Horsin’ Around 8-23-10
Fort Collins, Colo.
Following the news over the past few days, there are many reports of bear attacks on folks camping out in the wilderness. Working up in Yellowstone National Park in my younger years in a remote camp a long way from civilization, I had numerous accounts of running into bears. But keeping my head and the grace of The Almighty I am here to tell the stories. Now that it has come out, I even carry a spray can of mace when spending time up in the mountains. However, you must let them get close before using, it is a last-minute protection.
Bears can do a lot of damage if you make them mad, especially grizzlies. They are all muscle and outweigh us by a bunch. For the most part they will leave you alone if you leave them alone and they usually are not aggressive to humans, unless they think you are going to take their food away, and that is a normal protective response like when they think you are going to harm their cubs.
I have seen a momma bear whip a much larger male when he gets too close to her cubs. But this is a natural maternal instinct, even in humans. I kept my food up in a screened in box, lifted up by a pulley at my camp just to keep the bears out of it. However, one morning I heard what I thought was a knock at my door. When I opened it there was a bear, so I naturally slammed it shut. Knowing the thin one by four boards would not stop a bear, I climbed up in the upper bunk with an ax. Later I learned to take a dishpan and stick of stove wood to beat on it. This seemed to work fine at running bears off and I didn’t have to run out in the meadow, catch my horse and saddle in order to run the bear off.
However, I always gave the grizzles a wide girth because in the back country, grizzlies and moose are the most dangerous, to my way of thinking. You just don’t know for sure what they are thinking and their attitude is about the same. All investigation indicates there are no grizzlies in Colorado. Although there have been a few sightings in the southern part of Colorado and the northern part of New Mexico. Personally I have seen grizzle tracks in the northern part of New Mexico while working on a ranch on the edge of a wilderness area out of the little town of Elizabethtown. I also had a horse come in from overnight pasture all cut and chewed up one morning. It looked like a bear attack but I couldn’t be sure.
When I was a lot younger I did a thing that I will never do again. There was a 2-year-old bear wound up in Albuquerque, N.M. He was just a youngster looking for something to eat, but how he wound up in the city I have no idea. It was April and I think he just came out of hibernation, naturally hungry. I kept hearing about it on the radio because every one was afraid and those who had met up with him petrified.
So naturally, being a young cowboy and school teacher I was looking for some excitement. I decided to pull my horse up there and help. They had run the bear out the west side of town and a deputy showed me where. I grabbed two ropes and headed that way, then my horse and I saw the bear. When he saw us I didn’t know if he would run or charge and my horse hesitated, than moved on. The bear turned to run and we moved in on him.
My horse, Majors Nugget, had a habit of over running cattle and stepped on the bear’s back feet. This caused him to roll back and all I saw was teeth and claws. But as we passed the rope tightened on his back leg at the ankle. This was the best place I could have roped him because I could bust him and drag him.
They got a tranquilizer in him and released him up on Sandia Mountain. I made the headlines all across the nation. But I decided not to do that again no matter how bored I got. There are just some things that age gives you better wisdom to do.
Now when I go camping I take along a can of pepper spray, I’d rather get pepper spray all over than have a bear chew on my body.
Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.