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Old 05-19-2018, 08:59 PM   #1
Crash
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Bear Encounters while staying in a lean-to

I did a solo overnight at the Gull Lakes Lean-to in the Pigeon Lake Wilderness last night. It was great weather. The leaves were just barely budding. Here is a view of Upper Gull Lake from the lean-to.
IMG_7887_Size600.JPG

The black flies were bad, but I’ve been through much much worse. (By the way, the canoe in the photo appears to be no longer repairable by duct tape.) Since the forecast was for a rainy Saturday starting around 10 AM, I packed up early and departed the lean-to by 7:30.

There were some pretty impressive bear claw marks on every wall of the lean-to. Here is a photo of just one wall.
IMG_7943_Size640.JPG

During the night I heard (or imagined I heard) some thumping on the ground as if a bear was walking behind the lean-to (the type of sound you'd expect from the pine needle floor you see in the photo). Also I could just make out some gurgling sounds coming from the same direction - gurgling as one might expect to hear if a bear was very hungry.

I shined my flashlight out the front of the leanto - and no longer heard anything. Several years ago, in one bear encounter, as soon as the bear became aware of my presence, the bear went into stealth mode and became absolutely silent – and I assumed this could have also been the case here. After a few minutes of silence, I did step out of the lean-to - since “nature” was now calling me. Outside, I did not see anything behind the lean-to. Do you think this sounds like a credible encounter or was this just my imagination?

This got me thinking ... since I could no longer sleep:

From what I’ve heard, in the high peaks and around campgrounds, bears have associated people with food – but everywhere else in the park, they associate people as hunters and are terrified of us. I base this on stories I’ve heard and on my two bear encounters. (Please let me know if your opinion differs on this.)

So outside the high peaks, it seems that keeping a clean camp, not sleeping in clothes you’ve cooked in and hanging your food away from your sleeping area is sufficient. These rules are important not just for your night’s stay but also to keep a bear from associating humans with food in general.

So here is my question: Outside the high peaks, what do bears do when they come across an occupied lean-to:
1) Do the bears smell the campfire or embers and keep far away?
2) Do the bears hear you snoring (or cowering) and keep far away?
3) Do the bears feel they are authorized to sniff out the campsite for any improperly stored food or leftover food scraps.
4) Do the bears stick their head into the lean-to and say “whatsup”?

I’d love to hear your ideas and stories. For any encounter stories please share the lean-to name to help us assess the bear’s likely past experience with humans.

Last edited by Crash; 05-19-2018 at 09:12 PM..
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Old 05-19-2018, 09:24 PM   #2
DSettahr
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Personally, I don't see anything about that damage on the lean-to that indicates definitively to me that it was a bear. It could just as easily be porcupine, or idiot campers even. I wouldn't be the first case of a human camper hacking off parts of the lean-to for firewood (unfortunately). It's also worth pointing out that everything sounds a lot bigger in the dark at night than it really is- a few times I've been convinced that a bear, deer, or even a human was walking through my campsite at night, only to find out when I poked my head out of my tent and turned on my headlamp that it was just a mouse.

I have come to the conclusion that improper food storage at night is not typically the primary cause of problem bear behavior. It can absolutely and without question make problem bear behavior worse once that problem behavior already exists- but bears are naturally very skittish around humans, and no amount of (realistically plausible) food scent is likely to convince an Adirondack black bear to approach a human or enter an occupied tent site if said bear still retains that natural fear. (I've personally never bothered in the Adirondacks with changing out of clothes that I wore while cooking.)

What I believe does primarily cause problem bear behavior is improperly disposed of left over food and trash that gets left behind when campers depart. An unoccupied tent site presents far less of a deterrent against curious bears- and if those same bears find food, trash, etc. left behind, then they start to form that association between a campsite (and by extension, humans) and food. Once that association exists, they are more and more likely to enter sites even that are occupied.

Proper food storage is still essential (if for no other reason than the mice), but equally as essential, as you indicate, is keeping your site clean, packing out all leftover food and trash, etc. Also- not leaving food behind in lean-tos. It irks me to no end how often people think that this is a good idea.
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Old 05-22-2018, 11:03 AM   #3
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I've seen black bears charge at people and chase them away from their campsite to steal their food (that particular fellow was obviously experienced with such tactics) and I've seen black bears that took one sniff of me and turn around to head in the opposite direction.

It really depends on the individual bear's temperament.

Outside of hunting season, I wouldn't say that all bears are skittish around us humans, but rather are aware of us and avoid us if given the chance. Some just saunter off in a casual fashion while others run off.

Improper food and trash disposal is the biggest factor which attracts bears. Black bear have been known to get aggressive and even attack humans, though such occurrences are rare.

The point is, even though they are likely to leave you alone, never forget that they are opportunistic predators. Indicate your presence, stand tall, make loud/intimidating noises and, generally-speaking, they'll look elsewhere for feeding opportunities.
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Old 06-01-2018, 03:57 PM   #4
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We were sitting in the Glenwood one afternoon when the local bear tore a cap off a pickup truck to get at the garbage the owner had inside. We've been sitting around on a beach near Eagle Bay, smoking sausage on the grill, and had a bear come down the road on the other side of the camp and ignore us completely, until we saw it and everyone went to have a look. On another occasion, my mother scraped some paper plates, put them in a trash bag and left them on the porch and neglected to tell me they were there. I was happy I had not slept on the porch when I got up to go fishing and found the screen over the sleeping couch gone where the bear had come in and fortunately gone back out through the same window. I walked up to the road to look at the stars from a somewhat more isolated campsite in the Moose River Plains once and a bear walked maybe 30 feet from my wife sitting at the campfire. She heard nothing, but could see the eyes when it went by, and I checked the tracks in the mud in the AM. I think every bear is a little different. I am amazed at how much noise a little mouse makes when it comes out and prowls around the edges of a campsite and campfire!

