How to Stay Safe in Bear Country: Avoiding Bears at your Home or Cottage

These bears look very similar to the one I saw the other night.
These bears look very similar to the one I saw the other night. | Source

I Saw a Bear on our Deck

"Hey, there's a bear on my deck!" Words both awe-inspiring and thrilling at the same time. Seeing a bear on the deck, or somewhere else close to your house and cottage is something you want avoid. Sure, bears might be cute, but their charm is certainly better appreciated from a very safe distance.

And I should know, because I uttered those very words myself, when a bear wandered unto my deck just a couple short weeks ago. I was both terrified, and amazed. These creatures are incredible to look at, but they can also take your life. It truly was a night to remember.

My husband and I just recently bought a little house in the woods (yes, kind of Laura Ingalls Wilder) and we live right in the midst of the habitats of bears, deer, ravens and many other wild creatures. The other night, one of those bears made its way unto our deck. Our many windows, which I love, now became the very windows that this strong animal could easily break through, is so inclined Thank goodness, I am okay, but I did learn a lot from it! I hope I have learned enough to never have it happen again! This article will explain how to avoid having bears too close to your home or cottage.

If you would like to read more about my feelings during this harrowing experience, you can read all about it, here, my blog: The Night I Looked into the Face of a Bear. So, let's get started ...

Our Deck

This is a view of our deck, at night, in the summer.
This is a view of our deck, at night, in the summer. | Source

How to Avoid Attracting a Bear With Food

The most important thing to remember when dealing with bears is that they have the best sense of smell of all land animals. In fact, they have been known to smell food from eighteen miles away. So, with a honker like that, you have to REALLY make an effort to keep any type of food smells to zilch. Here are some important things to remember:

The first thing everyone learns when going into bear country is to never, ever leave garbage out unattended. Bears love that stuff, and they will travel for miles, to go after that disgusting-to-us, sweet-to-them smell. And if your neighbours happen to leave garbage out in the open, it's okay to let them know they are endangering the whole street!

As well, if you have outdoor cats or dogs, don't leave their food outside. If Fido likes those kibbles, chances are Yogi is going to like it, too! If you have feed your animals out there, give them time to eat and then clean it up.

Now, the idea of eating outside is romantic and fun. Hey, who doesn't love a good barbecue or picnic? But it's important to remember, that in bear country, the bears would love to have a picnic, too. And you don't want to be their caterer. So, whenever you decide to eat outdoors, remember these important tips.

  • If you decide to barbecue on the deck, make lots of noise and don't leave your meat unattended. You don't want the bear to think it's just found an exciting new feeding station! Make lots of noise, so that you keep the bears far enough away to not be tempted.
  • After eating, be sure to clean up your barbecue grill and body very well. All those drippings , fat and burn pieces can be definite bear bait.
  • Even if you haven't used your barbecue for a couple of seasons, still clean it out after the snow melts, because, like I mentioned, those bear noses are ultra-sensitive! We hadn't used our grill for a couple of years, but after the bear came, I cleaned ours out, just in case this is what attracted the bear.
  • If you decide to eat in your gazebo, be sure to clean up any spills and clean your dishes immediately. A dirty dish or spill food can attract bears. I admit to leaving a plate outside from the summer, and that may have been what attracted the bear a couple of months later.
  • When cooking meals inside, and the windows are open, even that can sometimes attract a bear. I usually leave my windows open in the summer, but during the fall, it might be a good idea to close the window closest to your stove.

Be Sure to Clean the Barbecue Grill

Be sure to wash your barbecue grill after every use.
Be sure to wash your barbecue grill after every use. | Source

Bear Poll

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How to Avoid Attracting Bears with your Yard

Okay, so you keep your garbage safely stowed away, always clean your barbecue, and watch your food smells, especially in the fall. So, what's next?

Well, even your very yard can act like a bear-magnet, if you're not careful. Even the most avid gardeners need to take some precautions, if they are sharing their neighbourhood with bears. This article from Bearsmart, a non-profit organization focused on avoiding human-bear contact in Alberta, Canada, warns against planting any trees or shrubs that produce fruits. So, as fun as it is to have fresh strawberries in your yard, it definitely puts you at risk for attracting these big animals looking for a snack.

The other major yard attractant for bears are bird-feeders. This summer, I met a neighbour who had bird-feeders in her yard when she first moved into our area. Apparently, she had heard it was dangerous to have the feeders, but didn't take it seriously. And then, she looked up one afternoon and saw a big black bear going straight after her birdfeeder. She shoo-ed him away, but then took it down right after the bear left.

I have also heard stories about bears going after birdseed, when it was locked away and dozens of feet of the ground. I think they like the birdseed more than the birds! If you absolutely can't live without a birdfeeder, just make sure it doesn't come out until winter and goes back in the house before spring.

