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Our Real Life Bear Encounters

“There I was, this ain’t no shit – knee deep in the Canadian Bush.”

man chasing bear

We were on a week-long kayaking trip on the Missinaibi River north of Foleyet, Ontario.  On day 4, we stopped to camp in a tiny settlement called Elsas, on the north end of Lake Kapuskasing.  Elsas was almost exclusively run by a man named “Ron Quigley” (may his soul be forever in peace).

Ron provided a bit of a refuge for paddlers heading north through the vast Canadian Wilderness.   Elsas is a railroad station along a Via Rail Transcontinental route for the Canadian Northern Railroad.   Because of this, Mr. Quigley maintained an outfitting service from his house and a small frontier saloon in his back shed.  Facilities at Elsas consisted of a railroad crew cabin, a few other small cabins and Ron’s operation.

After a long day of paddling and resting in his outback saloon, we retired to our tents.  My tent was separated from the group by a building.  I had chosen a soft spot on the grass by a barbecue grill with a nice view of Lake Kapuskasing.  I was fast asleep.

Around 0600 hours after a long, drooling slumber, I was suddenly jolted awake by “something”.  I lay unreasonably still inside my tent fortress investigating the silence with an avidity that is reserved for nervous cats investigating a suspicious paper bag.  Then I heard it, the clank of a grill and the low grunt of a bear.

I slowly unzipped the tent, careful not to disturb the beast who was not more than 16 feet away.  I peeked through the small slit I had created and caught sight of his silky smooth brown snout and sizable pink tongue.   A medium-sized black bear was licking the barbecue grill that we had just used to make our burger feast the night before.

I gathered a breath to tell him to, “get out of here” in a heavy, authoritative voice.  Just as I was about to bellow my warning, I heard the distinctive creak of a screen door, then the thump of fast, heavy boots on the porch.  Then, the door crashed into the threshold.

The game was on, both the bear and I jumped.   He must have known better than I what was about to transpire as he immediately twitched and jerked.  He turned quickly in a frantic attempted to escape the oncoming wrath and the grill (to which he was licking) tumbled to the ground and careened across the lawn.

Ron Quigley yelled, “get your lazy ass the hell out of here” in his unique high-pitched tone.  Mr. Bear was jiggling wildly as he poured all his energy into accelerating his massive jello-like body toward the tree line.  Quigley was in hot pursuit and was obviously hot with anger at this guy.   As the pursuit continued, I noted the wooden Louisville Slugger that was apparently no longer used for sandlot baseball games with good friends.  Rather now, the baseball bat became a preferred weapon against these trash picking low-lifes.

The chase continued with both the jiggling bear and Quigley, with his white “Shit Happens” T-shirt, coming into the same view. I clutched the tent door flap with two fingers to maintain a view of the action.  It was then I decided to unzip my tent door to get a better view of the amusement unfolding before me.

After about 50 yards of full on pursuit, Mr. Quigley had apparently thought that he made his point.  He heaved the Louisville Slugger at the bear with an Olympic overhand throw.  The bat spun through the air like a slow moving airplane prop.  It did not hit its target but came to rest in the weeds before the tree line.

Just as the bear made the tree line, he tripped and fell.  He rolled onto his back with sprawling paws pleading for mercy from the heavens.  Rolling back, he glanced at Quigley, who decided to take up his pursuit again, this time unarmed.

This I thought . . . would get interesting.

But the bear looked at him like a terrified child and gathered his jiggley self to complete his escape into the bush.   For at least five minutes, the frantic crashing of forest continued as the bear tried to create as much distance as he could from the 165 pound human monster.   The bear clearly thought Ron wanted him dead.

Quigley, red faced, did not acknowledge me as he carried his bear bat.  He walked past the overturned grill and onto the porch.  The door creaked open and he continued into the cabin to make breakfast.   The door slammed into the threshold.   Everything was calm. I walked over to the overturned grill to clean up the battlefield.

I spent the rest of the morning reflecting on the fact that our modern society holds such fear for these creatures.

