Continental US / New England

An Unexpected Guest: how to behave when a bear comes to dinner

“Bear, bear, bear!” I had shouted at my sister earlier that weekend as she unceremoniously dumped orange remains from the cutting board onto the dirt at our camp site.

The English language failing me, it was all I could instinctively verbalize. She rolled her eyes, kicking dirt over the spot where the smelly bear snack lay, “Better?”

The campsite bathrooms contained standard wildlife warnings. Pasted to the right of each bathroom mirror, green sheets explained: black bears are not dangerous and are generally docile but here are some tips when confronted…

Having never faced a bear in our 20 years of camping, we glazed over the details.

It wasn’t until dinner that night, we wished we had looked more closely.

“Bear, bear, bear!” Paige whispered from inside the screen tent. She dropped the knife she had been using to cut chicken, eyes fixed directly ahead of her. From our seats around the fire we followed her gaze and saw…nothing.

“It’s behind me!” she whispered again.

Sure enough, a baby black bear had made his way onto our site. After quickly assessing the safety of the situation, I snapped a few pictures with my iPhone and ran for the closest car.

Paige reacts to our new friend on the right, I think her eyes were frozen forwards.

“We have to make noise to scare it off,” I instructed from a safe distance, leaving the dangerous work to the professionals. (They teach this stuff in “dad training.”)

Buster and Wee Dingwall


When baby bear returned in less than 15 minutes, we called in for backup: backup named “Bucky the Ranger.” A combination of Buster (Arrested Development) and Wee Dingwall (Brave), Bucky didn’t offer much help.

“He’s just a little guy,” he said, as if that would save our food from inevitable consumption. “He looks about 25 pounds, he won’t cause you much trouble. Just…uh…give another call if he comes back and we’ll bring the firecracker gun to scare him off.”

Thanks, Bucky.

First off, there is no way he was 25 pounds, a 2-year-old child weighs 25 pounds, not a bear. Second–we had food–he’d be back. So when Bucky retreated into the distance, we wildly speculated about how to deal with the bear without him. Not having read the green sign in the bathroom, it went something like this:

Unqualified Tips for Avoiding Bears

  • run downhill, hope the bear trips behind you
  • run downhill, trip your friend, hope the bear gets him first
  • mark your territory
  • climb a tree

As it turns out, marking your territory and running downhill aren’t such bad ideas. But I strongly advise against scaling a tree, I guarantee the bear can climb faster than you and you’ll regret your decision before hitting the first branch.

We ultimately settled for option #3 and averted our eyes as the dads made use of another lesson from “dad training.”

This did the trick and baby bear did not venture back. But just to be sure, we bear-proofed our tent by stowing toothpaste in the car that night.

As it turns out, a mother bear was killed in the road by our site a few weeks before and the rangers believed this little cub belonged to her. It was too soon to transport him to a less populated area because he hadn’t yet learned to hunt. And the best they could hope was that, surrounded by easily-accessible camp meals, he would nevertheless develop the skill.

So, the next time a bear comes to dinner remember he’s probably got a traumatic back-story and has to learn to fend for himself. So even though he’s absolutely adorable: do not approach and do not feed.

And don’t forget to shout, “Bear, bear, bear!”



Don’t forget to try your hand at this whole “yeah write thing.” It’s the last weekly challenge of the summer and the prizes are stellar! Why not hop on over and take a look?

42 thoughts on “An Unexpected Guest: how to behave when a bear comes to dinner

    • Yeah, that’s what we were afraid of. We always keep our toothpaste in the car instead of the tent to keep bears away, but this trip we took out everything that could possibly attract him (deodorant, minty floss etc).

      He was so cute though, it was hard to remember we’re supposed to be afraid of him =)

  1. Aw cute story.
    For future camping trips you can spray pine sol in a squirt bottle around your tent and car. Bears hate the smell of that and won’t mess with you.

  2. How thrilling and nerve-wracking! I would’ve taken some pictures, too- baby bears are adorable (is there any kind of baby that isn’t?)- good to know how to keep them away for the next time we go camping! 🙂

  3. I laughed my way through this whole post, from you’re thoroughly entertaining “Unqualified Tips for Avoiding Bears” to the part about each bear having a tragic backstory. (Not that I’m any less sad for the bear, but the personification just makes me imagine a circle of bears in a support group…) Great post!

  4. “After quickly assessing the safety of the situation, I snapped a few pictures with my iPhone and ran for the closest car.” Hahahaha! Ah, the lengths bloggers will go for a great story.

  5. Pingback: 5 Simple Tips to Pick the Perfect Family Campsite | The Penniless Traveler

    • I’m sure you’re right. It’s so hard in situations like that because you feel awful scaring the bear off, but it also hurts him if he keeps eating the food from the campsites because he won’t be able to survive in the real world when they try to relocate him. But you’re right–Goldilocks was probably behind it! =)

  6. Every time I went to the Smoky Mountains, I wanted to see a bear. I never did. Even a baby bear would scare me if I saw one that close though. Far away so I can take pictures of him/her is best for me. Great story though.

    • Thanks! I was actually hoping to see a moose–I think I’d have the same reaction as you though: scary up close, good for pictures from afar. But for some reason bears don’t scare me quite so much. (knock on wood) =)

  7. I love that you “assessed the danger” and then whipped out your iphone, leaving your poor sister in the flimsy tent about 3 feet away from a bear. And by “love,” I pretty much mean that I would have done exactly the same thing.

    I love the visual of Bucky you’ve created. Priceless!

  8. “So, the next time a bear comes to dinner remember he’s probably got a traumatic back-story and has to learn to fend for himself.” – Haha!! This is the best moral to a story ever. 😀 Loved the depiction of the event and I’m glad y’all came out of it all with no bear-horror stories!

  9. Oh my gosh, he’s so cute! I want to adopt it!
    …and that’s why it’s not a good scenario when I run into a bear.

  10. I used to live in an area with lots of bears, so we always had a family walking through our yard or a baby up in our tree. I was worried because usually a baby means a mama (much more dangerous since she’ll want to protect her cub), but learning about the mama bear possibly having been killed made me sad. I miss the bears sometimes. They were so cute. Glad you were safe.

    • I’m glad it gave you a trip down memory lane. That would be so sweet to have a family of bears living close by–but also a little scary. I’m glad we didn’t face an entire family but its definitely sad what happened to mama bear.

  11. Pingback: A New Adventure | The Penniless Traveler

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