I agree with DS, that does not look like bear damage to the lean to, much more likely an uneducated person with a hatchet.

Both in a hard sided camp, and when camped in a tent, we follow the precautions. NO food waste goes on the ground or in a fire, it all goes into a trashbag, which goes in another trash bag, and I sprinkle a little ammonia on the bag and the back of the truck to confuse odors. There has never been any food in either of my tents, and I do swap out clothing before going to sleep (but I would do that anyway just to be comfortable), and lock it in the cab with the windows closed. If I am backpacking, the food gets hung away from the tent (although my brother had to abandon a Marcy hike once because the bear was a climber who knew the hang and ate all their provisions). Dishwashing water gets put into a hole uphill and > 200 feet away from the campsite. Food does not stay out of the cooler or the camp box, it gets prepped eaten and put away (exception: the beer I am working on). Knock on wood, we've had no problems with bears in the woods, and the problems around hard sided camps in general were the bears that had been conditioned to feed on garbage by the population density, and their desire to eat overpowered the fear.

Last edited by Lucky13; 06-01-2018 at 05:04 PM..
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Old 06-01-2018, 04:54 PM   #5
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Every bear is different and their reactions to whatever they smell or come upon changes depending on how they feel, how hungry they are, if there are cubs and much more.

They can be aggressive or docile. I've seen them raid camps along different trails and break into a friend's home in the Franklin Falls area doing considerable damage. I had one come in the Panther Gorge lean to while I laid there sleeping but I wasn't sleeping. It sniffed around and came within a couple ft of my head, I could smell its breath, turned around and left and I never saw it again. A dog can often get them to tree easily but I had a hound killed by one.
Bears are smart and learn.
So what I'm saying is; take precautions in every and all bear territory, be alert and expect each bear encounter to be different though probably not dangerous, just frightening.
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Old 06-06-2018, 08:53 PM   #6
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Thanks for your responses - I find these stories fascinating!

The reason I said these marks were due to a bear was because the ranger wrote about them in the lean-to log book and mentioned they were bear marks. There were groups of these marks at several spots around the lean-to. Some were so old that they were painted over.

I agree that noises are often amplified in the woods, especially when in a tent. I recall experiences with mice, and once, a rabbit that was obsessed with gnawing the steak grizzle of the metal campfire grate.

I never really though about it but I guess it makes sense that every bear has a unique personality - afterall, every dog I've gotten to know has their own unique personality, so why shouldn't bears. Maybe the area bear here just likes to claw the lean-to.

But the thumping (I thought) I heard sounded like something heavy walking on a pine floor and, if I really did hear something, it was no mouse.
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Old 06-06-2018, 09:34 PM   #7
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I hear a lot of thumping at night and it turns out to be rabbits. Yeah, I'm not kidding. Rabbits make a very loud thumping noise when running around a lean-to at night and I hear this quite often.

Porcupines chew on wood and those marks are very obvious. These look like axe/hatchet marks made by a sub-human. I'm not sure porkies would chew stained/painted wood.

As far as the gurgling noise, I can't say. Could be something as harmless as a raccoon.

Bears are going to stay away from humans, their associated smells, smoke etc. It takes quite awhile for bears to get used to people so they lose the fear as they have done in the High Peaks. At Gull, there shouldn't be a bear problem.
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Old 06-06-2018, 09:52 PM   #8
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Flies, Mosquitoes, & Bears...oh my!
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Old 06-07-2018, 11:56 AM   #9
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i am a deep sleeper and usually sleep through bear encounters,
have slept through the night only to have buddy tell me he tried to wake me during the night, to tell me of a bear around the leanto,
quick check found fresh tracks circling the leanto
similar experiences I have slept through on other non leanto trips
I always hang my bag 100yds away and try to keep a clean camp
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Old 06-07-2018, 07:11 PM   #10
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Porkies will chew on stained and painted wood because of the salts in the chemicals.
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Old 06-08-2018, 10:46 AM   #11
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Just shout "Ursus Horribilis" and black bears will run away.
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Old 06-08-2018, 01:47 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Woodly View Post
Porkies will chew on stained and painted wood because of the salts in the chemicals.
Now I know, thanks.
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Old 06-08-2018, 06:36 PM   #13
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... they'll also chew salty boots as one of my hiking companions discovered to his dismay.
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Old 06-08-2018, 09:06 PM   #14
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Flies, mosquitoes, bears, & porcupines... oh my!
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Old 06-10-2018, 09:27 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Woodly View Post
A dog can often get them to tree easily but I had a hound killed by one.
Bears are smart and learn.
Woodly, do you do any hound training with bears, or was that just an unfortunate encounter?
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Old 06-12-2018, 01:13 PM   #16
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I think they just get curious to varying degrees. Hunger playing a part.

I've encountered bear paw prints at the Sand Lake Falls lean-to, slept just fine.

Didn't see the bear until I was hiking out, and then it was the runtiest looking lil bear ever.
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