The objective on this day was to sample stream sediments for chemical analysis. All of the streams are frequented by bears when the salmon are running, and salmon of various species run at different times all summer. Prince of Wales Island has the world’s largest black bears. Six hundred pounds of determination.
Jim and I were working together on this day. Our traverse took us up one stream and down another to end at our starting point on the fjord. I was looking at the rocks and taking the samples. Jim was my guard watching the stream banks and looking ahead.
Toward the end of the day, we were going down a V-shaped stream. I was concentrating on my work and not paying attention to what was in front of me. A couple of times I noticed that Jim was lagging behind me. He was laughing at me as I walked down the stream oblivious to my surroundings. I wasn’t amused.
I ducked under a large blown-down tree that crossed the stream and proceeded down stream. Jim was no place to be found. I looked back to see him standing on the tree. He was looking straight ahead. I turned and looked down-stream to see a log jam. On the left side of the entangled logs and sticks was a little opening. Out of the opening popped the little head of a young bear cub. It looked at me and then carefully backed down the hole.
Then from the other side mama bear reached up with her ‘arms’ through the hole in the logs and parted them. Then she climbed through the hole and stood up on my side of the log jam. She was B-I-G. I watched without moving, holding my ground. Jim and I had been having a debate about whether the bears had white stars on their chests. I can safely say that they do.
The bear without hesitation jumped forward and began to run toward me. I watched as she began to run like a dog bringing her back feet forward though her front feet. In two seconds she moved twenty five yards closing the distance between us. I moved under the fallen tree that Jim had been standing on. By now he had decided to run. However, I had the rifle so he didn’t run far. Not looking back I decided to climb up the side of the stream into some giant ferns. Jim followed.
After reaching the top of the embankment I turned and brought my rifle to my shoulder. The bear did not follow us up the stream bank. When she could no longer see us she decided to go back to her cub.
Moments later I found that I had stuck the rifle barrel into mud when I ran up the embankment. It had at least six inches of mud in the barrel. If I had fired the rifle at the bear I would have blown my face off. I was lucky that day.