Wandering In Grizzly Country

If I never see a bear like this while out wandering alone in the woods, I think I would be good with that. 

When the elk sprinted from cover fifty yards ahead of me, my hand went for my bear spray faster than sheriff Matt Dillon could draw his six-gun. I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized it wasn’t a bear, but I was paranoid for the rest of the hike, my head on a swivel and checking every stump and rock carefully before moving on. As you might suppose, that made for slow going. That is a good thing though. I should never be cavalier about wandering around in grizzly country as that is serious business.

The first grizzly/human incident in Island Park this year occurred just over a mile from my home. I had plans for later that same week to hike this very area and set up some trail cameras. I postponed that endeavor, thinking I would give it a week or so, and then a cyclist was chased by a grizzly bear just four miles up the same road. I haven’t set foot down there since.

In all the hours and days that I have hiked, hunted, camped and lived in Island Park, I have never seen a grizzly bear or even caught one on a trail camera. I have seen a few black bears, but never a grizzly. But grizzlies have been on the increase and it seems that nearly every day lately, someone is posting video or photos of grizzlies or tracks right inside subdivisions.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so paranoid, but with grizzlies, past history, or lack thereof, in no way predicts future events. I could walk a trail 100 times without incident, but the 101st time could be my undoing. That is exactly what happened near Glacier National Park in 2016. A cyclist was riding down a trail he had cleared, cycled and run probably a thousand times (no exaggeration). But on that one day, he came around a corner and, with million to one odds, literally ran into a grizzly and forfeited his life.

I wrote much of this column on the note app on my phone while hiking alone, several miles from my truck. I consistently hike and hunt alone in grizzly country. It isn’t that I have a death wish.  Rather, I have just bet on the odds being with me because being in the woods, scouting for game, picking huckleberries, hiking to a location for a photo or just wandering for the pleasure of it are all reasons why I moved to Island Park. I recognize that the “recommendation” is for groups of three or more when hiking in grizzly country but that just isn’t reality.

I saw no bears or bear sign on my hike, yet I was still glad I had not just one, but two bear spray canisters and a .44 magnum revolver with me because sometimes the pucker factor is enough to suck the vinyl off a seat. I don’t want to injure or kill a grizzly bear, but I also don’t want the last sensation of my life to be feeling its teeth around my scrawny neck just before he or she bites down with enough force to decapitate me. If a confrontation goes south and it is me or the bear, I am going to try my best to win the contest.

So, what should I do if my luck runs out and I meet a grizzly around a blind corner in a trail and I am attacked before I can deploy my bear spray? According to the National Park Service,

·        Grizzly Bears: If you are attacked by a grizzly bear, leave your pack on and PLAY DEAD (that sounds a lot easier than I suspect it is). Lay flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over. Remain still until the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks. However, if the attack persists, fight back vigorously. Use whatever you have at hand to hit the bear in the face.

·        Black Bears: If you are attacked by a black bear, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. Try to escape to a secure place such as a car or building. If escape is not possible, try to fight back using any object available. Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear's face and muzzle.”

Other sources tell me that if a bear tries to enter my tent, I should fight back as the bear is likely in predatory mode and I am on the menu. I have to say that I really hope it never comes to that.


NOTE: When this column was published in the Post Register last week, it was immediately posted on Facebook with lots of likes. However, one person took exception, stating that since I had not seen a grizzly while out hiking, I was no expert. I don’t claim to be an expert in any sense, nor do I believe that seeing a bear in the woods would in any way further qualify me. So, I deferred to what real experts determine to be the best course of action should I actually encounter a bear. That is what is presented here, with the hope it will potentially save someone’s, if not my own, life.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho