I have been fascinated by bears for as long as I can remember. I spent my boyhood in the 1950’s and 1960’s, hunting and fishing in the forests and streams of East Texas. By this time, there were no bears left in the area, but I dreamed of the time when bears roamed the lands where I hunted and fished, and longed for those days to return. I read everything that I could get my hands on that pertained to bears; newspaper and magazine articles, personal accounts of bear encounters, and stories of bear attacks. In my later years, I have been fortunate to be able to spend time in areas where bears are still found in the wild.
Colorado has it’s fair share of bears. Some people will say “Yeah, but they’re just black bears”. Grizzlies are the ones you really have to worry about”. While it is true, grizzlies are more aggressive, let me just assure you that a close encounter with a big black bear is still quiet exhilarating. I talked to a good friend of mine who had one such encounter while bow hunting for elk south of Pagosa Springs. He walked up on the bear one morning just at daybreak. Like the rest of us, he had learned from the bear experts that most bears are afraid of people and will run away at the first scent or sight of a human. But this bear wasn’t “most bears”, it didn’t run. In fact it stood it’s ground and didn’t retreat at all. In Colorado, it is legal for bow hunters to carry a handgun for personal protection. My friend was carrying his that day and had it deployed and ready to use if needed. After what seemed like forever, the bear turned and slowly ambled off, glaring back at my friend as it went. Thankfully the confrontation ended happily for both the hunter and the bear. My friend will be the first to say that unexpectedly finding yourself in close proximity (about 15 feet) to a bear in the wild will leave a lasting impression on a person.
In 2015 while fishing in Alaska, I had an up close and personal encounter with a Brown Bear with two cubs. Another fisherman and I had walked down a steep bank to the edge of a river and were trying to hook a few silver salmon. My son suddenly appeared at the top of the bank and shouted BEARS. And he was gone… Let me say that when someone hears the word “Bears” and can’t see the “Bears”, but knows that they must be close, that person receives a jolt of adrenalin that is something to experience. To say we scrambled up to the top of the bank would be like saying Secretariat sauntered around the race track. It’s difficult to describe the emotions that one experiences when raising one’s head above an embankment expecting to see a bear or bears about to be on top of said person. Let’s just say it is an extremely exhilarating experience. Fortunately the bears were about 75 yards distant to our left. We immediately walked in the opposite direction at what I would describe as a “brisk pace” (you’re not supposed to run). I’m quiet sure that I could not have run any faster than I walked, but I guess the bears knew the difference because they didn’t chase after us. We joined the group of fishermen, including my son and daughter-in-law, who were gathered as far as possible from the bears without taking a dip in the lake. We all watched with what some might call, piqued interest, as the bears continued to approach our staging area. When the bears got to the place where we had been fishing, they turned and followed the same trail down to the river, that we had just come up. They immediately ate the stringer of fish that we left behind, and then continued down the river to feed on salmon coming up stream to spawn. I am very thankful for my son being there to warn us. Had he not been there, the outcome could have been quiet different.
There is an abundance of literature available to those who are contemplating spending some time in the wilderness or in bear habitat. State and Federal wildlife agencies provide one of the best sources of information. I would contact the agency that is responsible for the particular area that is to be utilized.
Why do we need bears? There is something primal in the heart of man that causes him to long for wild places and wild things. Unspoiled wilderness that is inhabited by bears satisfies these longings in mans soul. A person does not necessarily have to physically visit these places to find satisfaction in them. Satisfaction can be found by some, just knowing that these places and animals still exist. Bears make the wild places wilder, more exciting, and more thrilling just by their presence, and men can still go into the wild and face their fears.