When a bear is sighted, it often sets off a primal fear in us humans. How do bears see us? What are they thinking? Well, most bears (particularly black bears) will avoid humans as much as possible. But occasionally there are human-bear interactions.
Loud music itself does not scare bears, but a conversational radio show may very well deter bears from your property. According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife, tuning a radio to a conversational talk show may signal to bears that someone is home, and persuade the bear to leave the area.
It gets a bit deeper than this, as each persons situation is going to be VASTLY different based on where they’re trying to keep bears out from. You may even very well be planning a camping trip, and are wondering this very question. Hopefully, we can help clear up a bit of the muck!
Know Your Bears
Ah, bears. While they don’t always paw honey from a jar, they do go after human food at campsites quite a bit.
The most common bear seen in the US is the American Black Bear. Black bears are quite skittish and often times, are more afraid of humans than we are of them. They are commonly found rifling through camp sites or garbage bins for an easy meal.
Black bears are not always black. Some can have fur as light brown as a grizzly bear. A good identifier is to take a look at their ears. Black bears have larger ears than grizzlies.
The overall size of the bear can help identify it as well. Black bears range in size from 120lbs to 550lbs. Grizzlies usually weigh from 300-600lbs, with grizzlies along coastal areas weighing even more due to their high protein diet of fish.
The best way to identify between a black and brown bear is to look for the signature hump between the shoulder blades of a grizzly bear. Black bears will not have this hump and will be darker in appearance (black vs brown.)
If you live in an area where bears commonly rifle through garbage cans, you are probably dealing with a black bear. Grizzlies mainly live in Alaska and the western portions of Canada but are also in pockets of the northwest such as Montana and northwest Wyoming.
Proper identification of a bear can give you a better insight as to how to scare it away or avoid it altogether. Keep in mind that bears are wild animals; they should never be approached, provoked, or fed.
The first step is to identify what kind of bear may be in the area in the first place BEFORE camping or hiking in that area (more on if you’re a homeowner in a bit). Do some research on the specific area you’re going into and you’ll surely find some common animals that are native to the area.
If you happen to come across a bear, figure out if the bear is a black bear or a brown bear. Try to listen for sounds of other bears, or if the one you are seeing is the only one around.
Mother bears are said to be aggressive when their cubs are around. This is a good insight to have, but this study found that it’s actually more common for male bears to attack than female bears, even when they have cubs.
If you’re trying to deter bears from your home, you may already have a good sense of what creatures are in the area.
All in all, I recommend you read these tactics from The National Park Service on what to do if you come across a bear.
Loud Music Itself Might Not Scare Bears
So, you’re outside, camping under the moonlight and all the while, your concerned if a bear may be nearby or may want to approach your site. Or maybe, you’re just trying to keep them away from your home.
Before I get into this – we’re not recommending that you use loud music to scare or keep away bears. The fact of the matter is, it’s highly variable depending on each bear, and the environment they’re surrounded in as to whether or not they’ll be cautious and deterred by loud music.
The absolute best thing you can do is be WELL RESEARCHED before going into any area. Contact your local parks & recreations center for your city or county and ask them what animals they know are in the area if you’re having trouble finding things online.
That being said, music in itself isn’t super likely to deter bears. However, music with a very conversational tone may be likely to keep bears away (think a heavy vocal set.) Ideally, you’ll want to play a conversational talk show on a radio (or a podcast device) loudly enough for bears to hear.
Ideally, you’ll be playing this in an already populated setting, as bears may already be cautious approaching your home, rather than out in the wild hiking or camping.
According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife, music itself doesn’t seem to have any effect on bears. However, human voice may deter bears. You could very well put a radio on a talk show, or even play loud music with a conversational tone that has plenty of human voice. CP&W indicates that it’s the human voice that if anything, will be the thing to deter bears.
Leaving a radio on is actually common practice for other creatures, such as foxes, to keep them out of chicken runs and coops.
Basically, the ideology here is that bears don’t want to see you, just as much as you don’t want to see them.
Unfortunately in habituated areas where bears are used to feeding off the food and leftovers of campers, conversational radio shows or music may not be enough to deter bears.
The reward of getting a glorious, free meal may heavily outweigh the deterrent of getting near a human.
Additionally, if a bear has interacted with humans in the past and found that nothing during that interaction was a negative experience, then they will be all the less likely to be wary of another human interaction. This is especially true if they interacted with some campers or hikers and got a good meal, all while having no negative interaction.
