Flatwater

Bears and Paint Guns

The below article comes from the November 2012 ORCKA Newsletter.
 
In the past two years, we have started to have bears visit our campsite on a 
regular basis due to careless campers before us, attracting bears with
unprotected food sources and garbage.
 
Generally, seeing a bear on trip is really one of our highlights and the kids 
talk about it forever. We exercised zero trace camping, were careful about 
food preparation, cleaning and waste and utilized “bear hangs” with our barrels. 
The bears just kept coming to our campsite, rummaging through our equipment 
and caused a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights for our youth and 
many of our adult participants.
 
We facilitated 6 canoe trips to the same location this summer. Every week, 
we crossed paths with canoeists and campers that were fleeing the area 
because bears had taken their food or scared them away. Other campers 
advised that the bears had defeated their “bear hangs” and were not deterred 
by the sound of banging pots, whistles, yelling or other noise aversion techniques.
 
As a result we contacted the Ministry of Natural Resources “Bear Management Section” 
and spoke to their specialist, Mr. Bart Brown. Bart made several of the 
usual recommendations and had a couple of new ones to add.
1. Practice common sense (all the usual recommendations about handling food 
and encountering wild animals)
2. Teach “Bear Wise” program that was developed by the Ministry of 
Natural Resources
3. Noise aversion “noise aversion tactics” (Sounding a whistle, air horn, 
bear-bangers,etc)
4. Use a “bear-float”. (place your food barrels in a canoe, anchor it 100ft 
offshore and have a rope tied off to a tree or rock at your shoreline) 
The idea being, a bear could swim out to your “bear float” but they 
can’t tread water in order to put their front paws up on the gunwales in 
order to enter or flip the canoe to get the food.
5. Pain aversion - If the bear does not respond to noise aversion, apply 
pain aversion. Use a paintball gun and shoot for the bears front paws 
if possible. This should deter the bear from approaching your campsite. 
It also establishes your dominance.
 
I was a little surprised about the paintball gun recommendation and questioned Bart 
a little further. Bart advised me that the MNR had made that recommendation to 
several camp programs that had experienced problem bears 
and had received good feedback. Bart asked me to keep him informed of any 
bear contact this summer.
 
We started teaching the “bear wise” program to every participant that attended our trips. 
We delivered this in light hearted way and used a huge teddy bear for a prop. 
We purchased an inexpensive paintball gun ($75.00) 
and 3 bear bangers. We transported the paintball gun in a trip barrel. We also 
utilized a “bear float” on all trips. 
 
We employed the “bear float” technique of food storage on every trip which 
turned out to be a lot easier than our traditional “bear hang” up in the trees. 
We tied a mesh bag to a 20ft painter and placed several rocks in the mesh 
bag. We used 100ft line attached to the front of the canoe and the other end 
tied to a tree near the shoreline. We guided the “bear float” canoe out with a 
second canoe and when we were at the end of our 100ft of line attached at 
the shoreline, we threw out the mesh bag anchor. We paddled back in to 
shore and snapped a photo.
 
On one of our trips, a curious bear appeared on the mainland across from our 
island campsite. The bear just sat there and looked at us from a rock. We had
35 participants sitting across from the bear staring back at him. At nightfall, 
the bear made its way out to our island and circled our campsite. We noticed 
the bear in the darkness and several trip leaders responded with flashlights 
and started to make noise to cause the bear to leave. The bear was unresponsive 
and hovered around the perimeter of our campsite. We deployed 
one bear banger and the bear ran off. Approximately 5 minutes later the bear 
returned within 20ft of our site. This time, one of our trip leaders deployed the 
paintball gun and administered 3 paintballs at a range of about 40ft. The bear 
ran off quickly and did not return.
 
Since that time, we have shared our experiences with several other groups 
canoeing in the same area. Although, some still seem wary of the paintball 
gun, many groups are now carrying the bear bangers and using the “bear 
float” technique.
 
We will continue to follow Bart’s recommendations and continue to be “happy 
campers.”
 
Article by: Vince Langdon, Toronto Police Service, TROOP Program Coordinator