Montana Outdoors

August 27, 2010

I love bears!

Filed under: Animals — Tags: , , , — montucky @ 11:43 pm

During last summer I encountered seven black bears on my excursions into the forests and until this afternoon I was lamenting that this summer I had seen only one despite having hiked for over fifty miles in the past two months through excellent bear habitat in roadless areas away from any roads. (So far I have never encountered a Grizzly in the wild.)

This afternoon, just for a little exercise, I wandered a mile and a half or so up the Spring Creek trail. It’s in a deep and narrow although very pretty canyon full of pines, firs, large old cedars, with a small stream and all kinds of underbrush and the trail head is only five miles from my house. I hike there fairly often.

As I was returning to my Jeep, about half way back to the trail head I saw something I really like to see and also something I really didn’t want to see, at least at close range.

It was a thrill to see, to use a Steve Irwin phrase, a “drop dead gorgeous” black bear at a range of about fifteen yards. She had a rich, shiny, jet black coat with very long hair and a very pretty face and weighed I would guess close to two hundred pounds. She looked as though she had just been brushed and groomed to be shown in a fair exhibit. What a wonderful animal!

I was not exactly overjoyed however to see her cub much closer to me and between us, although he was a beautiful specimen, a spitting image of his mother and I would guess already weighing fifty to sixty pounds.

Black bears are very shy animals and truly wild ones are very seldom a problem at all; in fact they are so shy they are seldom ever even seen. The “problem” status can change dramatically however when there are cubs in the mix, especially at close range.

In today’s episode, we were all at fault for being careless and just about running into each other. It turned out to be an interesting and enjoyable experience though, at least for me. Hopefully it was a learning experience for the bears.

The cub, being closest to me, became aware of my presence about the same time as I became aware of his and, being a startled and frightened cub, ran in the direction of his mother (fortunately away from me) yelling at the top of his young lungs. Mother didn’t like his message and came to his rescue coming into my view at about twenty yards headed directly toward me where she perceived the threat might be.

I also love magnums and almost always carry one. One of their many endearing features is that they are loud; very loud, and produce a concussion wave much stronger than just the noise alone. I drew my .357 from its holster and fired one shot into the air above Mother’s head. Upon the report of the pistol, she stopped and violently shook her head, as I figured she would (I’ve seen it before). Magnums are especially loud in deep, narrow canyons.

Baby had by this time passed her on his way down the trail and she could see that I was not moving toward her so she turned and ambled after him. I backed up a dozen steps and waited. Soon she peeked out of the dense brush off the trail with a puzzled look on her face to see just what the heck made that awful noise. When I laughed and yelled “Get outta here, bear!”, she turned and ran as fast as she could, following her cub.

I’m still four bears short of last year, but the summer isn’t over yet!


  1. See that’s one of the benefits of the USA. It is virtually impossible to legally carry a pistol for any reason in Canada so in the same situation I’d be left with the resources to yell as loud as possible. Bang a couple pf pots together or if I had thought to bring it let go with an air horn. Thee things usually work just fine but if they don’t you had a follow up safety service in your hand while I could have yelled some more.


    Comment by Dave 1949 — August 28, 2010 @ 4:00 am

    • Quite frankly, I would carry a pistol even if it were not strictly legal. In the end I would prefer the consequences. Actually I carry one because of the cats, not bears, but it serves both purposes.


      Comment by montucky — August 28, 2010 @ 9:06 am

  2. Who knows, you might wake up tomorrow morning and see a bear outside your back door. Then, another one may be in your Jeep. This will help keep up your bears-per-year average.



    Comment by knightofswords — August 28, 2010 @ 10:27 am

    • In the back yard, very possible: we’ve had them there before. If there’s one in the Jeep, he’s in BIG trouble!


      Comment by montucky — August 28, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

  3. Lucky you that baby bear ran to mama! And lucky you that you had a gun with you to give ’em a big booming noise to take their minds of you!

    When I saw ‘Magnum’, unfortunately, into my mind popped the image that always pops into my mind when I hear the word these days – an icecream on a stick with a white chocolate coating. And now, thanks to you, I have yet another craving for one!! (There isn’t a nearby shop that sells them, you see…)

    May you see more bears to fill your quotient. May they be gummy bears!


