Death of a Bear

The manly rangers shot a black bear here last week, before I arrived. It was very close to my cabin: there is bear scat on the trail to the outhouse. For several days he had cased the ranger work center and the tourist campgrounds. He was completely indifferent to human presence, and too smart to get caught in the traps set for him. The staff spent several hours chasing him around the campground, followed by curious tourists. They couldn’t catch him.

My naturalist host recounts:

   ‘I’d just put the juice jug back in the walk-in cooler when I heard Kevin calling, without any great urgency it seemed, ‘Hey, there’s a bear.’ Naturally I wanted to take a look, and as I walked out through the backporch door I asked him where it was. ‘Right there in front of you,’ he says, as I almost walk into it. Maybe three feet off to the right, just below the porch. Ready to have a mosey around the staff kitchen.

We just looked at one another. Nobody moved for quite a while. Finally I started shouting, and he slowly ambles off for a bit. He stopped to face me again from about 20 feet away.

I started yelling like a lunatic, which only made him come back towards me. So I reached for the only handy object to throw at him, which happened to be a damp floormop. Which I threw kind of caber-style, with a double-fisted underhand toss that clean missed him by about five feet. Spooked him enough that he turned tail and ran a little further away. I ran after him, shouting and waving my fists. Menacingly, you know. Which just drove him right up to my cabin. I was worried he would go through the screen to get the jar of peanut butter I had in there to bait mousetraps, so I started lobbing these bowling-ball-sized granite cobbles I’d collected as souvenirs. One of them whizzed inches from his ear, and spooked him enough to run as far as the storage shed. I was tossing plank scraps, 2x4s, everything that wasn’t nailed down. Eventually he got bored of the fusillade and just sat on his haunches in the bushes, snorting loudly. Then he started stamping rhythmically with his front paws, which is typically a prelude to a charge.

I backed off some then.

Eventually he just up and wandered around the compound, down to the beach, where he tore up some rotten driftwood logs looking for grubs, then settling in to graze on the beach grasses. I left Kevin there photographing him, with a backdrop of cliffs and sunset over Lake Superior.

He was back in the campground the next day, causing minor terror. Lots of mock charges, no interest in the traps. So the conservation officers blew through, armed to the teeth. They and the maintenance staff spent most of the afternoon trying to get the bear out of the campground and across the highway into the anonymous bush, where it could be dealt with discreetly. But it wouldn’t go. As I was packing up in the office, I heard the three shotgun blasts. That was the end of it: a sleek black carcass dumped in the bed of a pickup. It was sad.

It’s actually a creepy thing about killing bears: once the body is limp, the proportions of limb and torso and head are eerily human. Someone told me once about wandering into a hunt camp, and there were three skinned bears hanging from tree limbs. Said they looked like men who had been tortured and executed.’

The bear’s little brother, a yearling, has been seen moseying around the camp since I arrived. But he is timid, and thus will probably survive.