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With bears, too close for comfort, times 2: Tom Shank's Woods & Waters

Posted 7/31/19

Several years ago in August, I decided to take a hike near my cabin.

It was a typical hot August day. I wanted to make a loop behind and around my cabin in Lycoming County that involved a …

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With bears, too close for comfort, times 2: Tom Shank's Woods & Waters

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Several years ago in August, I decided to take a hike near my cabin.

It was a typical hot August day. I wanted to make a loop behind and around my cabin in Lycoming County that involved a well-defined deer trail. It went along a laurel flat for about one mile.

This trail is well defined. I had walked and hunted it many times. This particular hike was a scouting mission for deer and just a general nature walk.

My walking stick and my camera were my only possessions. Being in rattlesnake country, carrying a walking stick is my security, even though I never would kill a rattler. Avoidance is the best deterrent, and that is why on this hike my focus was mainly down on the ground.

As I walked, I kept a close watch on my steps. Stepping on obstacles such as logs and stones and avoiding stepovers usually can keep you from harm from these critters. My walking stick could be used to move a rattlesnake for safety — for him and yours truly.

My hike was going as planned. I was enjoying the woods. Then it happened. I had no warning. It was me and him, face to face within several feet.

What I came across was Pennsylvania’s largest four-legged predator, a black bear. I never looked upward until I heard what sounded like something crashing.

It was crashing, all right. A black bear was coming down from a tree that I was standing within feet of.

To say I was scared would be an understatement. I was terrified and helpless. I did what came naturally to me. I yelled and screamed and waved my walking stick. To this day, I don’t know who was more scared, me or the bear.

Fortunately, Mr. Bruin wanted no part of me, nor did I want any part of him. He took off running away, plowing his way through the laurel and over the side of the mountain.

It took some time for me to gather my thoughts. Relief finally came. I examined the area around the bear’s exit tree and discovered sugar maple leaves all over the place. I looked up and could see how the limbs were stripped of its leaves. I figured I came across the bear who took an elevated position among the maple limbs, eating the leaves of the abundant sugar maple.

I approached his location without warning, and he did what wild animals do upon human contact. They exit as fast as they can. This rare encounter was too close for comfort and No. 1 in my book until this spring.

My all-time too-close-for-comfort encounter came in April. Before that, I never believed I would get closer to a black bear than my sugar maple bear.

I was truly mistaken.

It came again at my cabin. Having a cabin in a remote area only means that an “outhouse” is used ... no modern conveniences. If a bathroom trip is needed, it’s out to the outhouse.

That particular morning, I found myself occupying my outhouse. Sitting and reading a magazine is quite common.

The door of the outhouse was slightly ajar. I was minding my business, not to be disturbed, when I caught movement from the small crack of the door opening.

I opened the door with my foot and there it was — a black bear within the door frame of the outhouse and me in a compromising position.

I threw my magazine in the air and yelled at the top of my lungs. The bear turned and ran away as quickly as it came.

My wife, Lynn, and good friend Gerald came from the cabin hearing the yelling and to my rescue, so to speak. What they saw was the bear running behind the outhouse.

This was way too close for comfort and prompted us to place an air horn in the outhouse, just in case we have an unexpected visitor during our outhouse visits.

With both encounters having a good ending for both human and beast, I have come to the conclusion that bears dislike noise and will exit to evade human contact.

With that being said, each year bear attacks do occur, unfortunately. Sows with her cubs are very defensive and will defend her cubs violently against any threat.

Distance is always the best defense against bear interaction. Bears must always be treated as wild animals and be given their distance. Be safe and know what to do in bear country.

Tom Shank has been writing the Woods and Waters column for the Press & Journal for about 10 years. His expertise has been gained through more than 50 years hunting, fishing, trapping and exploring the full gamut of nature. The Susquehanna River and his cabin in Lycoming County are his true loves. Woods and Waters is his playground in life, and to write about it for the Press & Journal is a dream come true.