Not the Top of the Food Chain

Not the Top of the Food Chain

Well, on our afternoon walk today, we had a little bear encounter. So much for those fancy-dan bird dogs of mine who ran right underneath the bear who was standing uphill from the trail “chuffing” at us. Standing! On it’s hind legs! A bear! A very dark, very big, bear-person who was not happy to see us at all.

Luckily, the dogs came right back when I yelled at them to come NOW, and I made them heel as I backed away slowly, holding out my bear spray, wondering if I should pull the safety latch off or not. The bear was not happy to see us, and it was watching us, and I was really trying to remember what you’re supposed to do so it wouldn’t charge. I figured backing off didnt’ make me look too much like prey, and I just hoped I was right. Frankly, I am glad the bears are here, in my neighborhood, but I still wasn’t sure if it was a grizzly or not, or if it was going to come barrelling down off that hill and well, tear my scalp off and shake me like a rag doll. It was one of those moments when things get very very real.

And then I’d backed far enough back down the trail that I felt I could turn around, and we walked quickly, yet not running, and the dogs still didnt’ have a clue why I was yelling at them in to stay RIGHT HERE. I was very nervous until we got up out of the creekbed and into the little meadow, where we all took a breather and the dogs took off down a different drainage, barking at grouse.

Now, I worry about encounters like this, because I am not a big person (not that that would matter in a bear encounter — bears are bigger and stronger than even the big guys). And I’ve always felt a little histrionic putting bells on my dogs, and carrying my bear spray on the local trails where people like me walk their dogs in the evenings. I mean, they’re pretty busy trails. But boy, was I glad to have my bear spray today … at least it gave me something to focus on … the idea that if the bear charged me I had to pull off that safety tab and, get this, wait until the bear was close (how close? I was trying to remember … I think it’s something like 10 feet) to spray the pepper spray that would, with any luck, stop it and make it go away.

Luckily, we all managed to communicate across species with one another. The bear told us to go away. The dogs listened when I told them we were going back NOW. We backed off, and nothing any scarier happened than suddenly realizing as you’re strolling along a trail you’ve walked hundreds of times that something sounds different, and not in a good way.

So I got home and called Doug Peacock to ask him if black bears make those noises or was it a grizzly, and he said it was probably a black bear, and then congratulated me for having a “real experience” out there today, said that’s how it’s supposed to be. Which is true. And I agree. But I could wait a while for the next real experience.

13 thoughts on “Not the Top of the Food Chain

  1. OMG! What a story. I’m glad you’re okay and that you didn’t have to use the bear spray. Which I’ll bet if I’d been in your shoes, I wouldn’t even have remembered how it works. (Maybe I should review how to use a fire extinguisher in case of emergency…) Glad you lived to tell the tale!

  2. Yowza! Yeah, here’s to an uneventful ending to *that* story, for sure!! Such good listeners your dogs are 🙂

  3. My mutt and I have bear encounters on an almost daily basis (and I live in the city), so we have grown accumstomed to them and I have to admit are a little blase (us and the bears), which is not really a good thing. Just the other evening as we were headed out on our walk two black bears sauntered up the stairs from the trail and into the playing field, in full view of a bunch of very excited tourists. I stayed to watch as they were both exceptionally beautiful creatures but Maggie (the mutt) kept looking at me with the look of a bored teenager as if to say “Mum, bears are soooo last week. It’s all about the bunnies now. Come on!!!”

    Glad you all made it out safely.

  4. This was my first run in with a non-habituated bear, so it was a little spooky. Doug thought from the behavior I described that there might be a cub nearby, which would explain it. But we’ll be sticking to the dog park for a little while from now on!

  5. I commend you for keeping your cool. I think I would be yelling “holy shit!” inside my head and be shaking too hard to get the cap off the bear spray. Better read the directions before you go out….or get a cat!

  6. Hmm — went out on the town last night and had three different people tell me they’d seen grizzly tracks up in Suce creek this week. So perhaps I was even a little further down the food chain than I thought, which is so terrifying that I’m deciding it was just a black bear.

  7. Yikes! there must have been cubs, because most often bears are pretty much not happy to see people and beat it as fast as possible outta there if they’re solo. I remember yelling ‘hello, bear!’ in a cheerful tone if we heard one crashing our way in the woods while riding (horses REALLY hate bears!). Then listen to them crash in the other direction, fast. Which was yikes enough for me, even on a horse which could likely outrun the bear in a pinch!!

  8. Wow…definitely a “real experience”! Glad you and your dogs–and the bear–were all OK. Very cool that you called Doug Peacock. My grandmother was good friends with his mother. Small world!

  9. I was so glad to hear you mention Doug Peacock.

    His writing has been very important to me and I

    always associate him strongly with Ed Abbey and

    his buds from the 70’s & 80’s. I havent hearc

    anything about Peacock for a long time and was just recently wondering about him. Anything more

    you can tell us about what he’s been up to?

    Love the blog, and thanks for filling in this

    blank for me.

    Theo (Charlottesville)

  10. It doesn’t surprise me to hear you saw one on a busy trail. I live in Bozeman and every Fall, we have bears in town. I have seen scat and tracks on the M trail as well.

    I am not a huge believer in bear spray, range is about 15 feet max and you have to nail them in the face. That being said, when I am bear country, I carry it with the hood off and ready to pull. It may be better than nothing. BTW, there is some evidence dogs attract bears.

  11. No — I wasn’t surprised either to see a bear in Suce Creek — not in an intellectual sense, that is. We get them in town in the fall over here in Livingston as well, and I’ve seen lots of bear scat on that trail. But scat, and town sightings are one thing. All alone on a trail with a very large creature woofing at you is another thing altogether. As for bear spray — I’m going with the stats Scott McMillion cites in his book — for those folks who have survived, it’s proven more effective than a gun, which, since I have less than no interest in carrying a handgun, means I’m going to hike with bear spray. As for the dogs — some people say bears hate dogs, and some people seem to think they attract them — whatever, they’re my dogs and they walk with me. That’s the point — we all get a nice walk in the woods. So for now, we’re sticking to the Pine Creek trail — it’s very busy, but the waterfall is gorgeous right now after all this rain.

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