"Iím Not Your Mamma!"
While deer hunting in 1978 along the lower Selway River, I saw nothing most of the day, until mid-afternoon when I spotted a bear digging into a rotten log. A ray of sun through the trees lit up its cinnamon-colored fur. I also had a bear tag -- and my first bear was going to be a beauty!
by Sharon Watson
I circled and approached from above -- but the bear was gone when I sneaked over the hill. I stood disappointed, listening and watching, then walked along the top of the forested hill slowly. When I got to a natural pass, I started down it. "Back to deer hunting," I thought.
It was so hushed, and I tried not to make the fallen leaves crunch too loudly underfoot. Suddenly I heard scurrying sounds on the noisy, dry leaves behind me. My mind wouldnít tell me WHAT?! The noise wouldnít create an image in my brain. My heart was pounding as I turned around. It stopped beating when I saw a BEAR running toward me!
It took light-years to recognize the bear as a cub. In the meantime, I had died from a huge, ferocious bear attack, and had come back to life thinking, "ITíS A CUB!!????" Another eon passed before I fully knew that the baby bear was not in Aggressive-Mode.
The minute the little cub saw me, it bawled. My brain screamed RED ALERT! Bawling baby bear... This was not good. Still squalling in alarm, the animal scrambled up the nearest tree, about 25 yards from me. "Not good. Not good," I thought. The cub continued to wail.
I perished once more. "Might as well just face it, Iím a goner. Itís over. Nothing to be done. Good-bye, world."
I knew that black bears were normally very shy. With cubs, however, they were likely to become protectively aggressive. I also knew from previous experience in Canada that a cub will charge and mock-charge. This one seemed too young to play that game. It just wanted Mom.
Moments passed and nothing happened and the baby still cried and I was still frozen. Time had stopped. Nothing. No sound. Just "Cub" wailing.
"Maybe -- " I thought, "Iíll live."
I carefully backed away, down the hill. When I got about 25 yards, I turned around and began to walk faster, hoping, praying I could get away. When I felt a safe distance, I relaxed, but then my legs began to tremble; a delayed reaction. But I just kept on moving. Suddenly startled, I heard the rustling sounds again. "Oh, No! The mother bear!" I turned in horror to meet my death.
It was a fight to keep from fainting, but I knew I had to keep my wits. I did have a .308 Remington, after all. Now, though, I no longer wanted to shoot the mamma-sow; besides, it would be illegal to shoot a bear with a cub.
"IT WAS THE CUB AGAIN!" Not an angry bear protecting its cub, but instead, the cub. It had climbed down the tree and run after me.
Repeating its same behavior of bawling when it saw me, it scooted up another tree. I wasted no time. I scooted away, trying to get more distance between us this time. It did me no good.
When it happened the third time, I laughed out loud, then told myself how foolish that was. I was still in danger. "This is no laughing matter, you little varmint," I informed the cub. But I couldnít help it. By now the situation was just too bizarre, and so scary it was funny. I began to chatter away at the cub. Maybe it relieved my fear and the awful tension.
"Cub, you are a stupid thing!" I scolded. "Stay away from me," I hissed. "What do you think youíre doing? Iím not your mamma!! Leave me alone! Stay in the tree, dummy. Youíre going to get me killed, you silly fool..."
It had finally dawned on me what was going on. The mother bear had heard me or smelled me while I circled around her, and while she was sneaking away from me, the cub wasnít paying attention, as is the nature of little ones. Soon mother-bear was out of sight and "Cub" didnít know where she went -- and she wasnít grunting.
The cub heard my footsteps, and ran to me, then up a tree in fright. The minute the cub couldnít see me anymore, it climbed down. But the only sound it heard was of me moving away, so it ran in the direction of my sounds, since that simply must be Mother!
The fourth time was just too much for me. I talked and scolded, laughed, and was ready to cry, but I also felt a kind of hopelessness take over. I wasnít going to get out of this. I was going to get killed! Well, I decided, I would do what I had to do, and try to make this work right. I didnít feel too confident about shooting accurately at a charging bear, but I felt it was the way it was going to be, and I would do my best.
I walked back up the hill to the top where the cub first found me, fighting the panic within me. I visualized what it was going to be like. I practiced in my head the one shot I would get. The image played itself over and over in my mind. A nagging thought kept creeping in, "So, this is how I am going to die."
I sat on a car-sized rock in an open clearing, Buddha-like, with my gun ready.
Sure-enough, the cub leaped up the hill after me once I was out of sight and it skidded to a wailing halt when it saw me sitting there. I didnít even turn to look. I could hear it scurry up a tree near me. "Great. Just Perfect." It bawled like a lamb.
I sat , ready to be tested. One of those really major life-tests. Would I be good enough to do this? Time passed; it turned late afternoon. The cub whimpered. Looking at my situation from an outsiderís viewpoint, it was terrifying. My heart pounded so loud I had to strain to listen for the inevitable mother-bear charge.
I waited forever. The sun was falling. Still trying to stay sane and think clearly, I began to wonder what to do. I couldnít sit there into the night. Iíd lose my only advantage -- being able to see.
I jumped out of my skin when I heard the cub climbing down its tree. "What does this mean?" I didnít know. I was still so scared. The cub ran PAST me, across the clearing in front of me, and off into the woods. I heard crashing-through-the-woods for a time, then all was very quiet. I was too frightened to move. I just sat and listened, my imagination running wild.
It took me a long time to realize the sow wasnít coming, that it had somehow shown itself to the cub, or the cub had seen her slowly circling or approaching and ran down to join her. I never heard the adult bear, nor saw it again. Maybe the cub had actually saved my life by running toward her and away.
The only thing that made me climb down from that rock was the impending dark. Dark scared me more at that point than imagining Mother-bear after me. Before moving very slowly down the hill, I stood there, smelling the pines, feeling the fading heat from the sun, and re-learning how to breathe.
It wasnít the first or the last time I thought, "So, this is the way...." But those are other adventures to be told another day.
Iíve hunted bear* since, but have never yet shot one.
*Check the 1997 Big Game Rules Booklet. It includes the 1998 Spring Bear Hunt. The Spring Season opens April 15th, but closing dates vary by hunt unit.
Copyright 1998 Spring Creek Communications