Guidelines for Safe Bear Encounters

The Coastal Brown Bear

Southeast Alaska is famous for a lot of things: Whales, salmon, big trees, glaciers, berries, and other things… BEARS!

There’s no getting around it. On Baranof Island, where Sitka is located, it is estimated that there is more or less one brown bear per square mile, which is roughly 1,500 bears. We do not have black bears.

Alaska Coastal Brown Bear

What Is A Brown Bear?

What a brown bear is: Ursus Arctos, Grizzly, Alaska Brown Bear, Kodiak Brown Bear. These are all names that signify the same species of bear. The different names are given due to the genetic differentiation of sub-species, mostly around size, with the Kodiak being the largest, followed by the coastal brown bear (what we have), and last, the grizzly or continental brown.

In my 10 years guiding up here, I have encountered many bears, mainly on the Alaskan Peninsula far to the north, but I have also run into them here in the Southeast. It has always been a source of joy after the fact. You always want to see a bear and are always sort of glad you don’t. I have had bears walk into my camp twice. In each case, they turned around and left with some careful and polite direction. 

Alaska Coastal Brown Bear foot print

Safety Tips for Bear Country

Because we camp mostly on smaller islands, the chances of seeing a bear at camp are slight. I have seen them more frequently at the mouths of rivers or cruising the shore when paddling past. That is a lovely, though rare, way to see a bear. It is safe to say that, with the density of the population, if you go for a hike in the forest in our region of SE Alaska, you will have a bear encounter. However, it is 99% likely that you won’t know it. They don’t like us.

Here are some tips for safety in bear country:

  • Make noise so they know you are here.
  • Do not keep unwrapped food on your person. Ever. 
  • Make your cooking area below the high tide line and away from your tents. 100 yards is a good rule.
  • Do not store food in your kayak overnight.
  • Store your food in a bear barrel away from your tent or in a proper bear hang. This would be 20 feet up, six feet out, and six feet down. 
  • Do not wear scented anything. Bears love a scent. They are curious.
  • Don’t bushwhack up a creek, and don’t camp at a creek mouth.
  • Always carry your bear deterrent and KNOW HOW TO DEPLOY IT!
  • Do not panic, shout, or appear aggressive. 
  • Stay together. There is always safety in numbers. 
  • Be aware. Bears are curious, and they are smart. 

Follow these basic rules, and you should be safe.

A group of Alaska Coastal Brown Bears

Firearms in Bear Country

As the company owner, your safety is always my primary concern, whether on the water or in camp. Occasionally, I will have guests who feel that a firearm is necessary for protection. My answer is always the same: I have one and seldom bring it on any trip other than when I go out for a multi-day on my own. A group of people is a great safety net. Everyone has an air horn or a handheld marine flare.

If anyone asks about bringing their own firearm, I ask about the caliber and whether they practice tactical shooting. If you do not know what this is or do not practice it, please don’t bring your firearm.