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  1. #1
    Registered User ldsailor's Avatar
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    Default Another explanation for food bags being taken by bears?

    So, I have been reading all the posts about food bags being taken. Even those that have been properly hung are falling victim. Ursacks are being shredded as the bears try to get what's inside, and even some food bags protected by supposedly "odor proof" bags have been taken. I've read about this not only here but on various Facebook groups for many of the long distance trails here in the USA.

    Then I read about all the hikers who sleep with their food. This seems most prevalent with PCT hikers, but many hikers along the Colorado Trail, which I hiked last year, also are sleeping with their food. Few if any of these hikers sleeping with their food report problems.

    This has all got me to thinking. We talk about the great sense of smell bears have, but maybe there is something else going on here. Is it possible the bears are visually associating hanging bags from trees as a food source and not necessarily depending on smell? That would seem to support those hikers who profess that the best way to protect their food is to sleep with it.

    Just something to think about. Comments?
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  2. #2

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    yeah for sure, I live close to the Smokies and the park service has long used cheap test tents with motion activated game cameras to monitor aggressive behavior. I've seen the test tents get ripped to shreds with nothing in them and in most cases the tents have never had anything in them

  3. #3

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    I believe that food kept in a food bag "scent proof" and kept in tent while sleeping is OK. Its what I have done forever. Unless bear cables are available or a bear box then I use it. But if you have a snickers bar in your pocket, it voids this comment. I believe that the bear still smells me and my foods presence, but my scent outweighs his curiosity. I believe this because I routinely hear bear activity outside my tent.... Heavy breathing, shadows in the moonlight, brushing up against my tent etc...not squirrels hopping around in the leaves.

    Now where this sleeping with my food is going to get me in trouble is when I come across a bear where he chooses to investigate my food source over being steered away by my scent. A problem bear.
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  4. #4
    Is it raining yet?
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    Keeping your food in your tent may very well lower the chances of a bear taking your food but would seem to greatly increase your chances of having a direct encounter with a foraging bear.
    Be Prepared

  5. #5

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    A "camp" bear will investigate anything in the campsite. I've had a half-full platypus reservoir, left hanging on a nearby branch, ripped open by one of these bears overnight. As for hanging, I gave that up several years ago after a bear got my bag (hung PCT) and use a bear can. I sleep a lot easier.

  6. #6

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    I seem to remember reading bears have fairly poor eyesight. Spotting a bag in a tree in the dark is a stretch. Some bears in the ADK's learned to sniff out the rope holding the bag and deal with that first. Smell could lead them to the general area which food is hung, then by poking around could find the rope and break it, either on purpose or by accident. Also, you might think you have your food hung properly, but this is rarely the case.
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  7. #7

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    Humans are walking cheese sticks to a bear black or otherwise. Thinking we should hang our food bags when we have a lb of food in our stomachs after dinner as we sleep in a tent is strange metrics. A predatory bear will eat a human no matter if the hiker is sleeping or hiking. And who hangs their food when actually hiking? Can't a bear smell the food inside our stomachs? How do we hang our stomachs?

    Random gear destruction by bears is gonna happen because they live in the woods and it is their home. Trailposts, tents, packs, boots, cars---anything human made and left in the woods may get torn apart.

    On Thanksgiving Day I woke up to a "love bite" from a black bear in my Hilleberg tent. Oops---didn't take any of my 40 lbs of food though.

    Trip 208 (110)-XL.jpg
    Luckily low on the perimeter.

    BEAR DAMAGE 006-L.jpg
    Bear Vault chewed.

    BEAR DAMAGE 004-L.jpg
    Thermarest Prolite chewed.

    TRIP 131 332-L.jpg
    Another Thermy eaten.

  8. #8

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    "Is it possible the bears are visually associating hanging bags from trees as a food source and not necessarily depending on smell?" I have no doubt that is happening sometimes.

    "I've seen the test tents get ripped to shreds with nothing in them and in most cases the tents have never had anything in them." Seen it myself. Bears will routinely investigate anything of interest. They are dramatically less likely to mess with human-occupied tents.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    I seem to remember reading bears have fairly poor eyesight. Spotting a bag in a tree in the dark is a stretch. Some bears in the ADK's learned to sniff out the rope holding the bag and deal with that first. Smell could lead them to the general area which food is hung, then by poking around could find the rope and break it, either on purpose or by accident. Also, you might think you have your food hung properly, but this is rarely the case.

    Interesting. I was just reading that bears having poor eyesight is a myth. The below isn't where I saw that but I got a lot google results with a similar take when trying to find the article I was remembering.

    https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cf...rticles_id=135

  10. #10

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    Hey Colter, were you on the current season of Alone?

  11. #11

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    Never mind I see you added it to your sig. I just started watching.

  12. #12
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    This is why many parks state that food and ice chests in your car must be out of sight because bears will break into cars if they see the food. An empty ice chest out in the open will attract beats.

