When Bears Come to Visit

A local bear has been cruising our area on the Upper Applegate River in Oregon. A neighbor caught this photo of him three weeks ago. He's a big fellow. This week he came to visit us.

A large black bear has been cruising our neighborhood. Monday night he stopped by for a visit and had a wresting match with our garbage can.

The garbage can lost.

I could tell by the garbage strewn around the yard and the claw marks on the side of the can. The can now lives in our shed. I’m hoping the move will solve the problem. So does the can.

Hiding inside doesn’t always work. Kori Titus, a friend out of Sacramento, noted on my Facebook page that a black bear broke down the door of an acquaintance living at Lake Tahoe and entered his kitchen.

The thought of a bear breaking and entering our house makes me think of a thick bear rug to keep my toes warm on cold winter nights.

“Do you have a weapon?” my neighbor Tom asked worriedly. I should warn the bear. This is rural Oregon. The folks around here have guns, lots of guns, lots of big guns.

Have you ever come across a large pile of fresh bear scat. It's enough to make you wish you were elsewhere. Our friend left this behind. Bone provides perspective.

I’ve had numerous encounters with bears. Leading backpack treks in and out of Yosemite National Park for years guaranteed contact. Once I woke up at 4 AM with a bear standing on top of me. His snout was about six inches away from mine. I screamed and vacated the premises. Fortunately, he did too.

The big fellows in Alaska worry me more. A grizzly stalked me when I was leading a backpack trip across the Kenai Peninsula.  I had checked with a friend in the forest service before going. He warned me that a large grizzly was working the area and had treed one of his rangers two weeks earlier. The fall before a black bear had bitten through the sleeping bag of a woman ranger and wounded her leg.

Our group made lots of noise when hiking through the region. A forest service cabin provided shelter that night. There would be no biting through sleeping bags. I figured we were out of the woods, so to speak. But one of my Trekkers wanted to go for a hike the next morning. I offered to keep her company.

We were on our way back when I heard something big moving though the brush on the side of the trail. “What’s that?” my companion gasped. We looked down and saw the distinctive hump on the back of a grizzly. He was moving parallel through the brush, stalking us.

“What do we do now? Run!?”

She was a marathon runner and fast. I wasn’t. I suggested we turn around, walk over a bridge we had just crossed and find a tall tree. If the bear appeared we would climb the tree. Quickly.

An hour later there was still no sign of the bear. We hiked back to camp holding hands. She had an iron grip. A mouse in the brush would have sent us fleeing.

I also had an encounter with an Alaskan Brown Bear. These are the monsters of the bear world that National Geographic likes to feature. I’d flown into Katmai National Park located at the beginning of the Aleutian Peninsula. The area is known for its remoteness, unusual volcanic features, trophy size trout, and Alaskan Brown Bears. The last two go together.

The bears have competition. Fishermen come from all over the world to try their luck. Human-bear encounters are inevitable. A park ranger greeted us upon arrival and explained proper bear etiquette. If you have a trout on your line and a bear shows up, cut your line. If you meet one on the trail, talk to it and slowly back away. “Talk to it???”

I managed to meet my first bear on my first evening. It wasn’t large by Brown Bear standards… only about one and one half times the size of a grizzly. But the trail was narrow. I still remember our conversation.

“Um, good evening Mr. Bear,” I stuttered respectfully. “I am an American, just like you. If you are hungry, I understand there is some great Japanese food on the menu. Or you might want to try the German.”

The bear stared at me for a long two minutes, barked a growl of annoyance and wandered off in the opposite direction. I didn’t hear any Japanese or German fishermen screaming that night. All’s well that ends well.

So I have a fair amount of experience in dealing with bears. Will this help me with our nighttime visitor? Probably not but I’ll keep you posted.

Mm, mm good. Our neighbors with the night camera have a compost box that the bear finds particularly fascinating. Note the metal around the box. He couldn't get in through the sides so he went in through the top.

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