If someone were to ask you, “how does a bear smell,” you could answer in two ways. Bears smell real bad – or so I’m told – or bears smell exceptionally well, as I discuss below.
Bears are thought to have the best sense of smell of any animal on earth. For example, the average dog’s sense of smell is 100 times better than a humans. A blood hound’s is 300 times better. A bear’s sense of smell is 7 times better than a blood hound’s or 2,100 times better than a human.
Bears acute sense of smell evolved in order to help them find food, mates, keep track of their cubs and avoid danger, particularly between competing individuals. Except for mother bears, bears are territorial animals that need to range widely to find enough food to sustain themselves. A bear’s sense of smell is so acute that they can detect animal carcases upwind and from a distance of 20 miles away. You should just assume that they can smell the food in your food bag too.
Bears have an incredible sense of smell because the area of their brain that manages the sense of smell, called the olefactory bulb, is at least 5 times larger than the same area in human brains even though a bear’s brain is one third the size.
Bears also have highly developed noses that contain hundred of tiny muscles and let them manipulate them with the same dexterity as people’s fingers. The surface area inside their 9 inch noses also has hundreds of times more surface area and receptors than a human’s.
So the next time you make camp in bear country, make sure you hang a bear bag or store your food in a bear-resistant bag or cannister at least 100 yards away from your shelter. You should also seriously consider lining your food bag with an OPSACK 100% odor-proof plastic bag. These plastic bags are 17,000 times more odor-proof than normal ziploc bags and can significantly reduce the chance of a human bear encounter.