Reader Essays: Hold Your Fire

Robert DeNike demonstrates how NOT to greet a bear.

I was setting up camp at Yosemite’s May Lake when I heard a snuffling noise. I turned around. A midsize bear with cinnamon fur was nuzzling my pack, which I had leaned against a tree. A small, compact cub was close beside her.

I shouted, at which the mother promptly snatched my pack in her jaws and bolted into the woods. I considered my options for several nanoseconds, then chose the reckless: I gave chase. These were just Yosemite black bears, after all, and they had my pack, with all of my food. I felt no threat, only outrage and indignation, so I took off after them into the woods.

I caught up with the thieving pair and watched as the mother began to ravage my pack. I looked for a respectable rock, picked one up, and hurled it in her direction. But instead of hitting the sow, it bonked the cub right on the noggin, causing it to scamper up a nearby tree. This got the mother’s attention, though not in the way I had intended. She stopped foraging in my pack, turned toward me, and charged.

In slow motion, I remember commanding my boots to move. “Feet, do your stuff.” Then I turned and ran for my life. Lucky for me, black bears are known for “false charging”—a bluffing attack meant to drive away a threat rather than engage it. And that’s exactly what this angry mama did. Whew!

DeNike lives in Victorville, CA. Favorite trail: One without bears.