The bear essentials

I hope no one was watching.

For one, a grown man shamelessly clad in brightly colored spandex (that would be yours truly) was tromping along the edge of his property. Two, the man (yep, still me and still wrapped in the peacock hues of road cycling) was brandishing an all-black and rather fearsome looking 12-gauge shotgun. (Yes, I did say “shotgun,” and I’m pretty sure I made history that day with the only known grouping of a Remington Express Magnum and skin-tight Pearl Izumi shorts). Any passers-by would have eventually heard a booming shot ring in the air.

Before anyone jumps to conclusions, dials 911 or orders immediate straight-jacketing, let’s page back a couple weeks in time and describe the events that led to the peculiar combination.

Foremost, let me say I’ve always considered myself to be “Bear Smart.” I’ve spent a couple seasons in the Alaskan bush, shared space with grizzly and brown bears, and ridden herd on enough black bears to have successfully earned my “bear badge.” During our time in the Animas Valley, I’ve chased off no fewer than six black bears, but can still say that we actually had a good bear situation out here at the plantation. That is until a couple weeks ago, when the trouble started with crab apples.

There we were, the entire family unit happily sitting Brady-fashion inside our conversation pit, when a shadowy figure crawled across our front porch and over to a large tree, dripping with the tart fruit. Two dwarf shadows followed close behind. The tree started shaking, fruit started flying and when our eyes adjusted, we gazed upon a large sow black bear and her two young cubs feasting just outside our picture window. A couple bangs on a steel pot and the trio retreated back up the mountain.

A few days later, things got more complicated. My four-year-old daughter was out playing in the front yard, alone save for a pink Carvers frisbee (a disappointing weapon in anyone’s hand). “BEARS!” she shouted, high-speeding toward the front door. Sure enough, the same family had returned to the Sands Buffet for another feed. This time, our hard-earned crop of apricots had been the lure, and Team Bruin was busy polishing off an entire tree’s worth. What’s next, I wondered. Beers and brats in the living room? Party’s over, I told myself, and dug deep into the Alaska tool-box and remembered an old ranger spiel.

“Make yourself appear larger than you are, make noise, wave your arms, show the animal that you are human, and whatever you do, don’t run away. Running triggers the bear’s instincts. Running makes you potential prey.”

And so donning my Bushmaster alter-ego, I walked assertively down to the front yard, clapping my hands, growling, and tossing all manner of expletives at the animals. The sow didn’t care much for the suggestions, cut me off mid-sentence and charged.

“Always hold your ground. Start waving your arms frantically now. Bears almost always bluff before actually attacking . . . No! Wait! Don’t do that!”

The ranger’s voice faded back into oblivion as the Bushmaster became a quivering Goldilocks. Squealing (it’s true, I actually squealed), I turned tail, left my manhood in the front yard and globe-trotted for the front door of the house.

Three days later, I still felt a bit like Goldilocks as I slipped into my skin tight shorts and riding jersey. Preparing for a late-afternoon ride, bears were the furthest things from my mind. And almost in response to my casual air, it hit – the obvious sound of bear invasion. I immediately scanned the yard. Nothing. Another loud whoomph. I followed it to the side of the house. Still nothing. I shifted my spandex and clicked my cleats over to the front door and checked inside the house. A third humph sounded right on top of me, and I suddenly felt like the victim in a horror movie, oblivious to the camera, oblivious to the predator and then slash.

Sure enough, my eyes looked heavenward, only to be greeted by three bears’ heads sniffing over the edge of the roof. Somehow, they’d climbed up the side of the house and were partying on the pro-panel. Close enough to touch with my outstretched hand, the trio seemed to be laughing, ripe breath, wet noses, fangs and all. It was the final straw.

As has been mentioned, I happen to own a little home defense tool known as a shotgun (Stay tuned. We’ll get into specifics in a future editorial). Immediately after smelling bear breath, that firearm was the first thing to jump into my mind and the first thing to slip past the spandex and into my hands.

I think the bears actually sensed what was happening. I darted through the backdoor, and the threesome was already making a bee-line for the back of the property. I started to gain, as the sow scrambled over our fence, the twins close behind. Then things got weird. Rather than heading back to the den and recounting the laughable tale over a couple pints of nectar, the three turned and had another chuckle. A couple of loud “Gits!” did nothing to motivate them. Instead, the sow tried on another charge for size.

I took aim and fired.

Okay, let’s pause for a second. I should probably clarify that last statement and put the minds of any Division of Wildlife officials at ease. I took aim at the sky (I believe the gun’s barrel was pointed directly at Orion’s Belt) and fired a lone round straight into the air. And Goldilocks had her day after all thanks to that Express Magnum. The loud crack echoed up the hillside and through the Animas Valley, and the bears high-tailed it back up the mountain. It was high time for a bowl of victory porridge.

I’m happy to report that mama and the two cubs haven’t been spotted in eight days, and the party porridge has been flowing the whole time. Still, the truth is that I can’t take all the credit. As we all know in Durango, spandex is pretty scary stuff.

– Will Sands



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