Black Bear Safety in Southwest Colorado

By Mild to Wild   •   May 26, 2014

While you’re here enjoying the beautiful outdoors that Durango and the San Juan National Forest has to offer, it is always best to be prepared for a black bear encounter. Whether you’re on a hike, at camp or even around town, it is important to know what to do when you come across a bear.

Spotting a Black Bear: Although there are only black bears in Colorado, it is important to be able to recognize one quickly as they can sometimes be confused in general. A black bear has no shoulder hump (grizzly bears do) and a black bear’s rounded hind end is slightly higher than the shoulders. Its ears are tall and pointed and the face runs a straight line from the forehead to the nose. The claws are less than 2 inches, more curved and the tracks don’t usually have a claw mark.


Keep Food Stored. When camping do not leave any food or water out. This will easily attract bears. Make sure you lock all your food away in hard-shelled containers, like bear boxes, a camper or a car – not a tent or plastic bin sitting outside. Keep your camp clean. Don’t bury garbage or keep your garbage bag outside. Either burn it completely in a campfire, or pack it out. 


Change Your Clothes. If you’re camping, when you go to bed, don’t wear the clothes you cooked in. Change your clothes and store the clothes you cooked in away from the tent. Also, cook food at least 100 yards away from your tent.


Remain Calm. Black bears rarely attack humans. Back away slowly and leave the area. Be sure to give the bear lots of space. Walk. Do not run. Don’t be alarmed if a bear stands on its hind legs to get better look at or smell of you. This is not necessarily aggressive behavior.


Keep Your Distance. Never approach a bear when you spot one, no matter the size. This includes cubs. Mama bears are extremely protective of their cubs and when there is a cub in sight, mom is not very far away.


Make Noise.Bears stay away from humans. Make noise while you’re on a hike by talking or singing. Don’t hike silently. If a bear visits your campsite, try to scare it away by making nose. If that doesn’t work, leave immediately.


Do Not Run. If a black bear charges, don’t run. Stand your ground. Black bears often “mock charge” by running towards a person but stopping short.


Distractions. In the worst-case scenario that a black bear should attack try to distract it by dropping a backpack or item of clothing. If that doesn’t work, fight back, unless it is a mother bear protecting her cubs, then play dead.


Note: these are tips for black bear safety in the San Juan Mountains. Grizzlies, not present in Southwest Colorado, are a whole different story!

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