One Of My Scary Grizzly Bear Stories

Alaska Luke

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Since Kawshik was interested in American bears I'll add one of my experiences with grizzly bears in the USA. I didn't end up shooting this bear but I thought I would have to.

Growing up in Texas and Arkansas grizzly bears were facinating to me. I didn't get up close and personal till I was a teacher with summers off the explore the Rocky Mountains. I couldn't hunt them yet but I got close to lots of bears.

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What I learned is bears are not territorial the way some animals are. But they have what you might call a "comfort zone." If you step inside a bear's comfort zone it will run, bluff charge or attack you. Black bears almost always run, even mothers with cubs. Grizzlies on the other hand are more likely to either bluff charge or charge and maul you. Also they don't like being surprised. So if you avoid surprising bears and give them space you almost never have trouble. Of course hunting is different.

I met a lot of grizzly bears in 4 summers in Wyoming and Montana but one of my scariest bear encounters happened after I moved to Alaska. I thought I was going to loose a young friend and then I thought I was going to get fired.
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My job involves working with young Alaska Natives. I do a lot of things in my job but in the summer I lead wilderness trips. The plan was to lead this group of boys and one girl on a backpacking trip in the Wrangle Mountains. For the trip we hired a woman named Sarah because we wanted a female trip leader. Sarah could not find a babysitter so her 11 and 8 year old boys got to join out trip. They are the two blond heads on the left side. Before leaving we gave everyone except C, the 8 year old, a bear spray. I also did a quick lesson on what to do if we encountered a bear.
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We began our trip by hiking through the historic mining town of Kennicott. That young man is Terrance. A very fine young man with a great work ethic who never, ever panics. This would be important later on...
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On our second day we explored the Root Glacier. We then began hiking along a brushy trail into the mountains. I was concerned that we might surprise a bear. But I assumed the bear would be in the front where I was. So as long as boys didn't run ahead of me and my 44 Magnum revolver I assumed all was well.

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Eventually I realized we were a bit spread out so I stopped in a meadow to let Sarah and the kids in the back catch up. I began taking pictures.
Suddenly Terrance said calmly "Oh there's a bear." He was so calm I assumed he meant a bear that was a long ways off.

"Where" I asked.
"By C" Terrance said as calmly as you could imagine.

In other words the bear was by the 8 year old! Normally panic is bad but honestly it would have helped if Terrance had been at least halfway panicked with a bear next to an 8 year old! I'm sure Terrance would make a fine PH though.
I snapped into fight mode, ditched the camera and grabbed my bear spray thinking I was about to have an 8 year old and a bear mixed up and shooting with my 44 might not work.
As I spun around I saw C walking rapidly towards me looking scared. The bear had already vanished. Then Sarah and the other kids walked out of the woods coughing. I knew right away someone had fired bear spray.

What had happened was this. The back group had gotten way too far behind. I couldn't see this in the brush but someone should have yelled and I should have stopped earlier. A bear had stepped into the trail between us. The kids with Sarah whipped out bear spray like a scene from an old west movie. They hung back because scaring the bear might have caused it to run down the trail into the rest of us. Good call.

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The bear pooped, then began walking down the trail with Sarah and co following. They yelled at us but only C could hear. It went something like this..

"Do you see the bear?" they said.
C called back in his little voice "Yes." "Where is the bear?"
C answered "He's right next to me."

Obviously this scared mom! C was playing in the grass when the bear walked out of the brush next to him. C said "Hey bear" quietly and backed away while telling his mom the bear was "right next to me." It was then that Terrence and I noticed. The bear dove into the woods and Sarah's group rejoined us. On the way one boy accidentally fired his bear spray which was why they were coughing.

At this point we turned around and went back to our original campsite because we didn't want to camp in a narrow canyon where the bear would probably wonder by again.

