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Old 09-30-2021, 07:00 AM   #1
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Boondocking in grizzly country

The wife and I are considering doing some boondocking in the Rockies next spring. Grizzly bears inhabit the area we are considering.

I'm a former wildlife biologist, and I worked with black bears early in my career. I know from experience that even a modest sized black bear is perfectly capable of breaking into a cabin or a car if it wants to. In most areas of the country, they don't do it because they've been conditioned to avoid people (Yosemite NP being a notable exception). Never worked with grizzlies, but it seems obvious to me that an adult grizzly would have no problem getting into a camper if it wanted to (yes, even a completely hard-sided camper).

So here's my question for those of you who boondock in grizzly country: how do you handle campsite sanitation? Obviously, never leave food, trash, dishes, crumbs, cosmetics, etc., outside. But I'm quite sure the bears can still smell any of that stuff that is inside your camper. If you were tent camping, you'd store it all in a food locker or suspended between two trees at least a couple hundred yards away from your campsite, and that's also where you would do all your cooking, eating, and cleaning up. But who wants to do that when you've got a perfectly good kitchen and table in your camper? Kind of defeats the point of having a camper.
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Old 09-30-2021, 08:17 AM   #2
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We do dry camp in bear counntry, both grizzley and black. I have also wondered about that. I know that bears have figured out car door latches so I use the deadbolt on our RV door at night. I am fairly confident that the steel framing inside the side panels on either of the class A's we have had would make it very hard for a bear to break through it. The windows are high enough to be tough also. I think that if a bear were determined she could get in somehow but it would be tough. It would just be easier to get food elsewhere. We do keep bear spray though.

We double bag the grill before putting it on the compartment which has a steel door. The rest of the food prep in inside anyway. Standard cleanup observed.
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Old 09-30-2021, 08:27 AM   #3
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You're the wildlife biologist and asking on a RV forum what to do in regards to what a bear prefers to eat (smell)?
One bear may run from the smell of a human, 10's of miles away... the next one will be curious and 'knock' on the camper door, who knows what they are looking for.
But you want to take the wife into KNOWN bear territory and camp, ask the local wildlife folks and/or rangers for advice, at least they will know the area and also know if someone is in the woods "feeding" bears and where to look for the body..
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Old 09-30-2021, 08:33 AM   #4
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Oh, I feel safe in a RV....



And one more...
https://www.rvtravel.com/hungry-bear...see-the-photo/
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Old 09-30-2021, 09:54 AM   #5
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We've boondocked extensively in grizzly country..all summer on our Alaskan trip, just outside of Yellowstone, etc.

Keep a clean campsite is the key and never bury or toss leftover garbage. The next camper after you may not appreciate a bear rummaging around looking for it.

Think about it.... RV parks are in the midst of grizzly country. Fishing Bridge campground in Yellowstone is in the heart of it. How often have you heard of an unfortunate experience? Yes, it could happen but it's rare.
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Old 09-30-2021, 11:01 AM   #6
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You're the wildlife biologist and asking on a RV forum what to do in regards to what a bear prefers to eat (smell)?
One bear may run from the smell of a human, 10's of miles away... the next one will be curious and 'knock' on the camper door, who knows what they are looking for.
But you want to take the wife into KNOWN bear territory and camp, ask the local wildlife folks and/or rangers for advice, at least they will know the area and also know if someone is in the woods "feeding" bears and where to look for the body..
Yes, I'm the wildlife biologist, but not the experienced RV camper. Just wondering how folks handle it. I know how I would handle it if I was tent camping, but a big part of the appeal of RV camping is to avoid the hassles of tent camping.

Good thought on asking the local FS staff about bear activity and any known problems. Not a guarantee, but would help to avoid known trouble spots.
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Old 09-30-2021, 11:06 AM   #7
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We do dry camp in bear counntry, both grizzley and black. I have also wondered about that. I know that bears have figured out car door latches so I use the deadbolt on our RV door at night. I am fairly confident that the steel framing inside the side panels on either of the class A's we have had would make it very hard for a bear to break through it. The windows are high enough to be tough also. I think that if a bear were determined she could get in somehow but it would be tough. It would just be easier to get food elsewhere. We do keep bear spray though.

