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Im sure this question has been asked plenty of times but do I need to bring a gun or bear spray to protect myself while I'm out there?

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Bear spray couldn't hurt, but I'd be more afraid of moose. They are much more dangerous an the cows will have calves right now.

Just be aware of your surroundings at all times and keep your food out of reach.

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Im sure this question has been asked plenty of times but do I need to bring a gun or bear spray to protect myself while I'm out there?

No. The bears in the BWCA are black bears which are not really agressive and at most are out to sneak in at night and get your food.

There are different theories about how to prevent problems, but the most prevalent is to hang your food pack in a tree at least like 8 feet off the ground and 6 feet from the trunk. Try to not use the obvious tree because the bears might have learned that there might be food up there, and also tie the rope in a not obvious fashion.

Also, you can ask the forest service or the outfitter where the reports of trouble are. Another thing is to be alert on portages since sometimes bears learn people leave bags of food sitting around where they can grab it.

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  • 'we have more fun' FishingMN Creators

Agreed that a cow with calf is much more dangerous.

Chances are your not going to see a bear, just keep the packs hung and food scraps far away from camp.

Samsquash, now thats another topic.

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I had a close encounter with a Bull during the rut one fall on Daniel's lake. The wild look on his face is something I will never forget. I guess it wasn't my time because all of a sudden he made a left turn and right into the lake he went.

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This is an evolving opinion and I accept the fact that I could get ticketed for it, but I don't hang my food packs anymore. After camping in some of the burned areas, and not having any tree to hang a pack from, I keep the food pack in the canoe if I'm traveling away from camp. At night I keep the pack within 30 feet of the tent and booby trapped with light pots to alert me if anything messes with them. I've talked to canoe guides and back country rangers who use this same method. The feeling is that if something is at your packs you can address the problem right away as opposed to having them hanging far from camp and never realizing when a bear (or squirrels) have figured out how to get into your pack.

It's not an easy thing to hang a pack well. I've been in many camps with tangles of rope and girdled trees and I've seen plenty of packs hoisted up trees but hanging close enough to the trunk where any bear can reach it. Bears are adept at cutting and breaking ropes. I think it's better to have close contact with your food pack and address the problem directly. It is quick negative reinforcement for the bear. And, yes, I have chased bears out of camp--never at night but when I've been cooking dinner.

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... but I don't hang my food packs anymore.

I stopped hanging my food pack decades ago.

Immediately after the one time a bear got it.

Since then ... and I swear this is the truth...

I walk it atleast 30+ YARDS from the campsite and

I LEAVE IT ON THE GROUND !!!

Adjacent to the lake.

IT HAS NEVER BEEN TOUCHED !

laugh

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I stopped hanging my food pack decades ago.

Immediately after the one time a bear got it.

Since then ... and I swear this is the truth...

I walk it atleast 30+ YARDS from the campsite and

I LEAVE IT ON THE GROUND !!!

Adjacent to the lake.

IT HAS NEVER BEEN TOUCHED !

laugh

This is the approach recommended the the well known canoeing writer, Cliff Jacobson. The problem with hanging is that everyone uses the obvious tree in a campsite and the bears figure it out.

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Yep ... the one time I lost it to a bear,

he had it so well fiqured out

he didn't even bother to climb the tree it was in.

It was the biggest bear I've ever seen.

He went straight to the tree it was tied off to.

Reached up and snapped the rope like it was thread.

And he didn't leave until sun up.

Terrible night.

I knew then I had to try something different.

My thought at the time was ... they still might get it, but not IN camp.

So far .... it's been fool proof.

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I think that hanging the food is getting to be less common. From my conversations it seems to be about 50-50 split between hanging and stashing. I've done both and so far have never had an issue but in reality neither option is totally safe.

The other thing you can do is get a bear barrel to store your food in and then stash it on the ground away from camp a little ways and away from obvious game trails.

As for the need for a gun or bear spray, I'd say leave it at home. You're probably more likely to accidentally shoot yourself in the foot or spray yourself in the face then you are to encounter an aggressive bear that posses an actual threat. The other problem with a gun or bear spray is that its only effective if you have it on you at all times. That means the gun or spray is on your hip every second of the trip or laying next to you when you are in your tent. My guess is that after a day you'll start to get more relaxed about it and won't carry it with you all the time. Then its just dead weight in the bottom of a pack.

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No need for bear spray or a gun. I'd probably be more likely to use it (the spray, I mean) on a loud group of drunks, which while potentially morally permissible is probably illegal.

