(Remembering) another bear encounter
Deering Travel Blog› entry 9 of 38 › view all entries
Eric's bloody encounter with the grizzly yesterday reminded us all of our own bear encounters over the years. My most memorable was probably three years ago while on an archeological contract in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range. I had the helicopter drop me off on a gravel ridge twelve miles from camp to spend the day hiking back. The shallow ridge dropped to a sea of tundra that extended a hundred and fifty miles or so to the Arctic Ocean somewhere between Barrow and Prudhoe Bay.
When I swiped a bear dropping with my boot it smeared a grassy green and glistened moist. Then, after walking just a few more steps, I saw them down a drainage about fifty yards away - a blonde-colored sow with a cub. The cub was at least a three-year-old since it was the same size as the adult and both were standing tall on their hind legs watching me. I froze in my tracks.
My first thought was 'what a great picture' but the camera was in my daypack and I sensed not to do anything that might seem threatening, like lingering to off-load it. I was deep in their territory and they saw me first. Their response would be according to my reaction. More than likely, I was the first human being they had ever seen and I wasn't about to introduce myself. Despite the tremendous rush of adrenalin, I was surprised to actually remain calm. Human survival instinct had automatically kicked in and everything went into slow motion.
The shot-gun too was slung across my back. It held five rounds: three of buck-shot for warning shots and two slugs for a life-or-death kill. A sixth round could be carried in the firing chamber but it was more important for any arctic aggressor to hear the pump action before hearing the first shot. By the third shell, they'd get the message and hopefully back off. There were no trees to climb and nowhere to run. If they charged, my only option would be to charge right back, screaming and flailing my arms like a madman. If I ran any other direction, they would chase and easily catch me.
For a full two or three seconds, we acknowledged each other then I continued walking at a leisure pace with my head down and eyes forward. It was their call. After ten paces or so I casually glanced back to see them down on all fours feeding on the willow bushes. Ever since, I hike with the shot-gun in my left hand and camera in my right.