Dear fearless reader,
I grew up hearing a story about a relative, a great-great aunt, who in rural Colorado shooed a black bear off her porch with her broom. I’ve always loved the story. I can picture her in a long skirt and a determined look on her face. In some ways, she’s always been a hero of mine.
I love black bear meat. One of my earliest memories if of eating barbecued meat from a black bear my dad shot. Then you add in the fact that over the years I have bungled a few hunting moments that would have allowed me to bring home a black bear. I’ve been keeping an eye out for another opportunity.
Long story short — this doesn’t end well for one black bear.
We live in a semi-rural area of Alaska. Moose, wolves, coyotes, fox, ermine. We’re used to wild animals passing through, and we enjoy finding their tracks and watching their comings and goings. Occasionally,we have an opportunity to fill our freezer. Our first fall living in this house, my husband shot an enormous bull moose in our driveway.
But somehow several summers ago when I woke to the sound of bumps and thumps early in the morning, I expected something tamer. My husband was out in a field camp for his work as a biologist, so I left my two daughters sleeping and, still wearing my nightgown, went downstairs to investigate. A feral cat had been traveling the neighborhood. I opened the front door and prepared to yell “scat.”
Instead, a good-sized black bear scrambled off the porch, just feet away from me.
Needless to say, I shut the door.
“It’s a bear,” I shouted up to my daughters. I was prepared to go to the window, to watch, but then I remembered. It was open season for black bears. I ran upstairs and grabbed my 30-06 rifle and began searching for ammunition. Out of a decorative tin on our dresser, I scraped together four bullets.
“Where is he?” I asked my oldest daughter.
Last I had seen, the bear was headed up the hill and into the trees. It seemed unlikely I would get a shot at him.
“He’s by the rocks,” my daughter said.
Rocks? As I loaded the rifle, I tried to picture where on the hill there were rocks.
The bear had returned and was standing by the rocks in our front yard. Wishing I had a box of ammunition instead of just four bullets, I stepped barefoot out our back door and peered around the corner of the house. My daughter watched out the window.
As I stood at the corner of the house in my nightgown, the black bear turned sideways to me and I took my shot.
This is the amazing neighborhood we live in: just down the road, Craig and Jenny are the kind of people who will drop everything to lend a hand. And across the street, Donna and Karl have the same generous hearts. Oh, and did I mention Karl guides brown bear hunters for a living?
All of them showed up in my yard and helped with the girls and with field-dressing the bear. It is no easy task, skinning, gutting, and quartering a bear. I have assisted with many moose and caribou, but this was my first bear, and I was grateful for the help.
We took much of the meat to a local butcher and had it made into fabulous hot dogs, which we roasted over campfires and ate in buns, or diced up in spaghetti, or sliced and fried with eggs. We also saved a few roasts and packages of stew meat as well. It was all delicious and wonderful.
Last summer I was driving around in our pickup truck with a stray dog, trying to find its owner, when I met one of our lake-side neighbors for the first time. We talked for a bit, and then his eyes got wide and he said, “Wait. You’re the lady who shot the black bear.” And he held out his hand to shake mine.
I admit it. I was kind of proud. I was keeping a family legend alive.