When bears attack

Joe AlbertToday’s news release from the DNR about an Aitkin County woman who was attacked Monday night by a black bear in her yard got me thinking about bears.

Bears have intrigued me for a long time.

I think the fascination began in the mid-1990s, when my uncle, brother and I drove from Bloomington, Minn., to Alaska to visit family. I spent lots of those hours on the road listening to music (Alabama and Soul Asylum) and reading a book called “Alaska Bear Tales,” which, essentially, described human encounters with bears. The stories that didn’t end well for the people involved were especially riveting, perhaps because I had some weird desire to feel just a tad uncomfortable as we slept in tents in remote locations as we headed north and west through Canada.

We never had a bear in camp, thankfully, though once we were in Alaska and fishing for salmon along the rivers and streams, there was no hiding the fact that every single other person fishing near us was packing heat. So even as we caught salmon to our hearts’ content, bears were never far from our minds.

I remember seeing one black bear at a garbage dump, and we watched it from the car for a while. And I think I recall being on a boardwalk and watching bears eat salmon in a river somewhere in Alaska, though that may be a figment of my imagination. I for sure recall being at a hot springs in British Columbia and seeing signs warning that a bear had attacked someone there the week before. (That was also the spot where we saw a van with “Alaska or bust” written in dust on the side; we saw it broken down by the side of the road some miles away.)

My next experience with bears was during a fly-in fishing trip to Canada. Our first night there, a bear wandered into camp. We sprayed bug spray and yelled for it to leave, which it ultimately did. The next day, we collected our cooking grease in a can and set it on a log somewhat near our camp. Though we checked it every day for the few days we were there, the bear never returned.

And my final wild bear experience was several years back, while I was deer hunting near the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. I arrived at my stand early that morning, and listened to all sorts of noise emanating from the nearby brush. I was certain it was a big deer, and that it would walk right by my stand once it was legal to shoot.

Instead, I watched as two bear cubs, followed by a sow, walked right beneath my stand. Knowing she was around with those two little hairballs made the pre-dawn and post-sunset walks to and from my stand just a tad unnerving.

Save for the recent times I’ve gone to bear dens with DNR researchers – and held the little cubs – it’s been a few years since I’ve seen one. That’s not for lack of trying; my wife and I have even looked for them while taking our kids on “bear hunts” on the trails in our backward.

In all seriousness, I’m thankful I’ve never had an experience like the woman in Aitkin County. It’s good to hear her injuries aren’t life-threatening, and a good reminder that wild animals are, indeed, wild.

Categories: Joe Albert

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