"Hey Bear!"

I've had a few close encounters with bears over the years, but nothing like the encounter I had this past spring while out for a walk in the woods. I hiked into an area where I, with the help of trail cameras, had been monitoring the movements of a black bear sow with two coy. The previous day I was able to photograph this small sow, a beautiful cinnamon-colored bear, but unfortunately she had her cubs stashed somewhere else. My wife and I never did see the cubs that day, but did have a fairly close encounter with the sow as she approached, unaware of our presence.

I decided to return to the location the next day, in hopes of locating her and the cubs. I moved quietly and cautiously, stopping to scan the woods with each step. I continued up a sparsely forested hillside until I reached the edge of a small meadow where we had spotted the bears the day before. I found a cluster of trees where I would be concealed in case they were to show up.

From my slightly elevated perch, I had a complete 360 degree view of the surrounding terrain. After only a few minutes had gone by, I turned around and noticed a light brown-colored bear about 150 yards downwind of me. The bear was moving through the trees at a steady pace, nose to the ground. Assuming it was the cinnamon sow from the previous day, I sat there quietly behind the tree and readied my camera. When I slowly rose again, hoping to see the cubs in tow, I got a chilling surprise. Less than 25 yards away and with its nose still to the ground, the bear was clearly following my scent trail. When the bear finally raised its head I caught a glimpse of the distinctive hump on its back, my heart skipped a beat. This was no black bear.

The grizzly was covering ground fast and there was not a doubt in my mind that we were on a collision course if I did not do something, and quickly! I clenched my bear spray, ready to discharge it at a moments notice. Camera in the other hand, I fired off a handful of frames, at the same time yelling "HEY BEAR!". The expression on the bear's face was one of utter shock and confusion, and a few seconds later the bear was high-tailing it as fast as it could go through the trees and deeper into the forest. PHEW! That was CLOSE!

Despite being less than 10 yards away, the bear never did see me concealed in the trees. I was able to remain calm and focused throughout the entire encounter. The last thing you want to do is panic, or worse yet, run from a bear! While hiking in bear country it is absolutely imperative to always carry bear spray, have it readily accessible, and know how to use it. It also pays to be extremely alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. You must never become complacent in the woods, bears can show up in the unlikeliest of places. This encounter took place in the middle of the day.

If I was able go back and do one thing different it would have been to make noise sooner, before the bear closed the gap between us. Those few seconds of hesitation on my part allowed the bear to approach within a very uncomfortable distance. Luckily this encounter ended as it should, with the bear running away. The image you see here was captured during this wild, hair-raising encounter.

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