Ask A Bear: Can Mothballs Keep Away Bears?

Got a burning ursine question? Ask our resident bruin expert in our weekly feature, 'Ask A Bear.'

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Q: Is there anything that can be used to sprinkle or pour around your tent or camp to deter you from crossing it to get the goodies? I’ve heard that ammonia, moth balls and a couple of other strong chemical smells might deter you. Thanks.—Dennis Reagon, via email

A: This is a popular question, and no wonder—a simple-to-use, passive bear deterrent that you sprinkle or spray around your tent to keep me away would help a lot of people sleep better at night in the boonies. And while naphthalene, the active ingredient in mothballs, has been shown to occasionally repel furry critters, it requires large doses, and even then results are inconsistent. I’d guess the last thing you’d want to do is lug 35 pounds of mothballs in your pack.

But the simple fact is that unusual smells (even ones that repel other creatures) are far more likely to attract me than keep me away. We’re so nosy with our noses that sometimes we’re even attracted to the remnant smells left by bear spray residue. My Alaskan cousin Jonesy told me (it’s also recounted in Stephen Herrero’s Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance) about the time a bunch of Alaskan bush pilots sprayed bear spray on the tires of their planes to keep him away. The pilots returned to find Jonesy and his buddies rubbing up against the tires, which were flat from being bitten. Man, that guy always cracks me up.

You’re much better off going the preemptive route and properly sealing off anything that smells in a bear canister and stowing it away from camp. And don’t you dare put mothballs in there—it ruins the taste of your homemade trail mix (but I’ll eat it anyway).


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