I have also stopped hanging the pack. As Del has says, Cliff Jacobsen is a "stasher," and he's never had any problems, so I'll follow his advice. Plus, hanging a pack is a hassle when 1) it's not necessary, and 2) there's lots of better stuff to do.

A lot of guys will also bring a bear barrel of some sort. I've used them without any problems, and some of the carrying harnesses now make them pretty comfortable.

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For what its worth, I'll mention another lesson I learned that night ...

The first was ...

get the food pack out of camp !

The second was ...

have enough wood handy to burn all night, if you need to.

It was a pitch black moonless night ...

we had enough wood on hand to boil water in the AM. cry

Never again.

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If I see anywhere to tie up the "bomb" bear pack I will make a fun project of hanging it up, otherwise I put the pack somewhere near my tent with the pots & pans as alarm. I always have carried a pack of Black Cat firecrackers in my ( used to be ammo box ) camera pack that is near at all times. Only have had to use the 'crackers once & the bear got out & stayed out.

Check with the rangers- or wherever you get your permit, they should be able to tell ya where the problems are & route yourself away from those camps.

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I'm no expert, but IMHO, the stash in the woods method seems to work for people (Cliff included) only because they haven't had a bear come near their campsite. Bears have an incredible sense of smell.

Here's why I believe that: About 8 years ago, after 25 years of tripping, we had a bear come into our campsite and get into our hanging food pack. It was our first night on Lac La Croix. We were tired and did a horrible job of hanging our pack about 6ft off the ground. Hey, I've never had a bear get into my food so I wasn't too worried. I remember brushing my teeth before bed that night and shining my headband flashlight toward the shoreline. There were 2 red eyes looking back at me. I turned to the tents and realized the other 3 guys were already inside. I hurried back to the tent and hunkered down for the night only to be awakened at about 6am to the sound of something large walking by the firepit. I peered out the tent to see a bear on it's hind legs and paws and face digging into the now lower hanging food pack. After scaring him/her away by yelling and throwing rocks, we surveyed the damage. We had left a plastic container of cherry koolaid mix out that the bear had eaten. There was a 4x4 inch hole in the pack exactly where the still unopened container of cherry koolaid was. That's the only thing he got. This is what leads me to believe that a bear has such incredible sense of smell that stashing in the woods only works because a bear hasn't wandered by.

We now use a blue barrel and place pots and pans on top as a warning device. This is usually tied to a tree in camp. I think the main thing is to keep a clean camp.

I don't mean to offend anyone that stashes in the woods.

Oh yeah, to answer the opening question, I don't believe that you need to bring either a gun or spray. Just pay close attention to your food pack and keep a clean camp.

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Agreed Leibs. I should add that fire crackers are illegal & may upset other campers after the illegal gunshot incidents a couple summers ago. Also a fire hazard, but the bears can be aggressive, campsite bears especially so, so back to the original question... Since the La Croix bear attack in the 90's I use them as my self defense.

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I thought I'd add one thing for those of you considering the stashing idea. Don't stash your pack under the canoe. I know I've heard of some people doing it but if a bear does come into camp and wants to get at your pack you don't want the bear trashing your canoe in the process.

It would not be fun to be stuck at a campsite with a bear in the area with no food and a busted up canoe.

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I still hang my packs but I also keep stuff on my pack that will clank if something is going at it. Plus, if a bear can reach up and "snap the rope" then you don't have it high enough. You also don't want to hang it from a huge branch because bears are great climbers and can just crawl along the branch.

As for keeping it on the ground, I have no problem with that from a bear perspective. It's the rodents that are more of an issue. They also have a great sense of smell and can eat through most packs.

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Plus, if a bear can reach up and "snap the rope" then you don't have it high enough.

ROFLMAO

My thoght progression was ...

"Holy #%$#, that bear's ATLEAST 500 lbs"

"That rope ain't high enough"

Thing is though, we could have had Wilt Chamberlain along to tie it

and it won't have mattered.

A big bear can reach far higher than any of us can.

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As for keeping it on the ground, I have no problem with that from a bear perspective. It's the rodents that are more of an issue. They also have a great sense of smell and can eat through most packs.

That's the great advantage of the blue barrels, they are rodent proof. Mice can climb trees as well. We've had mice in our hung food pack on Table rock campsite years ago. They left cig butt's in the paok for some reason. None of our group smoked. We are taking a chance by leaving the barrel tied to a tree while out fishing. They aren't bear proof. If you do have a barrel with a harness, I'd recommend taking the harness off in camp in case a bear does get to the barrel. Those harnesses are expensive.

