Bear Encounter: GTNP

It’s one of those things that you think will never happen to you; seeing a bear. I don’t know what I thought I would do in the situation, but I can tell you that I hadn’t given it the thought it deserved. While I definitely feel that the situation went as well as it could have, I have found that I have a newfound respect and admiration for the grizzly bear.

The following is a piece I wrote the night of the encounter, and is all told from my own perspective.

 May 24th, 2016

Today, Mother Nature reminded me just how unpredictable and life changing she can be.

While fishing with Devin on the northern coast of Moose Island, we had our first grizzly bear encounter. I was sitting on a piece of driftwood on the beach, watching Devin cast the fly rod, when I heard twigs and branches snapping behind me. I turned, seeing a mother grizzly and her cub not 15 feet from me. I froze. She looked in my direction, her cup standing on its hind legs, looking for whomever, or whatever was on the beach. She turned to the right, away from me and walked a few feet, still scanning the beach. I’m frozen, hand covering my mouth, realizing that I have nothing besides a small pocket knife to defend myself. She continues along the beach for a few more steps and then disappears into the woods. Devin mouths “get into the water” to gain some distance between us and the bear. I feel the squelching of the water as it fills my insulated hiking boots, and wade up to my hips. We keep as calm as we can, facing the shore, scanning for the bears. The kayaks are around the bend, where it seems that the two bears have gone. Not sure, we start talking to each other, as to try not to surprise her. Upon reaching the bend, while still up to my hips in cold water, we see her again. This time she is 20 yards from the kayaks, and making her way toward us. We back slowly, and continue talking. She and the cub one again disappear into the brush. While still keeping a calm tone, Devin and I continue talking until reaching the kayaks, grab our belongings, and quickly shove them into the nose of the kayaks. We then push off. Once we are about 75 yards or so from the island we stop, listen and observe. A few minutes later, I see a mother elk running through the trees close to the tree line. Once she disappears, the Bears return, we assume looking for her. Once they disappeared, not a minute later, a young elk, days old maybe, runs though the brush, only to dash in the direction of its mother. A hunt was underway, and we had narrowly missed being a part of it. At this point, we decide that it’s been long enough, with a storm approaching and my jeans and boots soaking wet, head for home. We kept looking back to see if we could see her again. We did. Standing on her hind legs, she stood about 50 yards from where the kayaks had been parked minutes before, watching us.

Upon reflection, we deemed our actions as good as they could have been for the situation. I will now be active in always wearing bear mace. Mother Nature is unpredictable, especially when it comes to animals. Bears are just coming out of hibernation and have cubs, so they are indeed hungry. Today, I got complacent in nature. I’m just glad that instead of potentially worse consequences, I instead got the worst scare of my life.


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Grizzly 399 and Cub Snowflake