    Comment by Val Erde — August 28, 2010 @ 11:51 am

    • Yes. Baby knew where he should go. The best luck was that Mama was on the far side of Baby and not behind me!

      That pistol has gotten me out of several scrapes in the past: now I always carry it in the woods.

      I was not familiar with the ice cream kind of “magnum” but it sure sounds good!

      Yes,I hope to see more bears too. The berry crop here has not been good this year and they are coming down into the valleys to fatten up for hibernation. I really hope that not too many get into trouble!


      Comment by montucky — August 28, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

  4. Wow! Quite the experience I’m sure! I would have been very tickled to come upon such a scene!


    Comment by Barbara — August 28, 2010 @ 12:46 pm

    • It was another of those experiences that I will cherish for years. These two were such perfect specimens!


      Comment by montucky — August 28, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

  5. Terry:

    Hmmm, I wonder how Mr/Ms Grizzly would have reacted?



    Comment by Chad — August 28, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

    • I think I know how a mother Griz would have behaved, that close with a cub. They are not intimidated as easily. It would not have been pleasant and at the very least there would have been one less Grizzly roaming the forests.


      Comment by montucky — August 28, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

      • Terry:

        Rather one less grizzly than one less you!



        Comment by Chad — August 28, 2010 @ 6:37 pm

  6. Yikes! you are very, very brave – that’s too close to a bear for me – though I wouldn’t mind seeing a cute cub!!


    Comment by Stacey Dawn — August 28, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

    • I wish there had been a little longer time to watch the cub, but just a few seconds. Everybody behaved with restraint though so it was all right. I sure do love to see those guys though, and getting to hear the cub was a treat. I haven’t heard that for years!


      Comment by montucky — August 28, 2010 @ 9:13 pm

  7. OMG! Well, you handled it quite well for being there alone! I can’t imagine what ‘I’ would have done – my 1st thought would be to kill her, but then again, I would be in ‘HER” territory & that just isn’t the ‘RIGHT’ thing to do!!! Thank GOD you didn’t!

    Very cool, very cool!!!


    Comment by Tricia — August 28, 2010 @ 9:50 pm

    • It was an interesting few seconds. I’ve always found that black bears are very consistent and this one was too. Her first concern was her cub and she made the right decision to follow him. My shot simply made her stop for a second and consider. I’ve seen it before and I have faith in bears.

      Yes, it would have been a real shame to have to harm her!


      Comment by montucky — August 28, 2010 @ 10:03 pm

  8. Aww, no pictures!

    Did you see the mama and baby bear I ran into earlier this summer?

    Mama Bear, Baby Bear

    I don’t carry a gun but fortunately they just ran away.


    Comment by Cowgrrrl — August 28, 2010 @ 11:38 pm

    • That’s a great photo, Patia! You were in exactly the right place!


      Comment by montucky — August 29, 2010 @ 7:19 am

  9. I am glad it wasn’t a grizzly, it might not have ended so well. Lucky you!


    Comment by sandy — August 29, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

    • True. With a Griz there’s much more in doubt. There are grizzlies in the Cabinet Mountains (where I do most of my hiking) but they seldom visit this end. You never know though: a few times I have seen grizzly sign.


      Comment by montucky — August 29, 2010 @ 7:39 pm

  10. Dad, I read this story to my residents and among the comments were, “Now I know where you get your attitude!” (my favorite…I hope I get my attitude from you!) “How old is he?” “Wasn’t he scared?!” Glad you had a good time! Love you!


    Comment by Juls — August 29, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

    • That’s funny! Thanks Hon…it was a good time! Love you too!


      Comment by montucky — August 29, 2010 @ 7:41 pm

  11. Oh, yikes and wow! I’d be horrified but you’re an old hand. It would have been so cool if you had been able to catch a few shots but I guess with 2 hands, it’s hard to handle a gun and a camera and one must prioritize. Glad it was a learning experience for all.


