My Favorite Bear Stories
The Yosemite Bear
I knew an elderly gentleman who used to lead day-hikes in the Northern Sierra mountains of California. He told this story about a woman friend of his.
One fine Summer day, the young woman was walking in Yosemite Valley. She decided to hike up to the top of one of the famous waterfalls there. When she reached her destination, she observed that there were no other people around, and decided that there wouldn't be any harm in taking a short sunbath. As luck would have it, she inadvertently fell asleep.
She was rudely awakened by a warm, raspy tongue, licking her abdomen. Apparently the Black Bear had a craving for the yummy coconut oil in her sunscreen. Although it was a shocking experience for everyone concerned, both parties lived to tell their respective versions of the event. I'm assuming that Black Bears tell stories to each other. :-)
A note about Black Bear safety. Black Bears are highly intelligent animals. In a true wilderness setting, they're naturally cautious, and they tend to give strange, two-legged creatures a wide berth during daylight hours. I have never even seen a Black Bear during the day on any of my wilderness day hikes.
But if you're back-packing in a popular Wilderness Area, you may want to consider putting your food in a bear-proof container, or hanging your improvised bear bag from a tree, when you turn in for the night. That would probably be safer than sleeping with the food in your tent.
Of course, you should never ever get between a mother bear and her cubs.
Moreover Black Bears can be dangerous when they become accustomed to the presence of humans. They quickly learn about the connection between humans and food. Here are two examples:
•Foreign tourists who can't read the "do not feed" signs in our National Parks;
•Mountain folks who throw leftover food scraps into their unsecured garbage cans.
In Nature, there are no 'problem' Black Bears. And notwithstanding our state flag, Grizzly Bears in California have been locally extinct for more than 80 years.
The Montana Bear
A long time ago, I was hitchhiking down to Southern California, in between semesters in college. A conservative-looking man in his fifties stopped, and gave me a ride. There was a short lull in our conversation. Then the man said, "Let me tell you why I don't hunt grizzly bears anymore." Then he told me an amazing story.
Many years before, he had been grizzly bear hunting in Montana. While standing on a high place he spotted a Griz, aimed his rifle, and fired. The recoil was severe, and it tipped him over the edge. The man quickly discovered that his leg was broken. Then he spotted the bear again. The bear was obviously wounded, and he was walking directly towards the man.
The man thought: I'm a goner. The bear is going to have me for dinner. The bear continued his approach. When the bear reached the man, he picked him up, and carried him off. When they reached the highway, the bear collapsed, and died.
The man thought: I gave this bear a mortal wound, and instead of taking revenge, he saved my life.
My impression. I don't know what the bear's intention was. Did the bear know that he was dying, and wanted to perform a final act of kindness? Or was he trying to cart the man off to a scenic lunch spot, before killing him and eating him? We'll never know.
By the way, the man kept a straight face while telling his story. And I did not smell any alcohol. It's possible that the man misremembered some of the details. However I'm convinced that he was telling the truth, as he knew it.
While I think of it, here's an old joke about bears. You're hiking in Montana, and come across some bear scat on the trail. Is it black bear scat or is it grizzly scat? There's an easy way to distinguish between the two. Grizzly scat smells like pepper spray.
In terms of appearance, it's not always easy to distinguish between Grizzly Bears and Black Bears. Black Bears are sometimes cinnamon-colored, rather than black. However the largest of the Grizzly Bears are bigger the the largest Black Bears. Moreover Grizzly Bears have humped shoulders, as shown in the following photo.
Copyright 2012 by Larry Fields