As a gardener, composting can be a real benefit. In my research, I was not able to find a definitive answer to this question, but all sources agreed that compost should never contain any meat sources, and the smell should be kept down. This document from the government of British Columbia suggests using lime to keep the smell down. Other sources also say that bears are adverse to bleach and pine, so sprinkling some bleach or pine cleaner can be real turn-off these furry creatures. In fact, I did go and sprinkle some bleach around the front of our deck the following evening.

The agency also instructs homeowners to cut down the bush on their property, to interrupt the natural paths of the bear. In other words, make your home or cottage stand out as different from the rest of the forest! In the same vein, be sure to close any gate on your deck. Our gate was open, making it very easy for the bear to walk on. Sure, they can climb fences, but why make it easier for them? If they are not super-motivated (by smells) they might not bother to come, if you make it a bit harder. Bears are known to be pretty lazy.

For a fence that really keeps them away, make it an electric fence. One smart hubber describes how she made a solar electric fence to keep animals away from her property.

Bear Climbs Rope To Reach Treat!

Just Act Human, and Make Lots of Noise

The one last tip I give about avoiding bears is to just act human, and make some noise! Making noise and being active in your yard goes a long way to avoiding bear contact. From everything I have heard and read since moving to bear country, the bears want to avoid us as much as we want to avoid them. As long as we take care of the smells, the bears will try to stay out of our way. So, have lights up around your place. Make noise. Let the bear know that this is human territory, and to be avoided.

In the quest to be noisy and human, you can also use some devices, called deterrents, in your yard, to discourage the bears from ever coming close. Anything that creates light or noise can help to discourage bears. Motion-sensitive lights can be very helpful, for deterring bears from getting too close. Anything noisy set up outside, such as a string of tin cans, could rattle around and make noise which makes bears avoid your place. As well, a barking dog can also be a real discouragement to having bear visitors.

if you would like to read more about our life in the woods, please go to my blog, "Life in the Woods." I welcome any and all visitors!

© 2014 Sharilee Swaity

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36 comments

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Excellent well done piece. You really covered all the bases. I think if someone followed this they would never have a bear problem.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

It's not terribly reassuring that the only thing between you and a bear is a pane of glass. LOL Scary experience and I'm glad you are all right. I have come across them while hiking and it's enough to make you hold your breath and start praying. :)


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 2 years ago from Canada Author

@Eric, thank you! Believe me, I have been researching this piece, since the day we moved into the house, for my own survival! I hope to avoid this, for anyone else. Have a wonderful day, sir!

@Bill, you are so right! A pane of glass seemed woefully inadequate that night. Thanks for reading. It sounds like you had some close calls, too. Thanks for stopping by! And Bill, my blog lost your comment the other day, so I apologize. I changed the post, and lost the comment, too. But thank you for your comment on being organized. I thought you must be organized, because you always get so darn much done. Yes, jealous! :)


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida

We've have a recent onslaught of black bears invading suburban neighborhoods close to my Central Florida home. The reason is due to their habitats being diminished by construction. One nearby town is changing up the garbage receptacles for homeowners to 'bear proof' locking ones.

You're right about garbage and pet food. If it's left outside, the bears will come. One lady actually found a bear in her garage attacking a top loading freezer. He could smell the frozen meat inside and was hell-bent to get to it!


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 2 years ago from Canada Author

@Bravewarrior, how frightening for that lady! If your neighbourhood is being invaded, it sounds like a problem that must be dealt with, by the state, in terms on ensuring the bears have enough habitat to survive. A starving bear is never a friendly bear. Stay safe, my friend! And thanks so much for the comment.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida

Prairieprincess, unfortunately my state is more concerned with development and generating income than preserving our environment and wildlife. It makes me so mad I could spit!


oldiesmusic profile image

oldiesmusic 2 years ago from United States

We don't have bears in our place, but this is still interesting to read. I never knew that a bear's sense of smell can be that powerful and sensitive.. I guess it could be more when the bear's really hungry. Voted up, useful and interesting.


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 2 years ago from Canada Author

@Bravewarrior, that is sad to hear. These gentle giants really do need a place to live. So sad they are so encroached upon, that they are resorting to towns. I am positive they would rather be left alone in the bush. Take care.

@oldiesmusic, thank you so much for your comment. And you are so right -- the smell is probably more acute when a bear hasn't eaten for a while. Have a wonderful evening!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

I've heard way too many bear stories from my mom to feel comfortable around one in the open. Glad you are ok. I would probably install hurricane strength windows in my cottage - those bears are pretty smart. Sounds like you have a beautiful place in the woods and that is a blessing!


