On Bears

Growing up in New Bethlehem in the 40s and 50s, before TV and computers, our weekend times were filled with spotting deer.  It was country, and it was the most fun we could have as a gang, one car and a gang going out spotting deer.  We had heard that bear were being seen at a small dump near Cook Forest which was an hour or so north from New B.  So, off we went to find this dump.  One of the guys knew the approximate place and after hard road, we turned on a dirt road and deeper into the woods a small lane.  We came to a few cars parked in the ditch along the road and saw a trail leading into the woods.  We could see flashlights in the woods about 100 ft from the lane and off we went to find the dump.  It was about 80 ft in diameter and was used by a number of local hunting camps that were prevalent in the area.  Deer hunting was a big deal and big business in my part of the state.  There were no formal garbage disposal sites around and a group of the camps chose this site for the dump.  That’s the way it was taken care of back then.  There were maybe 20 people there in small groups sitting or standing and talking quietly or whispering.  A few flashlights were on but only a few.  I chose a rock about 8 ft from the edge of the garbage to sit on and had to boost up to sit there as my feet didn’t touch the ground.  We sat there for about 20 minutes when we heard a “Woof” and all the lights went to the bear and 2 cubs on the other side of the dump.  The two cubs climbed a tree and she began meandering back and forth around the dump.  We watched intently for over half an hour at which point she was right in front of us, barely 10 ft away.  A few people were taking photos but not many.  Then a man with an old Speed Graphic 4X5 camera and huge flash bulb got between me and the bear and right when she stuck her head in one of those food cans that have a number for size…big enough to put her head in…and he took a photo.  That big flash startled her, she made a Large growl,  the photographer hit me in backing away rapidly and knocked me upside down on my back on the other side of this small rock.  People went screaming out thru the woods and lights were helter skelter thru the canopy and tree trunks and I lay there thinking  “I’m gonna die”!   It got Very quiet, I didn’t move and shortly my buddies were calling me “Bob, are you alright”?  Whisper…Yes.  Get me out of here.  I had no light.  They came in and I got up…we put the light on the dump and the bear was right were I last saw it, just slurping away.  I didn’t die that night and have a good memory to share.

I recall getting my first deer at age 12 but I don’t recall when I went hunting the first time.  For sure it was small game as my Dad had given me a 20 gauge double barrel shotgun.  It’s just that hunting was so common that my age of starting didn’t mean much.  One started when he could carry and safely handle and shoot a gun.  This was handed down from father to son and was a fact of life.  I was hunting one day in the winter when I came upon a large trap that was open and set.  I had to call my Dad over to actually understand that it was a for real bear trap.  Can you even imagine such a thing?  It was huge then, but now that I’ve seen the size of traps they use for grizzlies, those are beyond belief.   Another time I was hunting in winter (read snow) and saw a bear dragging a deer thru the woods.  I just stood and watched.  Now at age 73, I kick myself once again for not carrying a camera.  I’ve seen wondrous things while hunting.  Many would not believe.  In the 20+  years I’ve lived here in Virginia, there have been a number of deaths by bear attacks in the Smokies and many bear sightings even nearby.  I had a patient who shot a bear as it killed the colt his mare was in process of delivering.  He said the hide would cover a 4X8 ft piece of plywood.  I believe him.  In the writings of Dr. Thomas Walker, the physician who travelled with Daniel Boone when he first went thru this area in 1790s, they often talked about seeing and shooting so many bear.  I guess it was the quality of the meat that they enjoyed.  I’ve eaten bear and it is fat and sometimes gristly with a distinctive taste.

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