Bear Attacks

Animals eating1 people has always been an interest of mine, and bear attacks are among my favorite. As you know, I've got a few of my own stories, though I don 't know if I ever told this one. There were two of us canoe-camping in a state park in the Adirondacks. You had to park your car at a ranger station, sign in, get a canoe, and paddle across the lake to a distant spot. Turns out, I left the lights on in the car during that first part. This will become important in a moment.

So, I'm sitting there in front of a little camp fire cooking up some stew. To my right is a bag of food that I intend to hoist up on a high branch, because it is obvious that there has been a lot of recent bear activity. Suddenly, the person I was with, who was born and raised in New York City, pointed behind me and said "Look, a dog!"

So I turned around and saw a black bear about 20 feet away sitting there looking at the lake.

We both stood up to look at the bear. The bear moved behind a bush. We moved closer to the lake to get a better view. The bear moved behind another bush. We moved along the short five feet to get a closer look but the bear seemed to have disappeared.

She had fooled us into moving about 20 feet away from the bag of food. I heard a twig snap and turned just in time to see her running off with the bag into the forest!

And, just then a motor boat with a dog in front and a ranger in back came plowing into the shore. The ranger had ... and I am not making this up ... a Scotch on the rocks in one hand and a shot gun in the other. He scrambled out of the boat, having seen what just happened, and said "I'm going after her, stand aside!"

I said "I'll be right behind you! By several feet!" and I followed him and his dog and his shotgun into the forest.

We found the spot the bear had eaten our food. In less than 90 seconds she took everything out of the bag and ate all the good stuff. M&Ms. Hot Chocolate. Granola. That sort of stuff. It was all opened and gone and chewed up and slimed on. And, around us for about 15 or 20 feet in every direction was litter. The remains of many other camper's bags of food. This bear had a pattern.

"We are going to have to close this camp down," the ranger said. "This is the last event like this we can allow here .... you'll have to move to a new camp. Put your stuff in the canoe and I'll show you where it is."

I should explain that the reason the ranger came upon us when he did was to tell us that I had left the lights on in the car. The reason he had the dog and the shotgun with him is that he expected the bear to be around. This also explained the funny look he gave us when we signed up to camp in this spot!

So we put everything in the canoe, but without packing up.... we just pulled the stakes on the tent and dropped it in the canoe, and tossed our bags on it. Then we canoed back to the ranger station and I got the lights turned off in the car. Then we canoed towards the new spot, but about half way there a thunderstorm opened up on us (in the ADK's you don't always see them coming, as many of the lakes are in deep U-shaped glacial valleys surrounded by high mountains). So everything was soaked because it was not packed up properly.

So, we turned around and got in the car and drove to an Inn!

And at the Inn, we sat in the restaurant to dry off and get some food. And our seat was a two-person table next to a pillar. And on the pillar was a bulletin board. And on the bulletin board were clippings of every bear attack story the owners of the Inn could find. We read them all. I still remember most of them. So, in one day I got one story fer real and learned myself a bunch of others.

Which brings us to a more serious story than all of that. Many of you know that my sister, Elizabeth is a journalist who has worked the Northern Rockies and the Yellowstone area for many decades, and she's got a story in her newspaper about a bear attack.

Bear attack survivor tells his story

ISLAND PARK, ID. -- "Bear! Help!" That's what Rich Paini, 40, remembers saying when a bear attacked him during an elk-hunting excursion in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest the morning of Saturday, Sept. 24.

On Tuesday, Sept. 27, Paini and his friend and hunting partner, Jon Stiehl, shared the story of the widely publicized attack while sitting at the dining room table in Paini's cabin in the Last Chance area of Island Park. Their archery hunt began when they walked away from the cabin before sunrise and headed to the national forest. It ended at the cabin a few hours later with an Island Park Ambulance crew waiting to transport the injured Paini to a helicopter landing site and a flight to the Eastern Idaho Medical Center in Idaho Falls.

Paini described the experience as "surreal." He said he and Stiehl, business partners at the TroutHunter Lodge in Last Chance, were heading back to Paini's cabin through a lodgepole and aspen forest after not seeing or hearing any elk. They had seen a "remarkable" amount of wolf sign, and had just shared that they had not come across any bear sign, when they heard "an enormous commotion" in the trees and shrubs....

