Forget the Raccoon, the Bears are Here

A black bear sow and her cubs.
A black bear sow and her cubs. The cubs I saw were bigger.

Less than 48 hours after writing “I have been so focused on the possibility of a bear eating my honey that I hadn’t been paying attention to a raccoon that wants to steal eggs,” the bear made an appearance. A mother bear and her two cubs ran across the dirt road at the corner of our property, less than 30 feet in front of me.

Happily, I was in the car rather than on foot. I was also happy that the dog was not in there with me.

I was less happy that this is the end of the property that is near the bee yard/garden/chicken coop. The bears headed towards the bee yard, not away from it, so I assume they had not been there yet. After I got home, I checked the area and there was no sign of their presence and the electric fence was on, clicking away at full power. This time, I didn’t test it out personally.

The mother crossed the road first, and I saw little more than a flash of black. I was left with the impression of a decent size bear. She barreled across the road, disappearing into the brush. I had slowed when I saw her, which is easy to do when you are going uphill at just 12 MPH, and her two cubs ran across as fast as they could, one after the other. I am surprised the cubs were not bigger. Later, I read they will den up with the mother and stay with her all winter.

This Changes my Thinking

Here’s the lesson I learned: I should not have let the presence of the raccoon lull me into letting my guard down. I just feel lucky to have learned it the easy way.

Here’s my new thinking: I’m going to wear a Glock, a .357, or a .45 whenever I walk the dog. I am good about carrying the .357 when the dog and I head into the woods or up the mountain, but if we are just going on a walk on the road, I often just go with my EDC carry, which is .38 snub nose with snake shot in the first cylinder and sometimes my Glock. Looks like I should carry that Glock every day.

I don’t have any bear spray. I’ll consider that.

Bears and Dogs

From what I have read, an aggressive, barking dog will often scare away black bears. Dogs make Grizzlies angry and may cause them to attack. Perhaps one difference is bears in the Appalachian Mountains have been hunted with dogs for centuries. It may be because the grizzlies are that much bigger and tougher than their smaller cousins and have probably fought wolves over kills and carcasses in the wild. If you’ve gone up against wolves, I don’t imagine dogs are perceived as that much of a threat.

In any case, I am glad we only have black bears and no grizzlies.

Walking the dog in the dark a few hours after you see a bear sow and her cubs in the immediate vicinity drills home what they mean by keeping your head on a swivel. Mine was. It’s also the first time I wished my headlamp was brighter.

Increasing My Carry Armament

I am right-handed, so I wear my gun on my right just behind the blade of my hip. I can draw and fire single handedly, but I have never fired a gun while struggling to hold a lunging dog with my left hand. What I cannot easily do is turn on the light one handed because it’s quite a stretch for my trigger finger. I would have to turn on the light, which sticks out below the holster, before I draw the 1911. Best bet would be to have the light on and gun in hand before a nighttime threat fully manifests.

Practicing firing a pistol with a lunging dog sounds like a dangerous thing for both man and dog. This is why I plan to let go of the leash. Not if we see a bear, but if the bear charges.

I realize bears sometimes bluff charge to threaten you but don’t actually attack. But how do you know? I don’t plan on waiting to find out. And does the dog change that calculus? I have no desire to kill a mother bear, but I also have no desire to end up dead or with a lengthy recovery period and extensive scarring.

I recognize a handgun is a relatively weak weapon. While good hits may eventually kill the bear, they may not stop its attack unless you get it in the head. If I expected to go out and fight a bear, I’d carry a 12 gauge stuffed with slugs or a large caliber rifle.

Bears and Apples

In previous posts, I have mentioned the apple trees down the road from us. There are still some apples on the tree and hundreds on the ground. I can’t help but wonder if the bears were in the area eating the apples. I still collect some myself to feed the chickens. The birds don’t mind if they are a little rotten. They rapidly peck their way into an apple and it quickly disappears down their gullets. They leave the peel and go on to the next apple, but by the end of the day, the peel has also been consumed.

We keep our trash in the garage and empty it weekly. We store the chicken feed in trashcans in the garage also. There is no bear food in the yard, other than the honey in the beehives. I can smell the honey when I am about six feet away from the beehives. Bears have a sense of smell that is 2100 times better than a human, so I expect they can smell it miles away. I just hope they can smell the ozone from the electric fence charge and their mom tells them not to touch it.