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That night I kept the kids close and no one was allowed to go to the latrine without a buddy and bear spray. I felt horrible for letting my group spread out to much on the hike. I thought I would probably get fired from my dream job as soon as we returned. I resolved to not let my feelings show. If I was getting fired at least the kids would enjoy my last trip.
I cooked dinner in a stressed out haze. I never noticed that Sarah was missing. After dinner we told a few camp stories and most of my Native kids went to bed quickly. They were tired and they'd had all summer to hang out with me. Sarah's boys on the other hand wanted to chat, I was someone new and different. They were interested in my 44 Magnum, guns, and my stories about snakes from down south. So I entertained them to keep my mind of my dread of what was coming. Such nice boys I thought. To bad their mom will probably get me fired. Eventually we went to sleep.
At about 2 AM the older boy woke up feeling sick from greasy camp food. I decided to wake Sarah to see if I could give him some meds.
Sarah woke up and said "Oh I'm so sorry Luke I didn't realize I'd fallen asleep." I thought that was weird. It was night we were supposed to be asleep. Then I realized I hadn't seen her at dinner. She was so tired she'd gone into her tent for something, fallen asleep and slept through dinner and all the noise the kids made going to bed. Normally I would have noticed her absence but again I was stressed.

In the end Sarah and I didn't rat each other out. She didn't tell my boss I almost got her 8 year old eaten and I didn't tell him she slept on the job! We became friends and I started taking the boys out shooting.

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Within a couple mouths they started calling me "Uncle" and going hunting with me. C shot his first rabbit, saw his first caribou and soon I was scheming to help him shoot his first bear. But that's a story for another time.

Every time i see my new "Nephews " I give thanks they are both safe. And I give thanks that our adventure led to a friendship not unemployment! Funny how things can work out.
 

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Ridge Runner

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Alaska Luke,

What bullet do you use in your .44 ?
 

Alaska Luke

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I used 300 grain hard cast. I recently switched to a 10mm for a bunch of reasons.
1. Can literally get off twice as many 10mm rounds in the same time.
2. After lots of revolver practice I still hit more with a Glock.
3. The 10mm is lighter and I usually have a hunting rifle anyway. There are a few situations were I'd still prefer the 44 but for my purposes the 10mm makes more sense.
 

Ridge Runner

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In my area we only have black bears. I normally carry a 44 mag with 265 grain Hornady FTX or 240 grain JSP.

Rarely, but on a few occasions I carry my 45 ACP double stack with 230 grain JHP as a handy camp gun.
 

Alaska Luke

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I would think the 44 would work on a black bear. My theory on black bears is they are rarely dangerous unless predatory (very rare). I think a solid hit on a black bear would convince it I wasn't an easy meal even if it didn't kill it right away.
 

gesch

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Thanks for an interesting story. I don’t know much about bears of any sort as we don’t have any in my immediate area of WI. They are now very common-black bears-in northern WI. Thanks again.
 

MMAL

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As a former scoutmaster I know what it is like to hike and camp with kids. Like herding cats that don’t listen. Glad everyone was safe and thanks for the story.
 

Wade J VanGinkel

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Great story with a lesson on constant awareness.
Although I've hunted Alaska 3 times the only grizzly I've seen was when I worked for an outfitter when I was a kid in montana. Pack trips in the Bob Marshall. Never had a problem though
 

Wade J VanGinkel

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As a former scoutmaster I know what it is like to hike and camp with kids. Like herding cats that don’t listen. Glad everyone was safe and thanks for the story.
I was a group leader for 1 day at the Ted Nugent kamp for kids in Colorado this year. Nearly went crazy. Lol
 

Shootist43

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Wade J VanGinkel, did you by any chance work for the Chief Ranch when you were a youngster? Their Elk hunts require a one day pack in (on horseback) to their base camp in the Bob Marshall. That hunt was on my "Bucket List" till I discovered hunting in Africa.
 

Alaska Luke

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Wade I packrafted down several rivers in the Bob Marshall wilderness. It's a fun place. For a different kind of trip my friend shot a whitetail in the Bob Marshall and floated it out using a packraft.
For someone who wants to see a lot of bears without hunting them I think Yellowstone Park is hard to beat. Its crowded at times but you can set up a spotting scope and watch grizzly, wolf and other critters.
 

Brent in Az

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Great story. Grizzly country will certainly keep you on your toes. I've spent a lot of time around West Yellowstone. Also guuded Elk Hunters in the Lee Metcalf wilderness of Southwest Montana. Always a Grizzly around somewhere.
 

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