Read the rest here.

Which reminds me of several other stories involving bears and archery and trout. But for another time .

1That is a euphemistic for attacking, mauling, killing and, of course, consuming partly or in total.

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'... the person I was with, who was born and raised in New York City, pointed behind me and said "Look, a dog!" '

Either this person was accustomed to big, oddly shaped dogs, or the bear was small and strangely shaped, or - well, I can't imagine a third possibility. Totally surprised? (I don't mean to insult your friend, I just can't imagine that mistake.)

"Then we canoed towards the new spot, but about half way there a thunderstorm opened up on us..."

I've been in a canoe in a river in canada when a a storm came up (and a lake). Depending on strength this would be as frightening to me as a bear at camp.

Great story.

That bear was a thief. I guess he wasn't a member of AETP(Animals for the Ethical Treatment of People)

I was at a talk by Ben Killam who mingles muchly with black bears.
He was describing how these bears will often do a "false charge" and stop short. He says he has no problem with this, the thing to do is never to run away but stand firm, look nonthreatening and talk calmly to the bear.
A woman asked him "well what exactly do you say"
He said "Our father which art in heaven..."

Great bear story; a lot of people don't realize that animals have their own hunting/foraging techniques.

Bears and dogs had a common ancestor long ago; bears do have some morphological resemblance to dogs.

As for hunting moose with a recurve - I wonder what the draw strength was. While in Norway I asked if I could hunt the moose with my compound, but I was told it's illegal to hunt them with anything but a rifle of 0.30 and higher. I thought "well, there's a law obviously written by someone with no clue about bow hunting".

By MadScientist (not verified) on 27 Sep 2011 #permalink

Greg, I assume you are tawkin about Wendy Doublu, and I do believe she would think a bear is a dawg. I think I heard that story before. What a riot.

DECADES Greg???? 1979, first reporter job, 1997, my own paper, 2011, ok, three decades plus. YIKES!

There's something sickly sweet about the nights one gives up and finds a hotel room. On the one hand, there is the comfort of civilization. However tawdry and manufactured and shallow, there is that cool, dry, relatively safe room for a night's sleep. With convenience store nearby, for easy calories, common drugs, and alcoholic beverage. Westerners settling into the womb their civilization is designed to create.

On the other hand, there is the nagging thought that one could have waited out the mosquitoes, put up with the heat and humidity, or managed with wet gear. You went to the locale not to flop in the artificial environment 21st capitalism reproduces globally, but to experience the mostly natural habitat of a distinct place. We are not that many generations from our ancestors, making the first spread of the globe. That place should not feel foreign to us. They did not have that much gear to get wet.

Well, I'm having a glass of wine. There is homo pre vino and homo post vino. I'm post vino.

CalderaGirl: Yes. And at least I didn't say "The Greater Part of a Century" or "Since Before the Ineternet" or something like that!

On the other hand, there is the nagging thought that one could have waited out the mosquitoes, put up with the heat and humidity, or managed with wet gear

Yeah, but then I went and lived for years with the Pygmies in the rain forest ... being a hunter gatherer is like going camping. Forever.

So, I humbly accept the homage of all campers.

I find it a hilarious coincidence that my stupid, neglected, rage-filled blog got a hit from the sidebar blogs during this post and it had nothing to do with the last (way too long ago) post being, "sometimes, animals just want to kill shit".

Good times (and good read Greg, as usual).

On a family camping trip when I was small, my (smaller) sister woke the rest of the family up one morning when she tore into the tent shrieking "A bear! A bear!" It turned out to be another camper's Newfie dog. So, it goes both ways. (This was in Southern Californa, and we lived in one of the very urban centers.)

Anyway, I trust you've read the book about bear attacks that Bill Bryson mentions in the first chapters of "A Walk in the Woods"? (I don't remember the title but I know the book is for real because I found it in the library.)

By drbubbles (not verified) on 28 Sep 2011 #permalink

He was describing how these bears will often do a "false charge" and stop short. He says he has no problem with this, the thing to do is never to run away but stand firm

Yes, black bears are known for bluff-charging. It's an effective technique for distinguishing between black bears and grizzlies if you're in the rockies in wyoming or montana ...

