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Little Bear in New Mexico

Posted by Range Officer Rhonda on July 30, 2008


This is Little Bear, one of the three bears (or more) that I saw in New Mexico earlier this month. I definitely need a better camera for next time, but for now, this will have to do. To give you an idea of size, the stump to his left came up to my shoulder (about 5 feet) and he is approx. 20 yards away from me. This picture is the point where he decides to ‘mock challenge’ me as I am trying to drive him away.

The bears of New Mexico are starving right now with the severe drought they have been experiencing. At this location, we are just under an elevation of 7000 feet according to my GPS. The bears have been coming into our camp, digging into the dumpsters, leaving teeth marks on the bumpers of cars, paw prints on the mirrors, snuffling under our windows for scents of forbidden food taken into the cabins, and even exploring the port-a-potties. We did answer the age old question – does a bear poop in the woods? Nope! Not if they have a port-a-pot around!

The story of this particular bear is a fun one with a good ending, but I’ll repeat the oft heard phrase ‘don’t try this at home’. For a handful of days, I had been really wanting to see some of the bears that had been visiting our camp. Also, it was our job to ‘shoo away’ the animals that entered our gun range so that we wouldn’t shoot them. This event happened about 2 in the afternoon. I was away from the student group and I was replacing bulls eye targets while the Pistol class was listening to the Master Sargeant talk about the semi-auto they were getting ready to shoot. I heard a rustling at the edge of the range and looked up to find a black bear entering the range and headed for the trash can – right next to the students. Aiming to keep him up range and scare him away, I stepped from behind the target frame, grabbed my instamatic camera, shot a picture – then yelled at him. Slowly, he paced away from me and further up the range, with me walking behind yelling ‘shoo, go away’ and all that. Each step I took, I bent to the camera, took a picture, then shooed some more. It was step, ‘click’ – “Shoo bear” – step,  click – “Git” – and so on. The bear was getting mighty sick of me and stopped at the stump about two thirds of the way into the range. It could be he was looking for grubs, insects and such since they all spend most of their day foraging and the stump looked good to him. He stopped at the stump, put one paw on top and stood up part ways. It looked like he was posing for a photo op. I was closer than I liked and he was bigger than I first thought. Hopefully, the students behind me were getting good pictures (or loading their guns!) Earlier, I had taken off my long sleeve shirt, so all I had was a short sleeve T-shirt – so nothing to hold above my head and wave to make me look larger.

The bear didn’t want to go and didn’t like me, so he stepped down off the stump and came around – then stomped a couple feet towards me. At this point, I thought he was huge and that I was maybe 40 yards away. (Yes, this is an Oh Shit! moment). Knowing I can’t run because that is an open invitation for a bear to chase, I started yelling louder and flapping my arms up and down like a huge – well – gooney bird I guess. He got the message, thank god, and backed away and took off for the woods. Later, I measured my distance from the bear, and I was only about 20 yeards away and had put myself in a very bad position in my attempt to get a picture AND chase him off the range and away from the trash. My pictures will sometimes be shown to my Hunt Ed classes with the firm admonition – do what I SAY and not what I do. Good intentions aside (chase bear away from students), what I did wasn’t too smart.

This bear I named Little Bear because he was the smallest of the three I could seperately identify. He was healthy and fat, mostly a medium brown with a little lighter cinnamon color on his top hairs across the back. I would estimate his weight at a bit over 200 pounds with his shoulder (when on all fours) at about 3 and a half feet tall. The bears are getting used to all the humans around and finding food quite plentiful in the dumpsters and trash cans. Sadly, if they become too used to us, they may have to be destroyed. At the very least, some will have to be relocated, which often just moves the problem elsewhere or only allows a temporary solution as bears cover large territories and often find their way back.

After hearing the stories of my chasing the bear off the range, the next morning I gave a briefing to all present at our flag ceremony. I reminded everyone of the following facts that everyone should pay attention to:

  • Bears are normally not aggressive to people.
  • NEVER run from a bear as it triggers their chase instinct.
  • Take off your shirt or pack and raise it over your head to appear larger and yell loudly. If I had done this (removed my skimpy T shirt) – I imagine the bear would have said ‘oh yuck’ and ran as quickly away as he could.
  • Throw rocks, use an air horn, make noise any way you can while backing away slowly.
  • Don’t make eye contact with a bear or any wild animal, it’s a sign of aggression to them and often one challenge they won’t back away from.
  • Keep your camps clean and never take food into your tent or cabin.
  • Do not wear sweet flavored lotions, deoderant, perfumes, hair gels or use shampoo, body wash or laundry soap that smells good.
  • Above all, do not force an encounter with a bear. If you are attacked, fight back with everything you can lay your hands on to show you are not easy prey. DO NOT PLAY DEAD!

This is only a brief description of one of my bear close encounters over the two weeks in the New Mexico mountains. Many more opportunities will show the desperation of the bears to get food.


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