We double bag the grill before putting it on the compartment which has a steel door. The rest of the food prep in inside anyway. Standard cleanup observed.
Yeah, I think a Class A would be more secure than a TT or Class C. We have a small fiberglass panel travel trailer. Our windows would be vulnerable, and I'm not confident that even the walls would keep out a really determined bear.

But don't get too confident about your windows. When we visited Grand Teton a couple of years ago, my wife took a picture of me standing against a cottonwood tree under some bear claw marks. The marks were nearly twice as high as I am tall.
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Old 09-30-2021, 11:08 AM   #8
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We've boondocked extensively in grizzly country..all summer on our Alaskan trip, just outside of Yellowstone, etc.

Keep a clean campsite is the key and never bury or toss leftover garbage. The next camper after you may not appreciate a bear rummaging around looking for it.

Think about it.... RV parks are in the midst of grizzly country. Fishing Bridge campground in Yellowstone is in the heart of it. How often have you heard of an unfortunate experience? Yes, it could happen but it's rare.

I wouldn't worry about Fishing Bridge at all due to how crowded it is. Yes, it is in the middle of grizzly country, but it would have to be one seriously habituated bear to cause trouble in that giant parking lot full of RVs.
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Old 09-30-2021, 11:09 AM   #9
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Oh, I feel safe in a RV....



And one more...
https://www.rvtravel.com/hungry-bear...see-the-photo/
Yikes.
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Old 09-30-2021, 11:57 AM   #10
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I wouldn't worry about Fishing Bridge at all due to how crowded it is. Yes, it is in the middle of grizzly country, but it would have to be one seriously habituated bear to cause trouble in that giant parking lot full of RVs.
Then why are you worrying about boondocking where humans are fewer and fewer careless incidents with food?

Fishing Bridge doesn't allow soft sided campers. Last I've known they don't even have picnic tables where food smells would be... and no fire pits for roasting those marshmallows or cooking over the fire. With the new renovation of the campground in progress I'll be interested to see if any changes.

We volunteered in the national parks. One instance was in Rocky Mtn. Nat'l Park in a campground that was always full. The rangers and volunteers applied strict rules to visitors to keep bears out of the campground. One visitor went hiking and when returned tossed her backpack in her tent. It had a chocolate bar in it. Within an hour of her return a bear ripped open the tent, grabbed the backpack and walked away. A ranger was called. She thought she had blanks in her gun but unfortunately for her and the bear it was not the case. She killed the bear needlessly and she was in deep trouble herself.

Another instance was a RVer who left his cooler on the table and took off for a day of hiking. He returned after dark to find his cooler missing. He pounds on our door at 11pm. We stated the ranger took it because of rules. He was yelling that the ranger had no 'right' to take his cooler and all it had in it were drinks. We stated "well.... talk to ranger then but he'll be doubly unhappy when you wake him up to state your 'rights'. The guy did wait until morning to approach the ranger. He packed up and left soon after! However, two days later a bear broke into another cooler that was left out!!

Another instance was a camper that had poured his bacon grease into the firepit. A bear quickly came. They love the smell of bacon.

The point is..... a full campground doesn't mean a thing to a bear. Stating rules time after time to campers doesn't mean a thing at keeping bears out. Some campers just don't 'get it'.

If you're boondocking a bear really wouldn't have a definite reason to go to your site unless it was a well-used site where people could have been careless with food around the campsite.
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Old 09-30-2021, 12:08 PM   #11
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We also camp in bear country (both kinds) a lot. We have an absolute rule that nothing is left outside the camper/motorhome/tent except a lawn chair. Grills, cook stoves, food, etc. all are stored inside a hard sided, non-visible container. In the motorhome that is easy, but we did it with tents too. We haven’t ever been bothered with bears in 40+ years. This includes canoe camping in wilderness areas. If a bear gets too accustomed to tearing open a car or camper, they are generally moved to wilderness. If they come back, they are shot.
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Old 09-30-2021, 02:27 PM   #12
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Then why are you worrying about boondocking where humans are fewer and fewer careless incidents with food?