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 2 years ago from Canada Author

@Dianna, thank you for your kind sentiments! It is so nice to hear from you, and I hope your year is going well. Yes, it was pretty scary to have the creature that close, and thank God for his protection. That's interesting about the hurricane strength windows ... that would make feel safer!


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 2 years ago from Arkansas, USA

Seeing a bear would freak me out! I don't think that will happen on the street I live on. I AM jealous of your house in the woods, though! I'll have to check out your blog!


LongTimeMother profile image

LongTimeMother 23 months ago from Australia

I suspect I'd be in big trouble if I lived in bear territory. I have way too many fruit trees close to my house. Thank goodness we don't have bears in Australia.

A few weeks ago I walked out to my car at night with my torch pointed towards the ground, watching out for snakes. Nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw a kangaroo's feet in the light. It was nibbling on one of my trees and I could have touched it by the time I noticed it.

Now if that was a bear .... yikes!! Take care, prairieprincess.


CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 23 months ago from UNITED KINGDOM

Luckily we don't have bears in an English City! It does seem like sensible advice though as I am sure that as they get hungry smells of food will attract them


PNWtravels profile image

PNWtravels 21 months ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

Great tips on avoiding problems with bears. I live in bear country and have seen bears numerous times. If people would only follow your suggestions it is not that difficult to avoid bear conflicts. Unfortunately once a bear starts finding food around humans it usually ends badly for the bear. Most wildlife agents and game wardens will tell you that "a fed bear is a dead bear".


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 20 months ago from New York

You are so right. I don't know where to start, but think the bird feeders would be good. Both my in-laws and my son lost their bird feeders to bears. It amazes me how such a big animal can be so enamored of such tiny seeds!

When we were in Alaska, a ranger came by and told us not to leave our EMPTY cooler outside our camper. Another reinforcement of what you said about their amazing sense of smell!

Voted up, useful, and interesting.


poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 18 months ago

Gee I hope the bears read this and stay away!

But seriously, voted up for useful information and observations.

I hope that strong smell stuff works. Use their best weapon against them!

Mostly, I stay away from where the wildlife is. Did you hear about that lady dragged out of her car by a lion? It's like the Bard, Clint Eastwood says: A man has got to know his limitations.


techygran profile image

techygran 18 months ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

prairieprincess, I would have been terrified. As a child we had the "3 Bears" (mother and 2 cubs) sliding most nights off our large propane tank, and then one night, maybe drawn by food smells, seems likely, turning up right at our door while we slept. They actually knocked on my bedroom window. Another time my father shot a bear out of a tree next to the house. I think he could have scared it away, but I believe he was thinking of 'protecting' his young family.

I'm feeling a little anxious after having read this. Not because a bear might come calling (although we also have bears around our neighbourhood from time to time) but because my husband is spending his first night (of 8) on the West Coast Trail tonight. In August he hiked the North Coast Trail (both wilderness hiking trails on Vancouver Island) and saw several bears, doing what you describe, just making lots of noise and scaring them off, plus being sure to use the bear cache to store away food and locked garbage containers. However, I still have my "issues" with bears and will have to do some calming exercises and some praying when I hit the hay.

But thanks for your very interesting hub! I didn't know about having to clean off the barbecue, but that makes sense! ~Cynthia


moonlake profile image

moonlake 18 months ago from America

Thank you for the mention of my hub I appreciate it. I just found your hub tonight, up late can't sleep. I guess my life has been kind of busy the last 6 months so I haven't had a chance to read many hubs. I fed the birds this year I shouldn't do that in my yard. I brought the seed in each night hoping that would help. It really didn't make any difference the bear was in the yard before the birdfeeder was filled. My son was in his yard and heard something running through the woods and it was the bear coming from my barn. I found the bear scat behind the barn a few days later. Great hub voted up and will share it.


Akriti Mattu profile image

Akriti Mattu 18 months ago from Shimla, India

Excellent piece.

Thank you for writing :-)


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 18 months ago from the short journey

Glad you are safe! These are smart tips for spring-fall living outside big cities. In this age of anthropomorphically interpreting animal behavior peoples' unrealistic thinking about bears has put them in danger, but the rules haven't changed and it pays to respond with good judgement to wild animals.


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 18 months ago from Canada Author

@Vicki, sorry for taking so long to get back to you! You know how teaching gets. It was such a strange experience for me, as a girl who had never lived in the bush before. And please come over to my blog and pay a visit! I would love to see you. Take care, and I hope you are having a great summer.


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 18 months ago from Canada Author

@Longtime Mother, your property sounds wonderful! And a kangaroo ... to this Canadian, that sounds magical. Bears wouldn't fit in there very well, at all. Thanks for the comment, and I do apologize for taking so long to approve it and get back to you. Take care.

@Caseworker, yes, the smell of food is the thing that draws them in the most. Thanks for your comment and I apologize for not getting back to you sooner.

