Bear encounter

Via Brother Doug:

First Attempt to Find Flint Ridge

March 18, 2016 was a beautiful day with the sun shining bright, so I decided to go for a walk and see if I could find a place my father had told me about.  As a child growing up on South Road in the 1930s, he and his cousins had sometimes wandered south of their home over the hill to a flint quarry where the Nez Perce Indians had made arrowheads, tips for spears and other stone tools.  Reject points could be found littered among the rocks where a cutting tool under construction had broken in the wrong place and been discarded.  My father and his cousins had named the place Flint Ridge.  I wanted to locate the quarry and take a look at it myself.

I was preparing to leave and altered my plans slightly when I decided to take our two dogs along.  Kanobi is ten years old and slowing down some, but he still enjoys a good walk.  Leia is just over a year old and full of energy.  My brother had encountered a couple of stray dogs that had threatened him in that area a few years before and I had concerns for the safety of my dogs, so I went to the gun safe and brought out the 357 magnum I had owned since my college days.  I loaded it with 130 grain hollow points which would be more than enough to stop most dogs.  I loaded my two dogs in the pickup and we set out on our adventure.

I drove to property my wife and I own at 2767 South Road.  I parked at the top of the hill just east of the house and let the dogs out.  From there, we crossed the road into a wheat field and headed south.  The field was muddy, so I climbed over a barbed wire fence on the east side of the field and walked south through a grassy pasture.  As usual, the dogs were 50 – 100 yards ahead of me checking everywhere for new sights and smells.  We were only about 600 yards south of the pickup when we started down a steep hillside.  The dogs raced down into a brushy draw filled with hawthorn bushes so thick the dogs almost immediately disappeared when they entered the brush.  They had barely disappeared from view when suddenly I heard the brush crackling and snapping with the sound of a large animal crashing though the heavy brush.  It sounded like it was 75 – 100 feet ahead of me and at first I thought the dogs had frightened a large deer or perhaps an elk.  The sound of crashing brush soon gave way to the frightened yelps of the younger dog Leia and the heavy huffing and grunting of an annoyed bear.  Most bears don’t like loud noises and ordinarily run from barking dogs, but my dogs weren’t barking.  I didn’t hear anything from the older dog, but the younger one continued to yelp in distress.  I started shouting at the top of my lungs in part to frighten the bear away, but also I was calling my dogs back, telling them to come.  The sound in the bushes would pause momentarily, then again I would hear the sound of crashing brush, huffing, grunting and the helpless distressed yelps from the younger dog Leia.  I started down the steep hill into the brush yelling as loudly as possible to frighten away the bear.  Soon I caught sight of the older dog Kanobi leaving the heavy brush to my left and circling up the hill behind me.  Not far behind him came the bear.  They had nearly disappeared into the brush on the uphill side of me when I saw Kanobi turn and prepare to challenge the bear.  I suspect Kanobi thought he needed to defend his family from the attacker, but that was the last thing I wanted him to do.  I drew my revolver and in an attempt to make more noise, I fired one round in the air.  As sharp as a 357 report from a four inch barrel normally sounds, it now sounded pitifully weak to me.  I didn’t even notice any recoil.  Adrenaline does that sort of thing to our senses.  About that time, the bear turned and came crashing back through the brush directly towards me.  I was in heavy thorn brush on a steep hillside and could not easily maneuver.  I again started yelling at the bear at the top of my lungs.  I yelled BACK OFF!, STOP!, GIT!.  With my revolver still in my hand I weighed my options of firing another warning shot or saving the five rounds I had left to fire directly into the bear.  I remember thinking how woefully inadequate 130 grain hollow points seemed for the bulky animal headed towards me.  The bear slowed to a walk and when it was 10 – 15 feet from me, it seemed to notice me for the first time and it steered slightly to the right and walked on past me disappearing into the heavy thorn brush.

Kanobi soon returned to me shaking in fear.  He was limping slightly, but I think he had probably stepped on a thorn.  My biggest concern was the younger dog.  I called out to her, in part to warn the bear we were coming deeper into the brush patch.  I didn’t get any response from Leia, no whimpers, no whining, no nothing.  I thought of a story I had heard about a dog challenging a black bear and with one swipe of its paw, the bear had sent the dog flying through the air with its side ripped open.  In this case, I had heard numerous yelps of distress, but I had not heard Leia screaming in mortal anguish.  I was once with a dog when it stepped in a coyote trap.  I didn’t know dogs could scream in pain and fear until that day.  Leia hadn’t made that kind of noise, but I also knew if the bear had caught her, he might have crushed her before she could make any further sound.

