Recently I was invited to join a bear hunt/salmon fishing expedition to Alaska in late June. “Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” I thought.
That gave me an idea. “I think I’ll write my next column about bears,” I announced to Marilyn.
“You’re not going to tell that old Virginia bear story again, are you,” she asked dryly.
“Why not,” I intoned. “Millions of people haven’t heard it before.”
In June 1975 Marilyn and I decided to invite a fellow psychology professor at the University of Virginia and his family to join us on a weekend camping trip to the Shenandoah National Park.
They had never camped previously. They purchased a tent in preparation for the adventure.
We pitched our tents side-by-side in a designated camping spot among the sheltering trees. We were, ahem, “happy campers.”
While enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and sipping drinks at our picnic table we were disrupted when a middle-aged couple burst through the corridor of bushes and trees between our camp sites, yelling “Put your food away, a bear just stole our supper.”
“He wasn’t afraid. He tore open our coolers and is eating all our food. When he’s done with ours he’ll probably come over here,” the excited pair exclaimed. “We’re getting the ranger,” they said as they headed in their car toward the Camp Entrance kiosk where we had paid our fees
“He’s got a tag in his ear because we had to trap him twice before. We moved him a hundred miles away each time. This is the first time we’ve seen him this year. We took him to West Virginia last fall, but HE’S BACK.”
The ranger turned on a siren and tossed fire crackers to scare the bear. With a few disgruntled huffs, the bear lumbered into the woods. The ranger announced, “I scared him enough that he shouldn’t come back.”
We visited with our unnerved neighbors for a while and gave them some of our food for supper. They returned to their camp and the evening seemed to settle down.
Minutes later our neighbors yelled again as they scrambled through the brambles toward us. "The bear’s back,” they proclaimed. “We’re summoning the ranger, and this time we want action!”
The ranger arrived shortly, siren blaring. Unstrapping his pistol, he charged toward the bear blasting shots into the darkening sky.
“He won’t come back,” the ranger proclaimed as the bear retreated. “He shouldn’t be hungry anymore; he had supper twice.”
Just as the ranger turned toward his truck, our friends shouted, “There HE IS, right next to your tent!”
Grabbing two fist-sized rocks I stalked toward the big black beast, sitting on his haunches. Despite people yelling to not get too close, I edged toward the unafraid animal until I was 15 feet away and hurled a rock at the bear.
I was a former baseball pitcher in Little League who was known for throwing really hard. I also threw so wildly that opposing batters were usually scared into ducking, striking out or just waiting to get a walk to first base.
The rock hit the bear above his right eye. I didn’t know a bear could move so quickly. He woofed and bolted, lightning-fast. For good measure I hit him on his rump with my second rock as he disappeared into the woods.
That night our friends slept in their vehicles with the windows up. Marilyn, our six-month-old daughter and I slept in our tent.
Next day we returned to Charlottesville. My university colleague pronounced he wouldn’t camp again.
When I opened our newspaper the following Sunday, I noticed an article with the headline, “Intrepid Camper Drives Bear Away.” I don’t know how the story turned up in The Charlottesville Daily Progress, our local newspaper.
Besides reporting how an unnamed camper had driven a bear from the Shenandoah National Park camp grounds, it quoted a Park Ranger advising campers to not take such matters into their own hands.
In September another article appeared in the newspaper with the caption, “Troublesome Bear Relocated Again.” The story was a follow-up to “Intrepid Camper” and noted the bear had refrained from visiting campgrounds until Labor Day.
With fall approaching the bear needed to store fat for hibernation. He had worked up enough courage to raid campsites again. This time wildlife managers moved him to the Great Dismal Swamp in far southeastern Virginia, almost 300 miles from Shenandoah National Park.
Around Thanksgiving another newspaper story appeared with the sad headline, “Repeat Offender Bear Killed near Richmond.” A 400 pound bear was found alongside the highway between Richmond and Charlottesville, mortally injured by a truck.
He was identified by his ear tag as the Shenandoah National Park nemesis. He was just 100 miles from his home.
Dr. Rosmann lives near Harlan, Iowa. Contact him at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.
By Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.