Unfortunately, once you've established that it's a grizzly you may wish you'd adopted a more remote means of differentiating between the two species.

Highly recommended book by a leading Canadian bear researcher (possibly retired by now as the book came out in the 1980s): "Bear Attacks: Their Cause and Prevention".

Did you know that while adult grizzlies aren't able to climb trees like black bears do, that the highest recorded fatality of someone who tried to climb a tree to avoid a grizzly was over 32 feet high?

Besides weird factoids of that sort (which is actually meant as practical advice, i.e. don't flee and climb unless you're damned good at it) the book documents fatal attacks, the circumstances, and is full of advice on co-existence in the wild by a man who's spent much of his adult life doing field work outdoors within view of black and grizzly bears.

I really should have emailed my comment. Now you've directed all kinds of traffic to something I, paradoxically, don't want too many people to actually read or acknowledge. Heh.

Nice blog and good post. As an avid hiker mostly in Maine and Florida I am acutely aware that there are animials out there that are unpredictable and potentially lethal. I carry bear spray, and as most animals do...I move slowly and try to keep alert. Also, when berry picking in Maine, I use a bear bell....they can get pretty immersed in a berry patch and you wouldn't want to scare a least not close up anyway!

Greg says:

Yeah, but then I went and lived for years with the Pygmies in the rain forest... So, I humbly accept the homage of all campers.

Don't lie. I've seen the pics. That guy was skinnier and had hair on his head.


No Inns or Grocery store = skinnier. The hair, you can't explain that.

Steven, yeah, one of my close calls with a bear was when we were both immersed in the blueberry foraging thing.

In poor light, or at a distance so you can't judge size its easy to make the dog/bear mixup. My sister had a large black dog (pushing 200pounds) that was named bear. One day she went into the garage, "how the heck did the dog get in there?", only iy wasn't the dog!

I've been close to black bears several times. One place I mountain biked in Wisconsin, I can remember several times hearing noises passing a particular spot on the trail. Finally, the last ride before moving out of state, I heard a stick break and turned around to see the bear ten feet away. Another time, in another state, I had a close call road biking, with a bear ambling across a sharp corner you can't see around -almost hit him.

By Omega Centauri (not verified) on 28 Sep 2011 #permalink

I had a dog named bear, but it was white. So it was a polar dog. Well, it wasn't named bear in english, but rather, in Spanish, and it was named that because its breed tends to kill bears.

i do a lot of solo canoeing in Northern Minnesota,it's my hobby so to speak,in over 25 years i have never had a bear problem because i stay away from over used camps close to the landings.when you pick up your permit for the canoe wilderness you have to watch a short "how too" video the high point of which is campers chasing a bear out of their camp by tossing rocks and's a study bear that i was told had to be talked nice too and calmed down after the filming.
the point is wild bears are not a real problem it's the "camp bears" that cause the problems and they are in turn created by sloppy campers.over at BWCA.COM bear postings fill the forums every week.

We had a discriminating bear eat some of our food this summer while we're working in Canada's far north (as field biologists, we have regular bear encounters and this year our separate research groups had three evacuations from field camp due to two aggressive bears and one bear that kept coming back--plus another camp manager shot a fourth bear as they couldn't even keep it away by buzzing it with a helicopter).

Anyway, most of our food was up a tree, but we had a locked top action packer with other canned and lidded goods inside (too heavy to put up a tree). The bear managed to tear it open, ate all the organic peanut butter, ate the no-sugar no-salt peanut butter, but left untouched the regular peanut butter (sugar, salt, 'inorganic', one presumes, peanuts).

He didn't open the Pepsi, but tore open the canned apple juice. He ate the healthy granola bars, but left the chocolate candy granola bars. Perhaps he'd already had enough chocolate though--he ate 5 of the 6 bars of my work partner's chocolate bars, leaving one completely untouched, in pristine condition, still in the bulk wrapper. A very considerate bear in addition to being discriminate.

He also didn't eat the Pilot biscuits. The square ones are probably used a shuttle tiles and make a great whistling sound as you fling them across a lake before they arc into the lake half a kilometer away and sever fish in half before they sink to the bottom and embed themselves a foot into the mud. I've never seen anyone else eat them either. Our local guides always buy them, but they don't seem to actually eat them.

By Daniel J. Andrews (not verified) on 30 Sep 2011 #permalink

Re: Bill Bryon's book A Walk in the Woods. The section on bears, dangers in the woods (including hillbillies) is hilarious.

Agree with scidog. Most wild bears aren't a problem but the bears who have associated humans and food (camp bears, bears on the outskirts of town).

Of course, some wild bears associate humans as food. In 2009, a wild bear made a very pointed effort to eat a Ministry of Natural Resources field worker. He fought it off for 30 minutes before his partner made it back with the canoe and picked him up.

As they paddled down the shoreline to pick up the third person, they noticed the bear shadowing them in the woods. Chilling. We had to read the account in 2010 because we were going to be working about 80 km north of that spot--well within a bear's walking range.

Fortunately, we didn't have any bear problems that year even though the trail cameras photographed several bears at the bait stations--two of the crews said they didn't see any sign of bears and were quite astonished to see that at least two different bears had been within 100 m of their tents.

By Daniel J. Andrews (not verified) on 30 Sep 2011 #permalink

Of course, some wild bears associate humans as food. In 2009, a wild bear made a very pointed effort to eat a Ministry of Natural Resources field worker. He fought it off for 30 minutes before his partner made it back with the canoe and picked him up.

Interestingly, nearly all recorded fatalities due to black bears fall into two categories:

1. hunter wounds a black bear which runs and seeks cover. hunter searches for bear. bear counterattacks unseen by the hunter.

2. predatory attacks by black bears.

While most due to grizzlies fall into these two categories:

1. bear - often male - guarding a carcass. they're very aggressive, and will attack a perceived threat 100s of yards away.

2. momma bear protecting young (as with one of the fatalities in Yellowstone this year).

proportionally very few griz fatalities due to predation.

Of course, violent attacks by a bear guarding a carcass or mom protecting a young are very rare in black bears, this is a behavioral difference between the two species.

The proportionally lower number of predation attacks by grizzlies is thought to be due to the fact that there are many, many black bears living in areas frequented by people all throughout north america, while most of the grizzlies near populated areas, particularly in the Lower 48, are extinct therefore not able to prey on human yummies ... in the lower 48, grizzlies number in the 100s, black bears in the 100s of thousands. Hunting of humans is actually percentage-wise very low in both species, but there are a lot of black bears out there ...

I also think these kinds of bear stories are interesting because my grandparents live in a town with many bears, so when we go there itâs interesting to hear those stories and see how people adapt to being around wild animals. When we hike there we always bring our bear bells and bear spray just in case!
If I were you, I would be very scared being so close to a bear. I have seen many bears, but when I've been close to them I was in my car. That is very lucky that the bear only took your food and didnât do anything to you. Itâs weird that bears keep coming back to that place even though there are people there because usually bears are frightened of people. Itâs amusing that your friend thought that the bear was a dog.

After reading this article, the first thought that came to my mind was how intelligent this bear was. It knew how to trick you and your friend into leaving the food and follow it down the river. I have heard a couple of bear stories before but never heard about a bear being smart enough to draw people away from their campsite to get food. Usually the bear will just scare the people away by growling. This was a very interesting story and makes me re think what bears are like.

I thought it was incredible that a human could get this close to a bear in real life and not be harmed. I this shows that humans often view untamed animals as mean and cruel towards us. But in reality the Bear just used its intelligence to get some food.

Your story on the bear attacks amazed me. I didnât know that stuff like that could happen. It is truly surprising how smart the bear really was. I wonder if the bear had pulled similar tricks on other people and began to realize what worked and what didnât work. I know if I ever go camping in the Adirondacks I will be sure to look out for clever bears.

I find it interesting that the bear used you and your partners curiosity to its advantage and took your food.Its cool to think about if the bear had used paast experiences in order to be more successful,and its also funny that the camp was shut down because this has happened so many times before. This was a very smart bear

Greg, thatâs one smart bear you ran into. I think itâs amazing how that bear had a technique, and how successful it was. Too bad his free meals came to an end because you decided to camp nearby. Iâm relieved that there was no gore in this story, unlike previous ones Iâve heard.