It was 3:45 PM as Kanobi and I crawled deeper into the brush searching for Leia.  I was on my hands and knees.  It seemed like I was getting puncture wounds from the thorns with every move.  For a while, I tried to keep my revolver in my hand, but it was too difficult to crawl that way, so I placed it back in the holster and made sure the snap held it firmly in place.  Being on my hands and knees in the brush was an awkward position from which to defend myself.  I kept looking around and listening, both for Leia and for the bear.  I also continued to call for Leia as loud as I could, in part to frighten away the bear.

We probably searched for 30 minutes and found nothing of the younger dog.  Kanobi and I headed back to the vehicle.  As we climbed the steep hillside, I called out to Leia and scanned the hillsides below us, but saw nothing.  I hoped we would find her at the vehicle.  The 600 yard walk back to the vehicle seemed like a long one.  It was 45 degrees outside, but I was perspiring heavily and took my coat off long before reaching the pickup.

As we came into sight of the vehicle, I hoped Leia would be waiting there for us.  I couldn’t see her anywhere.  The end gate of the pickup was closed, but the door on the canopy was open.  I was preparing to lower the end gate to load kanobi when I heard a noise in the pickup.  It was Leia.  She had climbed over the end gate and was cowering at the front of the pickup bed.  I lowered the end gate and called her to me.  Still cowering, she came to the rear of the pickup and I inspected her for injury.  I found nothing, although she was still obviously frightened.  I picked up Kanobi and placed him in with Leia.  He took an interest in her hip, sniffing and inspecting.  I checked that and found no blood or sensitive areas.  There was no blood in the pickup, so I concluded she was free of any serious injury.

The dogs and I came home and I told my wife of our adventure.  My voice was hoarse from calling for Leia.  We brought the dogs in the house and my wife threw a toy down the hall for Leia.  This is a common game my wife plays with Leia, but this time the dog would only go part way down the hall before returning to us.  She was afraid of what might be waiting for her at the other end of the hallway.  She often lays at my feet while I am at the computer, but while I was writing this, she rested with her head between my feet, something she has never done before.  I hope she will soon get over her fear and I am glad we all made it home in one piece.  I still intend to find Flint Ridge, but I plan on leaving my dogs at home next time.

15 thoughts on “Bear encounter

  1. This sort of thing is the reason I am glad to have a .44 in the safe, and hope to eventually again have a .45-70 Marlin 1894 sitting in there.

  2. Oh my. Ten to fifteen feet from a dangerous animal is a zero margin of error. Only a CNS hit, delivered in a split second’s notice, would stop it before it killed you.

    Apparently Doug did exactly the right thing for that encounter. One cannot plan ahead what one will do for each specific case, and must rely on something resembling instinct. That goes along with the concept of “Don’t judge– You weren’t there” regarding the popular sport of second guessing a news report of a defensive shooting incident.

    Dogs are excellent for spotting potential danger. We care about them, but leaving them behind for their safety has its own risks.

    There’s something to be said for a 15 +1 round capacity 10 mm stoked with hot 200s, or a 500 S&W, but at ten to fifteen feet you’re likely hosed anyway if a bear decides it needs you dead.

    This Flint Ridge place sounds fascinating.

    • Doug has, or at least had, a .454 Casull would should be more than adequate for this species of bear. But none of us, with many decades of living here, have had an encounter with a bear in this neighborhood before.

      The only thing I potentially thought could be improved upon is firing into the ground as opposed to the air. People and buildings are very sparse in the area so it wasn’t a big risk but shooting into the ground would have eliminated the possibility of falling bullet hitting something you don’t want damaged.

      • That was my thought too. Also that I am apparently way more willing to shoot threatening animals than this guy is. I would have been going for a reload by the time an aggressive animal was 15 feet from me. . .

        Also, any gun I bring with me to the woods needs to be rated for bear. I have had way too many surprise encounters to think that the animals will be where I think they should be. And even a big gun is not foolproof, because you can easily find yourself within petting distance of large predators without even knowing. Ask me how I know.