Fishing Bridge doesn't allow soft sided campers. Last I've known they don't even have picnic tables where food smells would be... and no fire pits for roasting those marshmallows or cooking over the fire. With the new renovation of the campground in progress I'll be interested to see if any changes.

We volunteered in the national parks. One instance was in Rocky Mtn. Nat'l Park in a campground that was always full. The rangers and volunteers applied strict rules to visitors to keep bears out of the campground. One visitor went hiking and when returned tossed her backpack in her tent. It had a chocolate bar in it. Within an hour of her return a bear ripped open the tent, grabbed the backpack and walked away. A ranger was called. She thought she had blanks in her gun but unfortunately for her and the bear it was not the case. She killed the bear needlessly and she was in deep trouble herself.

Another instance was a RVer who left his cooler on the table and took off for a day of hiking. He returned after dark to find his cooler missing. He pounds on our door at 11pm. We stated the ranger took it because of rules. He was yelling that the ranger had no 'right' to take his cooler and all it had in it were drinks. We stated "well.... talk to ranger then but he'll be doubly unhappy when you wake him up to state your 'rights'. The guy did wait until morning to approach the ranger. He packed up and left soon after! However, two days later a bear broke into another cooler that was left out!!

Another instance was a camper that had poured his bacon grease into the firepit. A bear quickly came. They love the smell of bacon.

The point is..... a full campground doesn't mean a thing to a bear. Stating rules time after time to campers doesn't mean a thing at keeping bears out. Some campers just don't 'get it'.

If you're boondocking a bear really wouldn't have a definite reason to go to your site unless it was a well-used site where people could have been careless with food around the campsite.
Perhaps I'm overthinking things, but two hypothetical concerns come to mind for a boondocking situation. One, although there are fewer people around, there are also few or no rangers around to enforce rules about keeping food locked up. So perhaps a greater chance for bears to get habituated to human food sources. Two, in a remote area, a non-habituated bear might smell your food and decide to investigate because there isn't anyone around. A non-habituated bear would be afraid to approach a setting that is crowded with humans (that's why you're supposed to hike in groups of three or more), but perhaps would not be afraid to investigate what appears to be an unattended RV. NPS is avoiding incidents in Fishing Bridge by making sure that bears don't get habituated to human food (hence the absence of tables and fire rings). The non-habituated bears are too scared to approach such a high concentration of human activity.

I live in an area with a pretty high black bear population and a good bit of public land camping (both campgrounds and dispersed). After several incidents a number of years ago, the land management agencies instituted strict rules requiring food to be locked up at all times. I haven't heard of any recent incidents, so I suppose the rules are effective at keeping the bears from becoming habituated. Also, there is a strong tradition of bear hunting in this area, so the non-habituated bears are pretty much all afraid of people.

Again, I may be overthinking this, and if boondockers are avoiding incidents by being reasonably careful, that's great. I'll take my trip and not worry too much about it.
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Old 09-30-2021, 04:12 PM   #13
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Perhaps I'm overthinking things....

you think?

although there are fewer people around, there are also few or no rangers around to enforce rules about keeping food locked up.

Campgrounds are full of city folk who don't think about animal consequences. Have you heard of people falling in Yellowstone's hot water along the boardwalks even though there are signs galore to be careful and stay on the boardwalks?

Or folks have run-ins and close calls with the bison or moose? Boondockers wouldn't be doing crazy things like that because they know they're on their own for help.

I think those that boondock know more about the lands and animals that campground campers. They may be a little more wise about what they're doing to survive.



Again, I may be overthinking this, and if boondockers are avoiding incidents by being reasonably careful, that's great. I'll take my trip and not worry too much about it.
Have a great trip!! Where are you going? Report back with your bear story.
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Old 09-30-2021, 04:24 PM   #14
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