If you’ve seen some of my recent photos, you know I enjoy supporting Scout summer camp. It’s a great learning experience for the boys, a great opportunity to bond, become a team, and learn skills like shooting, boating, first aid and lifesaving, pioneering, orienteering, etc, etc. During the week we were there, we were fortunate enough to reinforce a lesson that may not have otherwise been so easy to teach.
From Day 1, we established a clean camp protocol – all smellables (snacks, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, etc) in labelled ziplock bags. Those bags kept in a dry box, and that box locked in our trailer overnight. (We actually discussed hanging bear bags, but our group was a large one and this wasn’t practical, particularly since we HAD an equipment trailer parked onsite). Absolutely NO, NEVER, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, would we have food or food trash in tents.
Many of the boys complained – a lot – about how much trouble this was. Even going so far as to try to convince us that their ability to take showers would be severely hampered if their toiletries were stashed. Seriously, as if showers were one of their highest priorities… Fortunately, some older boys stepped up and reinforced the message: Our camp bordered a National Forest. It didn’t feel like backcountry, but raccoons, skunks, even mice and chipmunks, could cause problems. They pointed out the raccoon issues a couple weeks ago in Fredericksburg as an example. (This is why Scouts works – boys leading boys!)
Begrudgingly, our policy was made law of the camp, and all our smellables got consolidated. We had rodents – mice and mini-bears (chipmunks) – around, but with nothing to eat, they weren’t a nuisance. We had black rat snakes too, and we encouraged them to go after the mice.
Tuesday morning, a special meeting of Scoutmasters was called to share some news – a yearling black bear, 150-200 lbs, had come into a neighboring camp (a couple hundred yards from ours) at breakfast, attracted by a 10-pound jug of peanut butter left on a picnic table. He decimated that jug, then went after a cooler, and some other random items in (unoccupied) tents before being chased off.
Validation and vindication! Our Senior Patrol Leader called the Troop together and told the boys about it – not only was this an opportunity to reinforce our clean camp policy, but it gave us a forum to discuss the proper response to seeing a bear in camp: get together as a group, hands up (both actions to look big and formidable) and make a lot of noise to drive the bear off.
Some boys were a little anxious, the buddy-system became a little easier to enforce… But suddenly, all these boys who had complained about having to pack their snacks away overnight were now PROUD of the fact that they had been doing the “right” thing all along! Ironically, the fact a bear came into somebody else’s campsite, and left ours alone, made the encounter a very positive experience. To many, it also became “cool” – we’re out camping, and there are bears around, and we know what to do.
For their part, the leaders of the ransacked Troop admitted – “We weren’t thinking. A lot of us are hunters in addition to doing this sort of thing, and we should have known better. It just didn’t feel like an environment where we needed to be worried about a bear.” The lesson being that any time you’re outside, you’re on the animals’ turf – and it doesn’t have to be a bear to ruin your day. A mouse can chew a hole in your pack in about 5 minutes. Make it a habit – keep food and cooking areas away from tents, and make food, toiletries, and anything else that smells inaccessible, particularly overnight. It’s just good camping practice, and it protects you, and the animals that get conditioned to searching campsites for food.
Friday morning, the bear came back to that same other site – this time while the entire Troop of boys was in camp, so they all got to see him. They yelled, and told him, “We don’t have any more peanut butter!” So, he left!
Get Out There