    Comment by Candace — August 29, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

    • I wish I could have gotten a picture, but it was out of the question. My camera was cased and hanging from the shoulder strap of my pack and it had the macro lens on it anyway. I also had my dog with me and I had to get hold of her collar to make sure she didn’t do something that would have made the situation even more confusing for all involved. Mama bear would not have liked her participation at all.


      Comment by montucky — August 29, 2010 @ 7:44 pm

  12. Well, Montucky, you are knowledgeable, respectful, and prepared concerning the wildlife as well as the bears. There are those who do wander in the wilds and encounter a bear and are not any of the above… then if surviving an attack, they rage for a manhunt of the bear. That makes me very sad. I wish more were like you. What a beautiful sight to behold of Mama bear and cub! I love black bears and haven’t seen one in the wilds for many, many years. I enjoyed your sharing. 🙂


    Comment by Anna — August 30, 2010 @ 6:52 am

    • The biggest problems around here between people and bears is in the parks, where people think of them as rather harmless fixtures of the place, and in the outlying area homes where folks often have food sources around. Neither situation is good for bears, and people get into trouble as well.

      Once in a great while someone has a problem with a wild grizzly but hardly ever with a black bear. Most of the folks who travel in the back country are familiar with them and their habits and attitudes. Mountain Lions are more of a threat and there have been several incidents of attacks in Montana in the last year.

      I love seeing all of the wildlife and consider it a real bonus to a trip when I encounter a large animal.


      Comment by montucky — August 30, 2010 @ 8:45 am

  13. Fun read, hope you exceed last year’s mark – without incident of course.


    Comment by Daveabirding — August 30, 2010 @ 7:21 am

    • There’s still time, and there is a good bear population near by. I’d love to get a chance to photograph some.


      Comment by montucky — August 30, 2010 @ 8:39 am

  14. I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

    Anyway, after my Magnum quote…do you use bear spray, or do you find that to be ineffective. Look, I trust you with firearms, but in crowded national parks…I am not sure that it is the best idea to let anyone pack heat there.


    Comment by scienceguy288 — August 30, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

    • I probably will start carrying bear spray next summer when hiking in grizzly habitat. From what I’ve read about it I think it would be effective. I will still carry a pistol though because of the cats, which pose a greater risk anyway.

      I have a .44, but it’s really too heavy for much hiking.

      I personally oppose permitting firearms in the National Parks, although I seldom visit the parks myself. They have not been necessary historically, and I suspect that many folks who carry them there aren’t capable of handling them properly or prudently. In many circumstances a firearm used improperly is much more dangerous than not having one in the first place.


      Comment by montucky — August 30, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

      • Ha, I just saw “Dirty Harry” for the first time. It was awesome.

        My understanding about the big cats is that you won’t likely see them before they hit you from behind. I’m always on alert for them when I’m out (and I often carry a big can of bear spray), but this is a situation where my size is definitely an advantage.


        Comment by Cowgrrrl — August 30, 2010 @ 11:33 pm

        • I’m not sure how effective pepper spray would be for a cat. They conduct their business much differently than a bear does. Certainly better than nothing though. I’ve begun to think that pepper spray would be more effective than “magnum force” on a big bear. I know of an incident where a Griz in British Columbia was shot with a high power pistol (a custom build one, more powerful than a .44) and the bear traveled over 300 yards before the guy finally finished it with a .300 Weatherby. The pistol shot had broken both shoulders.


          Comment by montucky — August 31, 2010 @ 9:45 am

        • The benefit of pepper spray over a gun is that the creature gets to live. Here’s an article about pepper spray and mountain lions:


          Comment by Cowgrrrl — September 1, 2010 @ 11:39 am

          • Thanks for the link. That’s about what I thought. Actually, carrying a sturdy staff is probably a good thing in lion country too: it’s right in your hand for an instant response.


            Comment by montucky — September 1, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

  15. Hi Montucky, I love Bears too! As far as I know, we do have Black Bears in the hinterlands surrounding our community where I live. No bears at all in our neighborhood – I asked! I have not yet seen a TN bear. Great post today! I hope you match and exceed your expected count. Have a fabulous day!


    Comment by wildlifewatcher — August 30, 2010 @ 9:14 pm

    • You know, I just don’t think the outdoors would be the same without bears!


