Homesteading With Wild Animals

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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When you homestead in the mountains you should expect encounters with numerous wild animals.  Living where we do is no exception and frequent encounters with bears are common.  We have lived on the side of a mountain for 14 years and during that time have had  numerous personal encounters with bears.  Some have been as close as a few inches separating us.  With a little common sense there should not be a problem. Bears are not aggressive as most think but simply curious with poor vision.  Do not be mistaken, they are very powerful animals but they do not go about looking for trouble.  I have seen them lift a large rock with one paw that I would have to move with a winch.   

In our many encounters with bear we have not had a bad episode or outcome.  Sometimes we may have been inconvenienced some what  but walking around trouble is better than forcing the issue especially when it comes to bears.  When you live in a remote area, on a mountain side, the odds are pretty good that you will encounter bears.  Most people have a misconception of the black bear. Should you choose to live as we do you will sooner or later come face to face with bear.  The key is to remain calm.  Sounds hard but actually it is easy when you consider that bear can run faster than you and climb faster,  so it is just common sense to stay calm.  Don’t panic, just stay calm, don’t do anything quick or rash and the chances are good you will be telling others of your experience. If the bear starts toward you it will be harder to remain calm but if you are of weak spirit you will probably faint and the bear will still come over and sniff you and then go on about his business.  We have had them come within a few feet of us to make sure what we were.  

When you  first see the bear stop where you are.  Jumping up and down yelling Bear! Bear!  won’t help your situation and in fact the result will probably get you on the local news channel as a feature item.  Face the bear, stay calm, pause and see what the bear does.  Probably nothing but if it lowers its head, swings it from side to side, raised and lowers its feet, you need to consider a slow retreat.  Mostly it will sniff, maybe give a huff or two as a challenge and if you don’t get excited it will walk away or go back to eating when it realizes you are not a threat. Like any other wild animal bear can sense fear.   Bear are interesting animals and we don’t go out of our way to encounter them but we do use caution when we  have those encounters.  Like the time one came up out of the ditch 20′ from us and it was mama with two 5 pound cubs.  I stopped, gave our dog Bozwell the sit command, and there we stood/sat for about 10 minutes.  Mom was not upset nor did she feel threatened and the cubs ran around and she corrected them when they got too close.  The key was not mom but those cubs.  Had we done anything to frighten them she would have changed instantly and charged us.  She let the cubs get within 10′ of us and then she would call them back.  We all went on our way happily after several minutes and here I am writing about it.  

Another key is being alert, staying calm and don’t panic. That can’t be emphasized enough.   Also, do not feed the bears!  Feeding bears gets them used to people and looking for easy handouts which will be a slow inevitable death sentence for them.  We had one woman who fed the bears and one day she didn’t have anything on her to feed them,  the bear stood up walked to her and pushed her down.  She was fortunate that was all the bear did to her.  Besides if they come to our house – which they frequently do – if you have fed them their behavior towards us and others is different.  They are perfectly capable of fending for themselves.  We enjoy their wildness and they should not look at us for a hand out.  We have had several encounters with mountain lions, but they are another story.  Staying calm with them a few feet away is hard – very hard. Curled back lip, yellow teeth that are designed to rip and tear.  Very, very hard.    Another story for another day.  

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