        • So…. how do you know? 🙂

          Yeah, bear stories are always good. Nothing like finding out you may not be the top predator that day the way you normally are is always an, er, “invigorating” experience. Had a couple of those myself. Hmmm… now that I think about it, it has actually been more like a half dozen times, if you include the bears I never actually saw but knew they were within rock throwing range.

          • I have an iron-clad (if wimpy) policy: I stick to areas where I am known to be the top predator! I doubt a .40 S&W, even with ball ammo is enough to take down a serious predator wishing to make a meal of me, and I don’t have anything larger…

          • My closest encounter was in Yosemite. In one of the camps actually (I forget which one). I was walking past one of the dumpsters in the camp and when I turned the corner there was a cougar just standing there looking up at me. I think he was napping in the sun and I woke him up as I was walking up. We just kinda looked at each other “around the corner”, but he was right there. If I had reached out and leaned forward I could have scratched him behind the ears. This being California I only had a 5 inch knife on me, but I smoothly drew it and took up a bigger posture. Basically thinking “I dont want a fight, but I’m ready if you want one”. We sized each other up for a good minute maybe (no idea really, time kinda stood still for a while there), but I’m pretty sure the cat had the same idea, we were both just trying to figure out if we needed to fight. He eventually turned side on to me, gave one last glance and wandered off at a leisurely pace. I know intellectually cougars are supposed to be one of the smaller big cats, but damn if I could tell that in the moment. The thing was huge, even if he did only come up to my waist. I have had many, many close encounters with big predators all over the west coast, but that hands down is the closest I have been to a wild one.

  3. Joe, I do still have the .454 Casull, and plan on taking it the next time I go to that area. Two reasons I didn’t shoot at the bear with my .357. 1. Although it was running towards me, then slowed to a walk, it didn’t seem aggressive. I believe it was very close before it actually saw me. When it noticed me, it wasn’t afraid, wasn’t angry, it just steered a little to the side and went on. 2. I was very concerned that if I shot it, I would only be able to injure it and infuriate it. As I said in the story, I was thinking of those 130 grain hollow points. They seemed like good stuff when I loaded the gun, but looking at the animal coming towards me, I knew it wasn’t nearly enough.

  4. Just adding to the non aggression thing. I believe it was actually playing with the younger dog much like a cat might play with a mouse. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t considering doing something much worse. I believe it had the younger dog pinned down and could have easily killed her. When it was running towards me, I think it may have actually been running back into the heavy brush after hearing the shot. I just happened to be in its path. Not sure, but I definitely don’t want to be in that position again.

    • A bear’s distance vision is not good, I’m told. No idea what colors they might see more easily. They should notice movement first.

      I wonder if one of those horns mounted on a can of compressed gas (boating type) would be a viable deterrent in such close quarters. Hmm, another holster needed for that, maybe a smoke grenade pouch would work?

      I’m thinking that hollowpoints are contraindicated for most handgun calibers. Penetration should be the main focus. The idea of a Deagle in .50AE, carried in a shoulder rig, is sounding mighty comforting.

      • Yes. FMJ-flat-point or hard-cast with a large meplat are the preferred hunting / deep penetration rounds for handguns and medium-to-large game with “not normally used for hunting” sorts of guns. If you know you will be hunting and carrying a heavier gun accordingly, then HP might be appropriate… but even then, you never know when you REALLY need 3-4 feet of penetration.

  5. Hmmmmm……guess I’ll be carrying the 10mm 6″ barrel with flat nose FMJs for Boomershoot this year! I thought the turkeys were the most aggressive thing in those woods!

    • Turkey are not bad. Yes the can have a foul attitude (badum tish), but by and large they just want to be left alone. Geese on the other hand are mean and belligerent, and should be dealt with with extreme prejudice.

  6. Dogs only seem to bring out the bad behavior in some bears.
    Good job using your brain over the firearm.
    Well done, I hope the dog recovers quickly.

  7. My close encounter was a lot like lucusloc’s and Doug’s combined. I was raccoon hunting in the early 70’s with my dad and uncle. The dogs treed something around midnight and I was dispatched to track them down while the adults sat by the fire.

    Armed with a single shot .22 that had a broken extractor, I found the dogs and shined the flashlight up into the tree, to see a mountain lion staring back. It did a growl / scream and me and the dogs took off. Both the dogs hid in the back of the truck for the rest of the night.

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