[This page is about how to protect Yosemite's bears. If you're looking for some basics and some photos, go to my Yosemite Bear page.]
You might think that it's difficult to kill a bear in Yosemite, especially given the Park Service's severe restriction of your Second Ammendment right to bear arms. Have no fear, though, you can still easily bag an American Black Bear in Yosemite. There are several established methods that help you get around the restrictions on firearms, methods that I see practiced every day by visitors and sometimes even residents of Yosemite.
I write this during a dry summer when bear activity in populated areas seems higher than usual as their normal food sources are more rare. This means that it is an excellent year to come bear hunting in Yosemite. If, however, you are some eco-nut who does not want to kill bears, you will have to be extra careful this year to keep your food and trash safe and will likely not want to follow the guidlines below.
- Leave your trash out. This is the classic and most commonly used method of killing a bear in Yosemite, though it does require patience. Basically, leave your garbage out so that you habituate bears to frequenting dumpsters and trash cans. Eventually, they will start to look closer to the source and start marauding campsites, cars and homes to get at that human food. The end point of this is for NPS to dispatch rangers to kill bears, as they do every year. A couple of years ago, Forest Services rangers were forced to shoot and kill three bears just in the small community of Yosemite West because of visitor/hunters, armed primarily with trash bags. Possibly the best way to use this method is to leave your garbage next to a dumpster or to put it in a dumpster, but do not replace the locking clip. It is a crime to leave trash next to a full or locked dumpster. We don't care about that, though, since our goal is to kill us a trophy bear, and we don't mid a little extra risk.
- Drive fast. One of the most effective weapons in the Yosemite bear hunter's arsenal is a car. Exceed the speed limit whenever possible. So far this year (mid-July 2007), eight bears have been hit by cars. Considering the number of cars on the road, this number is shamefully low and slow, attentive drivers are primarily to blame. Driving the speed limit and watching the road is a primary reason that visitor/hunters fail to bag their first Yosemite bear. To be effective with this method, it is of the utmost importance to drive fast while looking at the scenery. Driving the speed limit and watching the road will dramatically lower your success rate as a Yosemite bear hunter.
- Store food, sunscreen, toiletries, cosmetics or even an empty cooler in your car. This is one of the all-time most effective methods of killing a Yosemite bear. When you set up camp or check into a hotel, simply leave food or other scented items in your car. There's no need to leave your window open. Bears are quite strong and will peel your door open like it's a soda can with a pull tab. This will, of course, destroy your door and often make your car undriveable. The bear might also destroy your upholstery. But after enough of these break-ins, the rangers will eventually kill the bear and you, along with the rest of your team, can proudly proclaim that you have bagged a Yosemite bear. This method works best if you leave grocery bags or coolers in plain sight, but bears having a keen sense of smell, you can have great success with this method simply by leaving something scented in the car. Don't worry the bear will find it. We have had eco-nut friends who, for reasons best known to themselves, actually did not want to kill a bear, but also did not want to believe us that a bear could easily rip their door open. So a bear was lost and door was lost, but the friends are wiser and, best of all, can brag about how they killed a bear without firing a shot.
- Leave food briefly unattended or hang your food popular backcountry sites. Hanging your food is a great method for bagging a bear, because it's really stealth. It looks like you're making an effort, so you might not even get a fine if you're caught, but is notoriously ineffective at keeping food away from bears. Leaving food around while you picnic or cook has been employed by countless hikers. It seems that up at Little Yosemite Valley campground almost every year rangers have to kill a bear or two (or three: they killed a mother and two cubs a couple of years ago). To call LYV wilderness or backcountry is rather a joke, since it is teeming with people every single day in the summer, many of whom are great bear hunters. I've seen a bear here steal a digicam in a plastic bag because it had learned to steal anything in a plastic bag. This creates a great opportunity for the gunless hunter. Leaving a bit of food around will help train that bear to maraud for food and become more and more agressive until - BOOM - congratulations! The rangers just shot that bear and you can put that photo on your wall and say "I killed that bear." I'm thinking above all of the brilliant hunter who wanted to get a cool picture, so he put a sausage on top of his backpack and had a friend take a picture of the bear standing on the guy's back to get the sausage. That's the same bear that I saw steal the digicam and I can confirm that two months later that bear was executed by rangers. Congratulations dude! You rock!
- Leave your doors and ground-floor windows open. Bears won't enter your house will they? Oh yes they will and the enterprising bear hunter can turn this to his advantage. I know of at least one bear in Yosemite West (may he rest in peace) who was getting aggressive and pushing our friend Nick's screens in every night to get into his kitchen. Stock up the cupboards and leave the doors and windows open. There is a downside - a bear did several thousand dollars damage to a friend's house - but what a small price to pay for bagging a bear right inside a national park!
- Get really close to take pictures. This method surprises many people. They think the primary danger is to the photographer. In fact, there has never been a photographer who has been killed by a bear in Yosemite (or anyone else for that matter). The bears, however, are less lucky. Approaching very close habituates them to people and takes away their natural fear of us. This doesn't lead to bear attacks on people, per se, but it does mean that when you stand around clanging pots, the bear is not afraid anymore and goes right on marauding your campsite. At their worst, I've had a bear try to take my boiling pasta right off the stove despite shouts and clanging pots. Only when I picked up a rock did it back away. Eventually, the rangers killed that bear. So congratulations again! Not only do you have a great closeup of that monster, you can now proudly mount it on the wall next to the deer head and say "Yep, I killed that bear back in Yosemite in 2007". Like I said, you rock dude! Your success will be much diminished if you attempt this with anything larger than a 300mm lens, as the magnification will not let you get close enough. This method is most effective with simple point-and-shoot or disposable cameras. Getting close enough with these to get good bear shots is an excellent way to claim that trophy.
These, I must say, are just the basic beginner methods for claiming your first gunless kill. Experts will no doubt devise methods even more ingenious, but all of these methods have one thing in common: they all depend on habituating bears to humans and human food until that bear becomes a danger, above all to small children. Eventually, the rangers kill that bear because it is perceived to be dangerous. That is perhaps the main reason there has never been a fatal bear attack in Yosemite (there has been a fatal deer attack and several fatal tree attacks, but the bears are much less dangerous than the deer and the trees. See my recent post on Death in Yosemite, especially Half Dome for more on that). The brave bears don't live long enough to follow through. The brave hunters, armed with trash bags, cars and cameras, though, have been quite successful.