C. “Pathfinder” Hayden
Elsas, Lake Kapuskasing, Canada


“I had this weird feeling we were being followed”        

bears on trail

Except for the birds singing in the trees and a few ground squirrels running across the trail, we were all to ourselves. All the hikers we’d passed or met on the north shore of Lake Louise were now out of sight around the last rocky outcropping of the mountainside. I was admiring the bunch berries in full bloom along the forest edge. For some reason, Dennis decided to take a quick glance behind us. As though he were talking about the weather he calmly announced, “The bears are behind us “

Now we were just winding up a two month road trip through Alaska and were on our way home. A friend had told us about a neat 5 K mountain trail that led from Lake Louise to Lake Agatha over a saddleback with a tea house at the end . We could not pass it up..Bears were the last thing on my mind when we set out. After all there were lots of fellow hikers along the same trail on the shores of the lake. A half dozen horseback riders heading the opposite way warned us that bears had been sighted in the neighborhood and in fact pointed them out to us across the lake on the mountain side. We would be long gone before they could get over here if they decided to come this way. or so I thought. We had also been to a lot of National Parks in Alaska and heard the same lecture over and over again on what to do if you found yourself face to face with a grizzly.

So my first thought when Dennis made his announcement was, he is pulling my leg. I slowly turned and looked back. “Oh my God! The bears are behind us.” Strolling up the trail as though they hadn’t a care in the world was a huge grizzly sow with two very large cubs marching single-file behind her. I froze. The voice of the ranger in Denali National Park immediately popped into my mind. “Don’t run. Their food runs. Don’t run, don’t run, don’t run.

“Quick, ” Dennis stayed calm, “get the camera out and get a picture so our kids will know what happened to us.” He then took his walking stick and raised it above his head to appear as large as possible. To the right of us rose the steep side of the mountain and to the left was a roaring glacial steam. While he waved the walking stick above his head I slowly took the camera out of my backpack and snapped a picture and then joined him in waving our arms above our head.

I had plenty of time to observe the bears while this was going on and noted that she was quite blond while her cubs were much darker. She had the characteristic hump on her back and she carried herself as though she were afraid of nothing. Okay mama, this if your turf. We won’t argue with you, just let us go our way. She finally appeared to notice that two people were standing on her trail and she turned sideways but kept her face turned toward us. The cubs stopped abruptly and bumped into each other. It was a stare down for perhaps all of 3 seconds but felt like a lifetime.

When she finally turned and started herding her cubs back down the path we gave a sigh of relief. Someone further down the trail blew a bear whistle, one of those gadgets they sell in all the tourists shops around there that’s supposed to keep the bears away. It works. Mama bear immediately turned back toward us and now she was really confused. The end result was she finally decided to herd her two cubs across the glacial stream.

We did finish the 5 K trail and I would recommend it to anyone sans the bears. At 3 o’clock in the morning after laying awake thinking about the events of the day, I asked Dennis, “What made you turn around at that precise moment?”

“I had this weird feeling we were being followed.”

Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada


“I rounded the tree and came right up on the bear”

bear by tree

It happened many years ago… My not-yet-wife and I were spending a week in the Porcupine Mountains. On the 2nd night we camped in an area along with some others – maybe 50 yards apart. We woke up to cracking twigs and branches in the morning. My wife thought it was a bear, but being a cooler head, I opted that we were hearing the neighbors build a fire.

We slowly stirred out of the sleeping bags and proceeded to leisurely take down the tent and pack before breakfast. Once we were packed up except for food, I walked over to the tree that we had hung the food from. The tree was on the edge of our little clearing, maybe only 20′ from the tent, and we had hung the bag on the far side of the tree. I rounded the tree and came right up on the bear who had ripped a hole in the bag and was picking through the droppings. I could have petted him. We ended up visiting the neighbors while the bear picked out the best of the edibles. He left some of the dried food and we cut our stay by a couple days.

I learned a few things:

  • Be more careful about how I hang bags – making sure that the horizontal distance is enough that the bear can’t swing at it.
  • Be more suspicious of suspicious sounds
  • We freaked a bit over the bear – should have made an effort to scare it away.
  • Always approach the food storage site with more caution.

R. “Mickey Mouse” Kipke
Porcupine Mountains, Michigan

See also: What You Need to Know About Bears