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I'm not an expert on keeping your camp bear safe, but my take on firearms/bear spray:

I've seen a handful of canoe-ers who carry bear spray but don't wear their life jacket. It seems they have their risk priorities backwards.

There has never been a recorded attack on a human by a black bear momma with cubs.

It sounds like you'll be with a group. If everyone's together, black bears are easily turned back if they are nearby.

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Thing is though, we could have had Wilt Chamberlain along to tie it and it won't have mattered. A big bear can reach far higher than any of us can.
It doesn't sound like you are just tying your food bag suspended above the ground. Hoist it. Bears aren't 30ft tall so hoist it a good 15-20ft off the ground and you don't need Wilt the Stilt.

Good point about mice climbing trees. I haven't had it yet but know that it could be the case.

To the original OP - in all my trips up there I've only seen bears during the drive (scampering into the woods) or off in the distance, walking away from me. Don't worry about bear spray, guns, etc. You are far more likely to be assaulted by another human being than a bear. If you are really concerned, a good extreme is to tie a bell to your pack while on portages or keep your pots tied to the exterior. The noise will clear any animals before you come down the portage trail. Of course, you'll never see any animals and may tick off other portagers!

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I think the point PartyWhine was making is that a smart bear will go after the rope and not the pack since the pack is out of reach. But the rope will still be within reach at the point where you tied it off to a tree.

If the bear is smart enough and knows to go after the rope it doesn't matter if you hoist the pack 8 feet or 30 feet in the air. Either way you still neeed to tie the rope off to a tree at a height you can reach it, this is where Wilt the Stilt would come in handy. Of course if the bear is smart it would just climb the tree and work at the rope until the pack falls.

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Correct sir.

The pack was the usual 30+ feet in the air.

The rope was tied off the usual 7+ feet off the ground.

It could have been 9 feet off the ground.

Wouldn't have mattered.

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So ... we spent the next 8 hours with a TROPHY black bear in camp.

Dusk to dawn.

No moon.

No fire.

1 weak LED headlamp.

We couldn't see three feet into the blackness of that night.

But you could always hear where he was.

Of course, we got outta the tent and tried making all the noise we could.

We started a small fire and tried to find more wood.

Too dark.

We threw rocks in his direction.

He charged, we retreated to the canoe and shoved off !

Tried to land ... he charged the bank.

Now remember ... WE CAN"T SEE HIM.

We just hear him.

Now, the skeeters are killing us, gotta get back on land ...

So ... honest to God ...

We beached away from camp, collected a bunch of rocks and ...

Assualted the beach !!!

He charged, we drove him back.

Got back to the tent.

He circled us for quite awhile, then pressed his HUGE head up to the screen and took a big wiff.

He returned to his meal.

We didn't get out again until we had watched him stroll off at dawn.

It was the first nite of a 5 day trip.

He destroyed the pack and ate everything except the Minute Rice.

We decided on the paddle out we would

NEVER keep the pack in camp again.

ALWAYS have alot of wood ready.

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Well most people go to the BWCA for the experience. I'd say your group had quite the experience indeed, so all in all it must have been a successful trip. laugh

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Yep ... we packed more memories into that 1 day sleepless nightmare than alot of the week long trips. grin

But that's the story behind why I NEVER keep the food pack IN camp.

NEVER.

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Hmmm....maybe PartyWhine has discovered something. Is it possible that bears just won't eat Minute Rice? smile

About the bears' sense of smell and finding a stashed pack: I don't know. I've heard Jacobsen talk about this issue a few times at the Midwest Mountaineering Expo, and he swears by it. And he's no spring chicken. Sure, if a bear trips over the pack, it might then smell it. But these bears are in camp chasing these packs because that's what they're habituated to do. Just my .02, but it seems that it's much more likely that a bear will find a pack up in a tree--when it 'knows' there is likely food in it, and when it 'knows' where to look--then if it just randomly stumbles across one stashed far from camp.

I don't know. I'm a stasher now, but I take trips every year with people who are hangers, and both have worked so far (fingers crossed).

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Like everyone said-Blue Plastic Barrel stashed close to the water away from camp, no spray as you will prolly spray yourself and beware of moose way more than bears. My 2 cents repeating others 2 cents.

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I know the BWCA is a wilderness, but if a fire grate and a latrine can be placed on each campsite why not put in a low profile camo colored bear proof boxes on each site. That would take care of bears haunting campsites and make finding a safe place to store food a lot simpler.

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something to think about when hanging in trees...the scent of what is in your bag is going to attrack bears from further out the higher you hang the sack as the scent will be spread out more by the wind. That is my theory of hanging vs stashing but neither is bear proof.

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