We walked down a washed out road until we stood on a landing. Mary and I watched the light fade from the sky. Perched in a black oak tree, another hunter joined us. It was a solitary great horned owl beginning it’s evening hunt.
This is a true story of an encounter I had with a bear one day. Written and illustrated by Tim Livingston.
The deep impressions in the skid trail were unmistakably that of a large black bear. He had walked this trail so many times that his footsteps had created permanent depressions in the earth. Bears often walk in their same footsteps on their favorite paths. It’s quieter that way. A quiet bear is a well fed bear. This trail hadn’t been used for skidding logs for forty or fifty years judging by the trees growing there. The Bear owned the trail now.
I came up the trail for the same reason as the bear. I too was hunting. I carried my bow with an arrow nocked at the ready. Trying to be as silent as I could, I stepped where the bear stepped. It was so dry in the August woods that everything cracked and snapped under my feet. I moved along the edge of a steep ravine. Pausing every few steps to listen to the sounds of the forest. Suddenly, crashing sounded through the brush, and then a loud whooshing huff came from across the ravine. There was another huff and then another. I’d been made. It was the alarm sound of three black-tail deer. Deer were what I came for, but my element of surprise was lost. I couldn’t see any of them through the dense forest of Douglas-fir, pine and oak. I hoped they might move into an opening so I could. I sat down on the edge of the trail to quietly wait for things to settle down.
The huffing gradually subsided. The group of deer moved off never once revealing themselves to me. I waited a few more minutes hoping for a straggler. Then another huff sounded far up the draw. It seemed odd that this new deer would have detected me at that distance. The huff was followed by more huffing along with crashing in the brush. The crashing didn’t seem like deer. Quickly and quietly, I got to my feet and looked up toward the sound. Soon, a black bear foraging down the ravine came into view. I could tell by its size it was a big boar.
I couldn’t legally hunt this bear because my bear tag had been filled a week before. I didn’t want him to know I was here. His reaction would alert other deer in the area to my presence. Searching around, there was no way out of the ravine that wouldn’t attract the bear’s attention. Climbing the steep slopes through the leaves and duff would have been very noisy. I waited hoping he might go off on another trail, but he didn’t. He kept coming. I was downwind so he couldn’t smell me. Finally, when our encounter was inevitable, I had to alert the bear to my presence. I picked up a baseball sized rock and hurled it yelling, “Get outta here bear!” My throw missed, and the bear froze in his tracks about fifteen yards away.
When most black bears encounter people they run away fast, but boars in August are different. They are the most dangerous. They’re famished and will attack people, especially in the back country. This one sized me up trying to decide if I was on his menu. He didn’t know what to make of me dressed in camouflage and full face paint. I kept yelling at the bear. Telling him to leave, threatening him and even cussing his mother failed to move him along. The bear tipped his head back and with lips curled out, tried to find my scent on the breeze. Fortunately, the wind was in my favor. The bear was uncertain. Seconds ticked by and then minutes, but the bear wouldn’t budge. I moved slowly to my right past some tree branches. Now I had a clear shot at him. I knew at this range I wouldn’t miss him, but he could easily reach me before I could nock the next arrow. At that moment my arrow just seemed like a pointy little stick. I didn’t dare turn my back.
I was down to one last desperate bluff to convince the bear to leave. I raised my bow up as high as I could without taking my finger off the trigger. Then with a guttural yell I lunged toward him. Mama bears often bluff charge people or other bears to make them back off. Any bear should instinctively understand. He didn’t move. I repeated the lunge. Again, the bear didn’t move. He didn’t even twitch. We were now only ten yards apart. What had seemed like an okay idea at the time was suddenly feeling like a really dumb idea. Drawing my bow for what was to come next, I was ready to fire if he took one step in my direction. The seconds slowly ticked by as we stared each other down. Abruptly, the bear turned and bolted up slope away from me. Then, just as quickly turned back around and sat down. We were now at the more comfortable distance of thirty yards apart and still staring each other down.
Taking a chance, I laid my bow on the ground with the arrow still knocked. Then, slipping the pack off my back, I pulled out my camera. My eyes never left the bear. I took pictures until he moved. The bear circled to my right behind the cover of some bushes, but kept his distance. I had pushed my luck, so I stowed the camera and put my pack back on.
The bear was now sitting on a small ridge above me and I had to pass right below him to go on my way. I faced him as I moved slowly past with my bow at the ready. Immediately ahead was another ravine. It was small but deep. I kept looking back to see if the bear had moved. He had not. As I was trying to sort out how to cross the ravine with a big black bear looking down on me, there was loud crashing. I wheeled around to find the bear was gone. He had run down the other side of the ridge.
Seizing the moment, I scrambled through the ravine and quickly moved along the trail. After a short distance I stopped to listen. I could hear the bear on the slope below. He had finally gotten downwind to scent me. I wondered if he would follow now that he knew what he was following. As I went on my way, I stopped to listen every so often. My hunting partner was waiting for me down the trail and she had a bear tag. If the bear followed it would be at his own peril. I would lead the bear to her.
Every little noise after that seemed like it could be the bear, but I never saw him again that day. In seasons to come I’ll return to those mountains and probably to that same ravine. The bear will likely still be around and I may see him again. Hopefully next time he’ll be the hunted.
I was out in the Carr Fire burn area today. It’s quite devastating to see the thousands of burned acres of forest. This fire destroyed over 1600 structures, but it also killed millions of trees. We are faced with an epic fire salvage operation that will take years to complete. That will be followed by an equally epic reforestation program
The Pacific fisher is a large member of the weasel family that makes its home on our California timberland.
The company I work for, Sierra Pacific Industries, has been involved in a fisher relocation project for a number of years. Our partners in the project include US Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and researchers from North Carolina State University. The purpose is to re-establish fisher into parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains that used to be their historic range. The project has been highly successful. You can read more about the project here at the Fish and Wildlife Service website.
This is a mixed media illustration of a fisher with a radio collar that I did for the children’s book Timber!. The pen and ink version appeared in the young reader book Timber In The Working Forest. Both books were written by Mary A Livingston and illustrated by me. You can read her blog at Sneaking Bliss.com.
Bliss and I were out marking trees a few weeks ago when we came upon several wood rats nests. They build these large stick pile akin to a beaver lodge on land. They are very industrious creatures. They are also an important prey species for forest predators.
Bliss was very impressed with this massive collection of sticks. So impressed that she claimed it for herself. Sadly for her it wasn’t going to fit in my vest and she could only carry one stick at a time.
This clever rat built its nest in the trees. No sticks for Bliss from this one.
Bliss found a deer skull under the nest. “No Bliss it’s not a rat skull and no you can’t eat it!”
I was in the Trinities this week and there was thick smoke everywhere. It’s burning season in Northern California. We had quite a lot of rain in late November. I assumed that some agency was doing a large burn project. However, I couldn’t see where the smoke was coming from. It appeared to be drift smoke.
During my drive down from the mountains I heard a news report. They reported that smoke from the Thomas Fire was drifting up the coast. I checked Google Earth that evening and the smoke had drifted nearly 500 miles from the Thomas Fire in Southern California to north of Redding. The residue of so many homes and so much wildland was adrift in this smoke.
Here is another installment of the 60 Second Forester by Frank Barron.Today, he’s talking about Fire History in California and what he says is true for most of our western forests. Managing the fire ecology of these forests is tricky business especially now when our forests are so out of balance ecologically. Overgrown forest resulting from over 100 years of all or nothing wildfire suppression have set the stage for the massive bark beetle infestations and enormous conflagrations. Only through the use of forest management can we bring back fire resiliency to our forests.