Chased by a Brown Bear
Last spring about this time of the year I went out ptarmigan hunting, I snow-machined approximately 25 miles north of my community to the headwaters of a drainage that we know locally as Warehouse Creek, which is also known to have a few flocks of ptarmigan during the early spring. After leaving the main trail and heading northeasterly for a few miles following stands of willow I spotted a flock of ptarmigan, which numbered about fifty or so. After getting within range I started shooting and was dropping a few birds with my Ruger 10/22 Carbine which was mounted with a Steiner VZF 1.5-6 x 42mm. I had the scope dialed up to six so shots up to fifty yard were fairly easy. After putting a few birds in my gunnysack I spotted a red fox that was also hunting ptarmigan, I guess I was infringing on his hunt. The fox probably was not too thrilled to see me in his hunting territory. Well anyway I shot another bird and drove up to it and stopped my snow-machine. While I was reloading my rifle clip I heard the ptarmigan make a little noise so I looked over and to my surprise there was the red fox, just picking up my bird in it’s mouth and getting ready to run off with it. I was tempted to shoot the fox, but decided not too since I didn’t really need the pelt. So I just watched as he ran off with my bird, he stopped about 30 yards away and started eating the bird. I drove off looking for more ptarmigan in about 10 minutes or so I located the flock again, so I shot a couple more. One of the ptarmigan I shot was only wounded, it started running off heading north away from me. When I was ready to go after it here comes the fox running by my snow-machine chasing after my wounded bird, he zigzagged back and forth chasing the bird and eventually caught it. I watched him carry it off this time he buried the bird under the snow, I guess this was for eating later. After watching the fox do this I was getting a little amused by the antics of this wily fox and I thought to myself “If a fox can be as bold and savvy as this one was, he can have a few of my birds”. There was enough ptarmigan to give up a few loses. So I got back on the hunt and started searching for more birds to shoot. I was going from one patch of willows to another and occasionally I would look back and there would be the fox not far behind, just following me. I eventually came up to another flock and shot a few more birds, one ptarmigan I wounded and he flew off right behind my back-trail, as the bird was gaining altitude out of the sky dropped a raven trying to catch him in mid-air, behind the raven was that darn ptarmigan stealing fox running as fast as he could with it’s head up keeping his eye on the raven. To my amazement as soon as the raven caught the ptarmigan and brought it to the ground the fox ran up to it and stole the raven’s ptarmigan. He ran off a short distance and buried this ptarmigan too. I thought to myself that is one smart fox.
I laughed to myself as I reached the next stand of willows where I stopped my snow-machine to look through my backpack for more 22-caliber ammunition to reload my clip with. As I was reloading I was looking north trying to spot the flock of ptarmigan and out of the corner of my eye on the left of me there was the fox running as fast as he could heading north and not even looking back. Apparently he had taken the west side of the willow stand and was spooked by something. I didn’t pay too much attention to it but kept it in the back of my mind. After reloading my clip I was ready to search for the flock of ptarmigan, when I started driving off I noticed some large tracks in the snow just ahead of me. I stopped to check and to my surprise they were the tracks of a bear. The tracks looked fairly fresh, I measured the front paw print and it was as wide as my outstretched fingers about 8.5 inches across, this was a pretty good-sized bear. I walked around looking at the tracks and determined that they were heading west toward the willow stand, I thought to myself I wonder if the bear walked through the willows and is heading toward the direction of the coast. After giving it a little thought I decided that I would take a look. I headed toward the west along the side of the willows. Beside the stand there was a big hard packed snow drift about 6 or 7 feet above the ground it was pretty wide maybe 6 feet across, I drove up on it so I could get a better view of the surrounding area. It looked like it was drivable so I slowly drove my snow-machine along the top heading toward the far end of the willow stand, which it ran parallel too. A I was driving I was constantly looking ahead and into the willows, since seeing the fox reacting and running away like it did made me a little wary.
From a distance I noticed that the ground inside of the willow stand on the far end was a little torn up and willows trees were snapped off all around that area. As I was getting closer to the far end I focused my eyes toward the center of the torn up area and to my surprise a bear just appeared out of the ground, it looked directly at me and as soon we made eye contact the bear just tore out of the ground and leaped toward me growling and huffing all the way, the distance was about 20 feet and in a matter of seconds the bear was at the base of the drift, you can only imagine what was going through my mind as I watched the bear close the distance with just a couple of fast leaps. Time just stopped, the bear didn’t. I hit the throttle on my snow-machine so hard and fast that I just flew the last couple of yards off of the snowdrift. As I was clearing the end of the drift I looked back in time to see the bear clawing through the snowdrift right behind me, the bear looked massive at such a close distance. When I landed on the frozen tundra I accelerated my snow-machine to about 70 miles an hour, the bear chased me for approximately 100 yards, but I fortunately and with no mishaps outdistanced the bear in a matter of seconds. When I was about 200 yards ahead I looked back, the bear had stopped and was pouncing from side to side swing it’s head back and forth. It turned toward the left back to the willows so I stopped my snow-machine but kept the engine running, I got off and retied my gunny-sack to the back rack of my snow-machine, it had fallen off and was dragging behind me as I was being chased. I waited a few minutes to recover from the experience then curiosity took a hold of me, so I circled back toward the bear’s direction, this time giving the willow stand a wide-berth. When I reached the midway point I looked up ahead and running out of the willows was the bear, then there was another, maybe 2/3 the size of the first, behind the second was a third and behind the third was a fourth, there was four bears running out of the willows, one behind the other. What really surprised me was how fast those bears were running and how agile they were, the cubs would twist and turn now and again to look back while the sow just looked straight ahead, running straight for the mountains off in the distance. I drove after them to get a better look this time keeping my distance, they were amazing animals so alive, so natural in their environment. I checked their running speed using my speedometer and to my surprise they were running between 27 and 30 mph. I turned back and headed back to the den since I had not seen a bear’s den up close before, especially one out on the tundra flats. When I got back I walked over and looked inside, to my amazement the bear had dug the layer out that was between the top surface of tundra and the bottom layer above the permafrost. She had layered the surface of the permafrost with willow branches to keep her and her cubs fur from freezing to the ground during their winter hibernation. I started looking around the area at all the broken willow trees and noticed another pad of willows at the base of the snowdrift, out in an open area. The willow pad was situated where she could sun herself while facing toward the shining sun in the east. The pad was approximately 7-8 feet in diameter. I was amazed at how this bear had taken over the willow stand and utilized willow trees for her den and resting area. There is a lot that can be learned from this encounter so I decided to write it down for others to read and learn from also. “When out in the wilderness always expect the unexpected”. End