Eyeball to eyeball with a bear

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Dr. Mary Winter Fisher was known to be an animal lover. Her pet bear, Pickles, is shown in this photo.

I was eyeball to eyeball with a black bear at the close of last week’s column. Here’s what was going on.
I’d been on a hike from a trail leading from an entrance to the South San Juan Wilderness Area to the Rito Navajo River. I’d finished the first part of the walk and was on my way back to the starting point. I’d heard a noise and spotted a black bear tearing the bark off a stump alongside the trail maybe 30 yards. He was so engrossed with the bugs he was ingesting, he hadn’t noticed me.
Not wanting to be a part of his breakfast menu, I stopped, steadied my .357 magnum against a bent-over tree trunk, picked up a dead stick and rapped smartly against the tree trunk.
Suddenly the ursine quadruped quit mauling the tree bark, turned toward me and took a few menacing steps closer in order to get a better look at this intruder. I was pretty sure I knew what was on his mind as I looked down at the revolver, acutely aware that I could throw rocks with more accuracy than I could shoot a pistol. You can imagine my relief as he turned in a stiff-legged circle and then slowly disappeared into the surrounding forest.
With “Whew! That was close!” thoughts tickling my brain, I resumed my journey up the trail leading back to the parked pickup. By now my eyes and ears were on high alert. Soon I’d reached the sizable beaver pond I’d passed on my way in. The splashing of a water bird near the opposite shore captured my attention. What kind of bird was it?
Overcome by curiosity, I stopped and slipped the binoculars in front of my eyes. Before I could focus on the bird, a blur streaked across the lenses and I dropped them to get a better, bare-eyed look at what was going on. What was going on was the biggest brown bear I ever saw was racing down the other bank. Soon he reached the end of the pond and without hesitation circled around in my direction. Then his hulking presence armed with five lethal claws on every foot and a mouth full of teeth disappeared behind a row of bushes not more than 10 yards from where I was standing. I could not take this fast-approaching threat lightly.
Out came the .357, this time braced against the side of a standing aspen. I focused on the row of brush that blocked my view, determined to pull the trigger as soon as my assailant appeared. I knew I had to take a head shot because, even if I hit the heart dead center, he’d still reach me before he bled to death.
A deadly silence gripped the forest as I waited. No birds singing, no squirrels scolding, no sounds in the bushes — nada. Then over the tops of the bushes a head appeared slowly looking this way and then that way, searching. “I’m ready,” I told myself. The head disappeared and I waited and waited and waited, engulfed in the deadly silence. Finally, with gun still in hand because I had heard that bears sometimes follow people, I marched up the trail homeward, singing in my best baritone,“Nearer My to Thee.” I never saw that bear again.

This story was posted on September 2, 2018.