This happened to me today.  In an instant I was transformed from hunter to hunted . .

bear detail


Nick Mayer

This happened this morning, May 27, 2023.  I woke up to a banner day here in the Green Mountains of Vermont.  Turkey season is coming to a close and so I thought I’d go for a walk with my shotgun & turkey call and get out into the woods.  I prefer my turkey breast wrapped in feathers rather than plastic wrap & styrofoam.  I can walk out of the front door of my house and right into the Bristol Cliffs Wilderness area of the Green Mountain National Forest.  I took with me my Remington 870 Express- a 12 gauge pump, three 3” magnum turkey shells, a knife, my tag, and my turkey call.

I’ve always had my best luck hunting when I am thinking less about hunting and more about enjoying my experience in nature.  This was one of those mornings.  There was life everywhere and I was happy to soak up all the stimuli of the forest being alive again after its winter dormancy.  The beech & maple foliage was almost chartreuse it was so fresh, the ferns had just barely unrolled, and there was a cloud of black flies around my head.   There were so many birds chirping I had to close my eyes to try and listen for toms gobbling in response to my hen call.  I was shocked to see two grey squirrels as this was the first time in 23 years in this patch of woods that I had ever seen a grey squirrel.  We’re a little higher in elevation than our surrounding areas and so have always only had red squirrels here.  A couple of hours went by as I made my rounds through the zones where I’ve called in turkeys in the past.  I got deeper into the wilderness.  I crossed a brook and looked around for arrowheads in the cleanly washed stones.

Something felt a little different once I crossed that brook.  Things seemed a little quieter.  Then I came across a huge pile of bear droppings, “Jesus, that’s got to be a 300 lb animal.” I thought to myself.  After a few more steps I cam across another moose-sized bear dropping.  Within a few seconds I saw a flash of jet black run through the foliage straight in front of me.  It was clearly a Black Bear.  “Cool, first bear sighting of the year for me.”  I thought.  I took a few more steps and then saw the black color moving slowly to my left, up hill of me.  I stopped and checked her out, “Oh nice, she didn’t bound off as usual so I have a chance to check her out.” I thought.  I watched as the bear came around further to my left about 40 yards away.  She was breathing hard and making single “pops” with her tongue in the roof of her mouth.  I’d never heard a bear make this sound before.  

I’ve never had the desire to hunt for bear, I’ve always felt as if there is something magical about them and am honored whenever I have chance to see one.  I’ve had plenty of bear encounters here in Vermont as well as on Kodiak Island, Alaska.  Every Black Bear I’ve encountered ran away once they saw me, just as skittish as a deer.  Even the Grizzly Bears I saw on Kodiak never really acknowledged me, they just went about their business.  Once I was wading in the middle of a river in Alaska, fly fishing for salmon and a mother bear and her cub came walking up the bank.  Out of nowhere a rogue boar Grizzly charged them and attacked the cub.  The mother defended her cub and she and the boar stood on their hind legs having a boxing & biting match.  Howling, saliva flying everywhere.  Yes of course my heart was racing, standing there in the river watching all of this happen, but I stood still and they never saw me.  They had more important things going on than me.  The mother won and the boar retreated.  The bottom line is that I have never felt an ounce of fear walking in the wilderness here in Vermont, I’ve had Coyotes walk right up to me, seen Fisher Cats, Bobcats.  All of these animals bound off as soon as they recognize me.

So as I watched this 300 lb bear circle me I honestly had no fear that I was being stalked.  Black bears don’t have the best eye sight in the world and so I figured this bear saw some movement and did not know what I was.  I was dressed in full camouflage from head to toe and also had a camo facemask on.  My camo actually matched the spring foliage as well.  Now the bear was slowly walking towards me, 20 yards, sniffing the air and making these popping sounds.  I could see the tan fur and black whiskers on her muzzle and watched her come out into the open.  I could hear her breathing.  She now saw me.  I stepped out into the open as well and looked at her.  She squared up and pushed out her chest and flexed her arms.  I squared up with her and pushed out my chest and held out my shotgun for her to see.  There was a clearing in the forest and there was no foliage or ferns or trees between us, just clear forest floor covered with dead leaves.  She could now see me plain as day and I’ve never in my 40+ years of walking in the woods ever had an animal I’ve encountered in the woods not be afraid of me before.  I was a human with a gun in my hands and this bear did not have one ounce of fear in her at all.  

In that instant I was suddenly transformed from the hunter to the hunted.  A tingle went up the back of my neck.  I’ve had recurring dreams of being attacked by a Black Bear and this was now a déjà vu type of feeling.  This bear was clearly telling me with her body language that she was at the top of the food chain and was the boss of this patch of forest.  I was the one who was afraid now.  Our eyes locked in a stare down as we faced each other, I started to run through the fight or flight scenarios.  “OK so I have 3 rounds in the gun, 1 in the chamber.” I thought.  Now the bear started huffing and puffing, breathing really heavily and aggressively like someone trying to hyper ventilate.  She was clearly trying to intimidate me.  I put my finger on the safety and got myself ready to fire.  “She’s going to charge me any second now, do I fire a warning shot to scare her away?  If I do, then I only have 2 shells left.  When she charges, she’s going to make a beeline towards me with her head down and I need to unload all 3 rounds right into her head.  These turkey loads will not do anything to this bear’s head.”  Then I hear branches breaking behind me.  “Oh fuck those are cubs!  OK now all of this makes sense.  This bear has so much confidence if I start yelling and move towards her she’ll charge, if I back away that will give her the mental upper hand and she’ll charge.  If I stay still the cubs will be in view any second and she’ll charge.”  I stood my ground, ready to fire, stayed the same distance away and slowly moved sideways away from her and the cubs.  She didn’t move.  I left her in her home and walked back to my own patch of the woods.

I am so grateful to have had this feeling of being the prey instead of the predator.  One can imagine the concept, but to actually experience it is incredibly unique especially in this day and age of comfort and technology.  I actually have felt this sensation before, when encountering sharks while snorkeling a few times, but it happening underwater felt a little more logical.  To have this happen on land, in the forest, walking from my house was different.  As a human it is easy to get cocky about our place in the food chain.  Our big brains allow us to dig up rocks & liquids from deep below the forest floor and turn them into spaceships and bombs.  We take it for granted that we are the rulers of this planet.  Having a huge, wild, fanged animal put me in my place, one notch down from her, was a gift.

mayer bear print


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