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How to not get eaten by a bear

Keep your bear spray handy.

By Jill Harper-JuddPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 7 min read
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How to not get eaten by a bear
Photo by Aaron Clinard on Unsplash

Note: this is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual individuals or events is entirely the fault of that individual.

I went fishing yesterday at my favorite spot — it is secluded and peaceful but it is one of the areas the salmon pass through when they head upriver for spawning. Right time of day, right time of year…I just used a spinner lure and managed to catch a beautiful string of salmon to take home for dinner. Almost too many, really, cause I have to haul them back up the trail with me and they get heavy! But you know how fishing is — when they are biting, it is hard to stop! But they stopped striking around 10–10:30, so I gutted the six I caught, cooked the smallest one on a little camp grill I have, and then Max and I enjoyed a nice fish breakfast. Mmmmmm. Love that smell!

After we had cleaned up the site, I ran the rest of the fish through an old piece of twine I keep for those purposes, packed up my gear and my lures, and started the mile hike back to the truck. My brown dog Max was loping ahead, sniffing god knows what and doing things only dogs understand. I enjoy that walk back, even when I’m hauling a heavy load. It is an unmarked, unpaved, unmaintained trail, wider than a deer trail (but not by much) and I always like watching the woods while I walk, seeing what I can see and listening for whatever critters are out and about. I hear the birds singing and chirping of course, and occasionally I’ll see or hear a chipmunk or red squirrel in the underbrush or scrambling up a tree. Today, though, what catches my attention early on is a great big brown/black lump on the path about 100 yards out. It is still pretty far down so I can’’t quiiiiiitte tell what it is (yes I have glasses but I hate wearing them). In any case, Max stops short and starts to growl, deep. Hackles up, head down, tail stiff. OK, that’s not great. And now I can make out what it is up ahead…maybe not the details, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that there’s a big ol’ bear blocking the trail!

My first thought is “Shit!” and I start backing up, eyeing the underbrush on either side. I want to get off the trail and out of his way. I’ve been hiking and camping my whole life and it isn’t as if we don’t know what to do. It is part of every Park Ranger New Camper Orientation, posted in every Park Information Center, and on signs at all the parks near the trails. First, avoid. As I move backward, I’m also looking for a break where I can shift sideways into the trees, giving the bear plenty of space. At this point I’m just hoping he didn’t see us or — more likely — smell us! I know better than to dance with a bear. But no, damn-it!! The bear swings his head as he catches our scent. I’m betting we are putting out a pretty strong odor. It could be me and Max he smells — we could both use a good bath, for sure. Or maybe its just the fish. Gutted fish stink so they’d be pretty hard to miss.

The bear turns our direction and starts to lumber down the trail towards us. Oh, God. OK. He’s not charging. Yet. But he is definitely coming. My brain frantically reviews Plans A, B and C for encountering bears: Plan A is avoid. Already tried that. My half-frozen brain helpfully offers up Plan B: If you are charged and can’t avoid, stand your ground and try to be scary. Do not run — they run faster. I’ve never really thought deeply about that advice — never expected to need it. But seriously? Who in their right mind is going to stand still and let the bear charge them? I remember an old joke about that…you can’t outrun a bear, but you don’t have to. You just have to run faster than the person you are with. Not. Helpful. Then there is Plan C, which is even dumber: If A and B don’t work, play dead. I really, really hope it doesn’t come to that. He’s a big bear, and getting bigger with every step.

Max is going nuts, barking and growling, but he’s staying put directly in front of me. A smarter dog would have run already. Max isn’t necessarily smart, but he is loyal. Bear is still coming though, and he’s easily got several hundred pounds on me. He also very definitely looks like he’s got a plan…which is more than I’ve got at the moment. I’m stuck somewhere between standing my ground and playing dead…and I really don’t like my odds for either of those. Oh, and then my brain comes up with one last snippet it thinks might help: always have your bear spray. Sorry brain, that won’t help. I’m the idiot who didn’t think he’d need bear spray today.

Still, I’m not planning to die today so I figure I have only one real play in this game. But I do think it is a good one. Its a gamble, and I’ve never been a betting man, but I decide I’m going to gamble that he’s after the stinky fish, and would much prefer them to me or Max. Among other considerations, fish won’t yell or growl or fight back.

So I do the one thing that might actually buy us some time to hightail it out of there. I fling the whole string of salmon right at him. Sure it was our dinner…its all his now if he wants it. Look bear, nice juicy salmon right there in front of you!!! He lowers his head to sniff — and that’s my cue to get out of there!

We don’t wait around to see if he eats it all. The minute he turns his attention to the smelly fish, we start detouring to the side and around in a large arc. I’m fervently hoping he’s hungry and praying that he isn’t going to come looking for larger snacks when he is done. I’m moving as fast as I dare given the underbrush that practically screams our location with every broken twig. And as we move further away and deeper into the trees, I realize I don’t hear any birds chirping or calling. I can still hear the bear though, snuffling and crunching through scales and bones. Six fat salmon should take him a little while — I hope. We keep moving and eventually I stop wincing every time a stick snaps. Max gradually stops growling and settles down, still sticking close. We pick up our pace (= jog) on a deer trail that will take us to the truck and finally reach the clearing where I'm parked. Max wastes no time jumping into the back while I climb into the cab and close the door. And sit. Just for a bit, til the adrenaline stops flowing and I stop trembling and begin to breathe normally again.

So in the end, we made it out and no-one got hurt. That’s a miracle right there!! It could have ended so very badly. But Max and I are going to be having burgers from the diner tonight. With extra fries.

And -I bought a whole case of the best bear spray on the market, plus a holster holder so I won’t be slowed down when I need it. Mark that as a lesson learned.

And that’s my bear story! What’s yours?

P.S. Another suggestion from the internet for dealing with bear encounters (seriously): talk to the bear like it’s a dog, as in “Hi boy, here you go, aren’t you a handsome fella?” Supposedly "talking prey" might confuse the bear and keep it from attacking. Yeah….no. Who comes up with this stuff?

Author's note: I'm actually exploring three different narrative styles for the *same* story. Haiku is the simplest (Bear, fish run), then a poem in free verse and then the above short story told with humor. I'm interested in which receives the most reader response and engagement...which version do you think is better? Let me know!

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About the Creator

Jill Harper-Judd

I've been writing poetry and short stories since childhood....but my life has often been chaotic so (mental) space to write can be hard to find. I am a lover of words and the worlds we can create with them. I seek beauty in all things.

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