Thus, their reward for interacting with you would be off the charts, and music or a conversational audio file wouldn’t do too much.
Often, once bears start to interact with campers in national parks with a quest for food, they, unfortunately, get put down more often than not, as they become a danger to visitors (see article here.)
Wrapping this section up, playing a conversational talk show may if anything, be more likely to be effective when playing it at an already human populated area, such as your home, as bears are already likely to be cautious when approaching a human made structure.
4 Things to Consider: If Loud Music Deters Bears
So, we’ve established that if anything, loud music that’s just instrumental probably isn’t going to do much. Rather, it seems likely that conversational talk shows or music may be more effective than nothing at all as it may make bears wary of humans in the area.
With all that, here are the 4 things you should consider when deciding on loud music to deter bears
- Is music going to be your main deterrent? If so, it really shouldn’t be. While conversational-based, loud music may work, you need to have a better first line of defense like bear spray. You can take a peek at the Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray here.
- What style of conversational music or talk show will you be playing? Again, you’ll want something that’s extremely conversational, so that bears hear the sound of human voices. Conversely, you could also put on a radio talk show, as this is common practice with keeping predators out of chicken coops.
- Where will you be playing the loud conversational talk show or music? So, you need to know your area quite well. If you’re camping or hiking in a national park or another popular area, you should be able to get some information on the rules and restrictions of that area itself. You then need to decide on bringing a spare radio or speaker that has a battery long enough to last the trip, a solar battery, or a change of batteries (assuming no extension cord.)
If you’re playing loud conversational music at your home, you should be able to plug in a speaker quite easily. You can place your radio in a dry area, where bears may be apt to come onto your property. Think chicken coops, berry bushes, bird and hummingbird feeders, compost piles, and more. Anywhere where they could get a free meal.
- What bears are in your area? This is a really important one. If you’re going for a trip in a popular area, do some online research and call the local park or county office to get information on if there are any animals you should be concerned about that have been spotted in the area.
If you’re trying to deter bears from your home, you may already have a sense of what’s in your area – if not, call your local town hall or parks and recreation office and see what information they can give you.
The most effective way to eliminate bear-human interactions near your home is to eliminate food sources. Bears are attracted to easy prey, such as unsecured chicken coops, and easy food sources, such as loose garbage cans and outdoor pet food.
Studies show that bear-proof containers are the most effective way to keep habituated bears away. Take a look at the BearVault BV450 Bear Resistant Food Canister here.
Bears are drawn to areas with food rewards, meaning even if they have to cross a barrier such as a fence or a trash can, if they eventually get food, they are much more likely to come back.
Chain link fences that have barbed wire at the top have been shown as promising ways to keep bears away, but upfront costs tend to be more expensive than practical and barbed wire is forbidden in many urban and suburban places.
Electric fences also keep bears away, but bears are smart enough to keep checking, and as soon as the batteries die, bears will return. In some cases, within as little as a day.
Bear attacks that end in a fatality are rare. From 1900-2009 (109 years), 63 people were killed by black bears. For perspective, lightning is responsible for about 49 fatalities per year, and shark attacks 4.
Most bear encounters end with the bear running away, or it allowing you to leave its territory safely.
Music can be used as a preventative deterrent so that bears can hear you before they see you. The best deterrents for bears in residential and camping areas include permanent fences, bear-proof containers, and electric fences.
Bear pepper spray is the most effective deterrent for an aggressive bear. It is even more effective than firearms and rubber bullets, which bears can ignore long enough to get to you. Their nose is their main source of sense and how they find food and is the most sensitive area of a bear.
As with all wild animals, bears do not normally want to come in contact with humans. They will avoid you as much as you want to avoid them. Never give a bear a reason to approach you or come near your home.
Creel, E. M. (2007). Effectiveness of deterrents on black bear to anthropogenic attractants in urban-wildland interfaces. Humboldt State University.
Herrero, S., Higgins, A., Cardoza, J. E., Hajduk, L. I., & Smith, T. S. (2011). Fatal attacks by american black bear on people: 1900-2009. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 596-603.
Hunt, C. (1984). Behavioral responses of bears to tests of repellents deterrents and aversive conditioning. ScholarWorks.
Small, A. (2020). Staying Safe Around Grizzly Bears. Idaho, United States of America.
Staying Safe Around Bears. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Park Service: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/bears/safety.htm