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The Bear Incident

June 13, 2003

When I tell this story to people who live around here, in the hills and woodlands of central Pennsylvania, they know exactly what I'm talking about. Bears are all over the place around here, and just about everyone who lives in this region has seen at least one bear.

However, when I tell this story to people who don't live in the countryside, they sometimes have a hard time grasping just how close the local wildlife gets to peoples' houses. Here then is a photographic essay on what's it's like to live in the woods.

It was June 13, 2003. I had just moved to my current house in Pennsylvania in March and was still making frequent trips into town for new furniture and supplies for remodeling the house.
I'd just returned home from one of those shopping trips in town and was unloading my new purchases from the van, carrying stuff from the van into the house, when I spotted this guy.

As quiet as I could, I stepped back into the house and got my camera. These photos are all taken from the front doorway of my house, looking out over the attached deck.

Zoom lens time.

Yes, the bear is as close as he looks. After the bear left I ran to get a tape measure to find out how close he'd been. The bear was standing about 35 to 40 feet from my front door (where these photos were taken) and about 20 feet from where the van was parked.

I showed these pictures to some of the local hunters, who thought it looked like a young male black bear judging from his build and long legs.

As I was taking these pictures it occurred to me that I had no firearms. The only thing I had to defend myself would be whatever sharp knives I could find in the kitchen. Which was on the other side of the house, quite a distance from where I was standing taking these photos.
I had owned some firearms many years earlier when I'd lived in Bloomsburg Pennsylvania, but I'd sold them off when I moved to New Jersey in the interim.

The day after this happened I went back into town and bought some guns. I certainly don't want to shoot this or any other bear; the last thing I want on my hands is a wounded bear, and I really don't want to have to deal with several hundred pounds' worth of dead bear carcass either. Firing a gun in the bear's general direction will usually scare it away however, and they'll tend to stay away if they know firearms are used in the area.

If a warning shot or two doesn't scare a bear off, at least I'll be armed and stand a chance just in case one does decide to charge.

About this time my dogs (four miniature dachshunds at the time) noticed that something was going on outside and started to bark. I slipped back inside the doorway and closed the screen door to keep my dogs from running outside. There was a chance that my dogs, being brave but not too bright, would run out and try to attack the bear.

There is a reason the bear is rummaging around right there, in that specific spot. When I moved in I didn't have regular garbage pickup until months later. The neighbors suggested that, since my house was surrounded by acres of woods and the nearest house was about a quarter of a mile away, I could just burn my garbage in my yard like many other people in the area do.

So I made a burn pile in that spot, which is on the edge of a dirt road that winds up the hill along my property. I had just burned my kitchen garbage the day before and the bear was nosing around in the ashes of the burn pile.

A minute or so after the dogs started barking in the house, the bear decided he'd had enough of the whole thing, turned around, and wandered off into the far woods. Since then I've seen bear prints in the dirt road, but I haven't seen another bear near the house.

This photo was taken from about the same spot on the front deck, a few steps to the left, seven years later in September 2010. It's hard to tell from the blurry image, but that's a flock of about a dozen wild turkeys in the dirt road, perhaps 25 feet uphill from where the bear had been standing.
You can tell this photo was taken after Hanna and I were married: there's a potted plant on the deck table in the lower right hand corner of the picture.

Irvania.com webmaster: Dave Ferris
The content on this page was written: April 2013
Last updated: June 9, 2016