@PNW, thank you. Since you are a pro at living in bear country, I am so glad I got it ride. I am new, and just trying to learn how to keep safe here. Have a great night, and I apologize for not getting back to you sooner.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 18 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Well......OK....I don't live IN the woods, but close enough, as in front of a huge wooded area. However, no bears around here, unless we count the guy that runs the garage on the corner. He's big, muscular and hairy and sweet as a Teddy Bear!

We do have plenty of coyote, racoons, geese, deer and Giant turtles in the creek nearby. All creatures that are much more afraid of people than we are of them.

I enjoyed reading your hub and appreciate the education. Truth is, you'd have to know me.....If I saw a bear as close to me as you did, it would be ALL OVER. I'd keel over from absolute fright. When I take my grandchildren to the Zoo.....THEY hold MY hand and tell me it's OK, Gram, don't be scared.........UP+++ tweeted


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 17 months ago from Canada Author

@tillsontitan, I concur about the bird seeds. I have seen the videos where bears are going after a tiny bird feeder, and it's so funny! They are interesting animals, but just not too close up. Thanks for the great comment and sorry for the long time to respond. Take care.


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 17 months ago from Canada Author

@poetryman, ha ha! That's a good one! No, I don't think any bear's going to be reading this, but hopefully, we can stay one step ahead of them. We had one travel through our yard last night, and my husband yelled at him to get lost. Have a great night and thanks for coming by.

@Techygranny, wow, thanks for the comment. That sounds terrifying, to hear them sliding down the propane tank. And I am sure your Dad just wanted to be safe, with children in the house. I hope your husband was fine. If he's going, he must feel confident. My husband's not scared, either, but I feel like you do: it just feels risky. Thanks so much for sharing your story!


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 17 months ago from Canada Author

@moonlake, wow, that was fast! I knew they loved bird seed, but I didn't know they would come that fast. That must have been a bit nerve-wracking. And I understand about hubs ... I barely have time for reading them, anymore, either. But it's so nice to hear from you. I appreciate your comment and story, and glad to include your hub in mine. Have a good night!

@Akriti Mattu, thank you so much. Take care.


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 17 months ago from Canada Author

@RTalloni, you said it so well ... the rules haven't changed. And no matter how cute they might seem, they have the potential to be dangerous, if not treated with respect. Have a wonderful evening, and thanks for coming by!


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 17 months ago from Canada Author

@fpherj48, you always make me laugh so much! That is a funny image of you cowering behind your grandchildren. And I was pretty much the same way. In fact, we had another bear amble through the yard, and this time my husband was home. I was on the phone, yelling and crying to my friend, at the same time. Yikes! I think I like the tame kind of wildlife you have much better! Your place sounds wonderful. Thanks so much for coming by,for all the support. Take care.


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 17 months ago from Northeast Ohio

This was a great hub, Sharlee. I'll be afraid of bears. When I lived in NJ, there have been a lamb outside my gated backyard, since there was a wooden shortcut to the nearest block. And this was at winter, and 3 bats flew into the house, one afternoon. No bear invasions, but there's been reports it happened in a nearby town. Voted up with useful knowledge!


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 17 months ago from Canada Author

@Kristen Howe, I would be going crazy with those bats, too, Kristen Howe! Yuck! Thank you so much for your kind comment. Take care!


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 17 months ago from Northeast Ohio

My pleasure. Three bats is one of my memories I would remember from New Jersey. You're welcome.


quicksand profile image

quicksand 16 months ago

Kids, are constantly exposed to soft toys like teddy bears and that probably has induced a natural friendliness in all of us towards bears and reduced considerably the fear of these animals.

However, out of all the hostile animals, bears look the least dangerous and a first-timer would not be too cautious when in bear territory. They had better be!


DDE profile image

DDE 12 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

I have never had an experience with bears. You explained and showed me lots about bears.


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 10 months ago from Canada Author

@quicksand, you make an excellent point! Yes, bears really do have a reuputation of "cute" in our culture, and they are cute, when seen face to face. But that cute face is on top a very big and potentially threatening body. Thanks for such an astute comment, and have a wonderful day. I apologize for my long delay in getting back to you. Take care!

@BDE, I am glad that I was able to expose you to something new. Have a wonderful day!


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 10 months ago from San Diego California

Great tips. My Dad used to get black bears up at his cabin in the woods, but they never got aggressive. As you have said, they try to avoid humans if possible.


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 10 months ago from Canada Author

@Mel Carriere, I used to work with a very sweet lady with your same last name. Yes, that's good to hear. I think most people who spend a lot of time in the bush aren't afraid of black bears. It's the grizzlies that are another story! Thanks for the comment, and have a wonderful night.

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