid eating or cooking in your tent. The last place you want to encounter a bear is in your tent which is why storing food or other attractants in tents or in your sleeping bags is a bad idea. If you’re backpacking, store these items in your backpack, suspending the backpacks from trees.
Bears have an acute sense of smell and though it’s hard to believe, bears are also attracted to non-food items like deodorant, soap and even gum. So treat these items as food when you’re on your next float trip.
If your pet is camping with you, keep your dog on a leash. Store their food in an airtight container in your car, keeping the container sealed after every use. Be sure to clean up any leftovers or scraps of food after your dog has finished eating. This too can attract bears. Your cooler should be kept in your car’s trunk or truck cab, concealed from view since bears associate coolers with food.
When planning your float trip menu prepare meals that will generate as little garbage as possible. The less garbage you have, the fewer smells you’ll create that could attract bears to your campsite.
If you do see any wild animals at or near your campsite, you should avoid contact with them and never attempt to feed them. This will only make them more attracted to this campsite in the future, causing them to bother future guests and even be considered a nuisance to the point that rangers may be forced to euthanize them. So by avoiding contact with them in the first place, you may be saving the animal’s life. And you should never approach black bears. They are extremely dangerous.
If you plan to do some hiking, bears are usually prompted to leave by normal trail noise before humans can actually see them. When you’re in a berry patch, keep a look out for bears as they are likely to venture into these areas. If you see a bear, don’t approach it and only observe it from a distance. Clap, talk, sing or make other noises so the bear is aware of your presence. If you ever encounter a bear at close range, remain calm and stay standing upright. Don’t look the bear directly in the eye. Speak in a calm, assertive and assured voice as you back up slowly to leave the area.
If a bear comes into your campsite, remain calm and make the bear aware of your presence. Some campers have thrown rocks, banged pots and pans, waved their arms and used airhorns to scare bears away. Don’t feed bears and be sure they have an escape route. If the bear swats at the ground, snaps or pops its jaws or utters a series of huffs you are too close and need to slowly back away. Move to a car or building as soon as possible if the bear won’t go away. Notify park rangers and authorities if the bear is aggressive. While black bears rarely attack people, you should be prepared in the event that one does. Black bears are intimidated by counter attacks so fighting the bear aggressively with anything close by like pots and pans or sticks or your fists can help you to get out of a dangerous situation.