OF BEAR AND MAN ó A Foresterís Bane?

by Ray Granvall

Cascade Appraisal

The North American forester is blessed with a diverse flora and fauna with which to work. Some foresters are fortunate to be in the forest on a daily basis and others periodically. Most of us take the time, when available, to enjoy our surroundings and observe the patterns of life unfolding before us. We are conservers of the natural resource and strive to enhance its renewability while responsibly using it. This having been said occasionally things do not go quite as planned.

Alaska has some of the most pristine and remote forests in the northern hemisphere. It is not very difficult to find yourself in a remote spot a hundred miles from the nearest road or other sign of civilization. So if you are going to pursue adventures in Alaska, whether they are forestry work or pleasure, you had better be well prepared by having equipment that is in perfect condition and properly designed for Alaskaís unforgiving conditions. It is essential that you be prepared to take the necessary emergency action(s) to correct a situation gone bad.
On one adventure I was invited into a very remote tributary off the Yukon River some 2,000 miles upstream from its mouth. My partners and I were staying in a small log cabin a trapper built some 35-40 years ago. It is very remote and we are basically the only people that stay in it. Every year my partners staple plastic over the two cabin windows and call it good. After all it was just to keep the insects and weather out. My partners had never had any bear problems.

One night about 12:15 a.m., I was standing at the foot of my sleeping bag, as it lay on the dirt floor, massaging a cramp in my right leg. We had been moose hunting that afternoon and had returned to the cabin quite late from a successful outing. After eating a late dinner all three of us rolled out our bags on the floor and went to sleep. As I massaged the aching muscle, I heard a sound outside near the back of the cabin. My partners had told me that a pine marten was active around the cabin area, especially at night, so I assumed that was the perpetrator. As I glanced in the direction of the sound, to my surprise a very large head loomed through the plastic. My partners were both still asleep with one snoring loudly right beneath the very same window. What ensued next will always be ingrained in the minds of both me and my partners, John and Joe.

The bear broke through the plastic window covering and started to enter the cabin. John was awoken by my yelling that a bear was coming through the window while Joe continued to saw away directly beneath the bear. Half asleep, John at first thought that there was either an insane man in the cabin or that I was sleepwalking. But sure enough, there was a large bear with both paws on the windowsill and a big head inside the cabin. Both of us yelled and waved a small flashlight in the bearís eyes and it withdrew.

About a minute later we saw the bear pass by the side window on the way to the front door. By this time we had been able to bring Joe out of a deep sleep and fragmentally fill him in on the situation. John put his ear to the door and it started to move. He placed his shoulder to the door that had no latch and the bear gave it three hard pushes. With my .454 Casull in my hand by now, I told John ďif the door swings open I am going to shoot.Ē All the time our rifles were outside the cabin next to the door.

We saw the bear at the second window a few seconds later. All this time we were yelling at the top of our lungs and waving flashlights. John quickly opened the door and grabbed at the rifles, retrieving his own .338 Win. Mag. He chambered a round at just about the time that the bear took out the second window and maneuvered himself half way into the cabin. The end of this story was a good one for us but not so good for the bear. Until you have heard a .338 with muzzle brake and .454 go off inside a small cabin you havenít heard anything. In fact, the three of us didnít hear anything for several hours.

The bear definitely wanted fresh meat. All our food was in coolers just outside the door and he didnít bother it. In 40+ years of working outdoors, that was the first bear I have had to shoot and, since Iím a forester, I have spent a lot of time in the woods and come across a lot of bears. Itís one episode that I hope I never have to repeat. If the bear had come through the window the first time when my partners were asleep I hate to think what could have happened. Might have been a happy ending for the bear and not us!

We can only conjecture that the bear smelled fresh blood on our clothing. Bear encounters that have been described to me in the past all have been related either to food substances and/or the maternal instincts of a sow with her cubs. In fact a fellow forester that worked for the Chugach National Forest in Alaska was actually lifted upside down by one foot in the mouth of a brown bear (A story best told by him). He had been hunting and possessed fresh goat meat in his backpack. This same individual was attacked a second time some years later by a brown bear again while hunting and possessing fresh meat.

It is not to say that an attack cannot be provoked by some other reason, but in our experience the natal instincts of the animals have been the overwhelming precipitators of bear attacks. Each individual must decide what precautions they will take when venturing into or working in bear country. There may be legally mandated restrictions in some areas but, personally, a firearm is my preference.

NOTE: If others would like to contribute their personal encounters and stories about forest denizens perhaps a collection of forester experiences could be published.

Originally published April  2004

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