      Comment by montucky — August 30, 2010 @ 9:29 pm

  16. OH MY!!! I would have been so scared! glad it worked out well for all of you!


    Comment by silken — September 2, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

    • I was glad they were black bears. Wish I could have seen them in time to get some pictures.


      Comment by montucky — September 2, 2010 @ 9:09 pm

  17. OMG, what a story when looking it from my country.

    Here bears are coming more and more offensive. This happened just this week when a policeman had to shoot one bear in one village center. Really in the center! It came to eat litter of one house. It could not be drive away anybody or not by dog. It was standing nearly six hours on this courtyard of that family house. Finally it came very angry and a policeman had to shoot it.


    Comment by sartenada — September 2, 2010 @ 11:00 pm

    • It’s so sad when bears wander into populated areas looking for food. They almost always get into trouble. That happens here, too, and people are cautioned all of the time to not leave food out where the bears can find it because they become habituated to people and then there are conflicts.


      Comment by montucky — September 3, 2010 @ 9:09 pm

  18. Hi Montucky- Love your blog–i’ve been following it for over a year and i love seeing the images and stories from your exploits. You travel in country that i really hope to visit someday! I spend a good chunk of my time collecting data in the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex (800 miles hiked last summer), and have been thinking it might be a good idea to carry a .357 in addition to the bear spray that i always carry. As i don’t know a lot about handguns, i was wondering if you had any recommendations for a style/brand of gun that would be a good choice for use much like what you use yours for–Good balance of safety/reliability/weight/size for hiking around with it all the time. Thanks!


    Comment by jamierob — August 25, 2011 @ 10:39 am

    • Thanks Jamie!

      The choice of a handgun is pretty much a personal preference, but I have carried a .357 revolver with me for many years and wouldn’t go out without it. (Interestingly, just two days ago I purchased a canister of bear spray too.) Mine is a Smith & Wesson Model 19 with a 4 inch barrel, and I really like it. By itself the pistol weighs about 2 1/2 pounds, but after all, it is a magnum. I’ve carried it for so long now that I don’t notice the weight.

      For someone new to handguns, I think a revolver is a good choice. If you need it in a hurry, there’s not a lot to think about to get a revolver into action: cock the hammer, aim and shoot. The S&W is a double action, which means that it will cock the hammer and fire from enough pressure on the trigger (single action ones have to be cocked first by pulling back the hammer.) Personally I see little advantage to double action in a magnum and I never shoot mine in that mode, so if you are interested in a revolver, also look at Ruger or another quality manufacturer of single action revolvers.

      Twice now the .357 has saved me and/or a bear some grief because of the wonderful concussion that a magnum has. Just a shot discouraged the bear in both cases, and in my way of thinking, that was the best possible outcome.

      The other good reason to carry a handgun is of course because of the cougars. I’ve never encountered an aggressive one myself, but every year in Montana someone does.

      Whatever you decide on, discipline yourself to do some practice and an official training course would be good if possible. (I had some pretty good professional training as one of the perks of spending 4 years in the Marine Corps.) Shooting some .38 special rounds at first is a good way to get used to the gun without the full recoil and concussion of the magnum rounds.

      Hope this helps!



      Comment by Montucky — August 25, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

  19. Do I need a gun? I have guns stored in Montana, at my Dad’s house but I don’t have a pistol. I am going to be hiking a lot with my family and I thought perhaps an air horn would do the trick. Montana gun laws allow me to borrow anyone’s gun (My Grandfather has a .44 magnum and a .357) but I was hoping not to pack one around. My wife keeps telling me I need to get one (she is English/Cornish) because she isn’t comfortable about being lower on the food chain. Now you have me worried haha.


    Comment by David — June 4, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

    • Carry one only if you are very comfortable and confident with it. I always do, usually a .357 and not only because of the bears, but cougar also have to be considered. In the last 20 years there two occasions where I think the gun saved both me and a bear some real trouble and in each case a warning shot was all that was necessary. In Grizzly country I also carry pepper spray and although I’ve never used it I feel comfortable carrying it and confident that it would work well.


      Comment by montucky — June 4, 2013 @ 9:49 pm

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