  13. #13
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    You have to carefully consider where you are when you decide what food storage method you are going to use. It's one thing to be at some random spot along the AT or PCT and sleep with your food if a bear encounter is low probability.
    But then there are other places ... specifically Great Smoky Mountains... where the relative people and bear population is more concentrated and more bear encounter likely.
    So far, if you hang your food front the cables provided at every GSMNP back country camp site, the only method I've heard about with bears defeating the cables are those that have learned if they shake the cables, the bag my bounce off. Otherwise I've not been hearing stories of the bears defeating the bear cables. But every season, almost like clock work, camps sites get closed down due to bear activity, and the reason has NOT been because everyone has been properly storing their food on the bear cables. Instead, people are taking alternative actions that allows bears access to human food. The bears learn to associate people and their gear (typically back packs) as a food source and then once they loose their fear of the humans, they become a problem bear. But if everyone followed park rule and never left food unattended, except when hung on bear cables, we wouldn't be getting campsite closed due to bear activity.

  14. #14
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    The OP has applied the "sleep with your food" rationale that has been around for years and discussed on every hiking forum ad nauseum. As Dr Tom Smith (one of the top bear biologists) puts it, the bear's desire to avoid you is greater than its desire to get your food. Bears thus learn the best ways to get unattended food (bags hanging from trees). Bears who go after tents have learned to do this from people who leave unattended food in tents. The use of visual visual cues by bears is confirmed by the use of bear canisters. Canisters reek of food odors, but once a bear learns they can't get in them, they leave them alone. People who sleep with food are teaching bears that tents are not a place to find unattended food. In an email conversation I had with Dr Smith several years ago, he confirmed that these hypotheses are consistent with bear biology. However this model has never been tested. That would require some agency to require people to keep all food in their possession at all times (with 100% compliance). However it is likely that no one will ever do this experiment, so we are stuck with multiple valid conclusions that are consistent with the data. Ultimately, Dr Smith said that while he knows bear biologists who use the "sleep with food" strategy, he does not and instead advocates for other methods of backcountry food storage, including canisters and electric fences (yes there are lightweight fencing options for backcountry use but I don't know of anyone who uses them).

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by PatmanTN View Post
    Hey Colter, were you on the current season of Alone?
    Hi Patman, I did that "Alone Across Alaska" trip in my signature, but haven't appeared on the series Alone. I've heard it's good?

  16. #16
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    Exclamation Bear eyesight

    I seem to remember reading bears have fairly poor eyesight
    You heard wrong.

    https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cf...rticles_id=135

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colter View Post
    Hi Patman, I did that "Alone Across Alaska" trip in my signature, but haven't appeared on the series Alone. I've heard it's good?
    Oh ok, There is guy from Alaska name Colter on this season and based on posts I've read from you in the past it seemed possible that it was you! Yes it's good TV in my opinion.

  18. #18
    Registered User Majortrauma's Avatar
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    Default

    Great reply Tipi!! I also choose to not hang my food. Seems pointless for same reasons Tipi states and there is no way one can remove all the smells from your pack, garments etc. Bears can smell damn near anything on us. Their sense of smell is appa




    While the sensitivity of a bear’s nose would lead us to think they should be able to smell you from miles away (and they often can) wind direction could make it easy for you to accidentally ambush an otherwise occupied bear.
    Your scent is essentially a vaporized chemical floating in the air. For a bear to smell you, they must make contact with the mucus membrane of their nose. The chemicals could be far away if you’re downwind from a bear on a breezy day. Be sure to think about this when hiking, and make extra noise on windy days.

  19. #19
    Registered User Majortrauma's Avatar
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    Accidentally hit send button
    Great reply Tipi!! I also choose to not hang my food. Seems pointless for same reasons Tipi states and there is no way one can remove all the smells from your pack, garments etc. Bears can smell damn near anything on us. Their sense of smell is apparently 100 times better than a dog.
    "Your scent is essentially a vaporized chemical floating in the air. For a bear to smell you, they must make contact with the mucus membrane of their nose. The chemicals could be far away if you’re downwind from a bear on a breezy day."

    For this reason I began spraying a small dot of bear spray on trees on the perimeter of our camp site. My logic is that they will smell the bear spray from a long way off, which is highly offensive to them, and NOT smell any of our food.
    It's a little tricky though making sure we're all not downwind of it when I spray it. So far it's worked as planned. No bears at all and this includes multiple trips in Monongahela Natl Forest.

  20. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by ldsailor View Post
    So, I have been reading all the posts about food bags being taken. Even those that have been properly hung are falling victim. Ursacks are being shredded as the bears try to get what's inside, and even some food bags protected by supposedly "odor proof" bags have been taken. I've read about this not only here but on various Facebook groups for many of the long distance trails here in the USA.

    Then I read about all the hikers who sleep with their food. This seems most prevalent with PCT hikers, but many hikers along the Colorado Trail, which I hiked last year, also are sleeping with their food. Few if any of these hikers sleeping with their food report problems.

    This has all got me to thinking. We talk about the great sense of smell bears have, but maybe there is something else going on here. Is it possible the bears are visually associating hanging bags from trees as a food source and not necessarily depending on smell? That would seem to support those hikers who profess that the best way to protect their food is to sleep with it.

    Just something to think about. Comments?
    While I don't discount the possibility that bears may associate a hanging food bag with food strictly on sight alone, I would lean strongly towards the bear has seen and smelled an ordinary food bag hanging previously. I also think it likely they can smell food odors on the outside of an odorproof sack such as residual cooking or food handling by the bag owner. Or even on the rope used to hang it, as I doubt any hiker washes their hands every time prior to handling the bag.
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