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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Magical Meeting with a Bear and her Cub

Shyla and I headed for a normal bike ride this morning, in sunshine and warmth. She was her usual happy self.
I started by taking a few photos of Shyla, like I usually do in the morning. Then, we set out to ride through a pine forest on a sinuous trail perched on a steep slope.

At the start of the trail, I heard some loud sounds of branches breaking, like there was a large animal right ahead of us. Just as I realized that we should probably stop, we rounded a curve in the trail - and I saw a mother bear and a cub very close in front of us.

They'd been lured to the area by the Buffalo Berries that I wrote about the other day. They are ripening now, and the bears seem to love them. There are many bushes of them in our neck of the woods.
I mentioned previously that I took a field course on bear behavior in Minnesota last summer. Today, all the things that I learned in that amazing course came into play.

The cub reacted to us by climbing the nearest Douglas Fir tree. The mother fled downhill and stopped about 15-20 yards away behind some low pine trees.

The mother then started vocalizing while standing still and watching me, Shyla, and her cub. Her vocalizations were not even slightly aggressive. Rather, she grunted to the cub repeatedly, just like I observed wild mother bears do last summer in MN. When a sow's cubs are in a tree, the sow often grunts to them from the ground.

However, this mother's grunts were interspersed with moans. I learned last summer that moaning is a sign of extreme anxiety and fear in a bear.

Fortunately, Shyla showed absolutely zero interest in going near the cub or the sow. She stood very close by my side.

I started talking to the sow, just like I heard my instructors talk to black bears last summer. Don't worry - I didn't believe that the bear understood my words but I wanted to display confidence and calm in my tone, to try to keep the sow calm. I told her in a soothing tone that I was going to leash my dog. Then, I calmly told her that I was going to take one photo of her cub. Finally, after what was probably only a minute but seemed like ten minutes, I told her that we were turning around and leaving.

As Shyla and I started to walk away (I had the leash in one hand and was pushing my bike with the other), the sow increased the cadence of her grunting to the cub. The cub immediately descended from the tree (we were only about 10 yards away) and ran downhill to his mother. Then, the two them seemed to vanish without a trace into the thick forest.

Here was the one photo that I took as I talked with the mother bear. Isn't that a beautiful cub? Look how big his/her ears are relative to his/her head. It's as if cubs are born with adult-sized ears and their heads have to grow into them.
I was never afraid. I knew how to act around a bear - and it seemed like my calm demeanor kept the whole situation calm. I don't think that I could have handled such a close-up encounter without being scared if I hadn't spent the time in Minnesota intensively studying bears last summer.

It was truly a magical experience that I'll never forget.


  1. First I would like to know how long a lens were you using? Second that sure was an amazing encounter and I'm super glad you, Shyla and the bears all got out of it safely. Thanks for sharing your once in a life time picture.

  2. whew! great (and safe and happy) tale! love the shot, too!

  3. Absolutely charmed by your photo! What a cutie! Your adventures are amazing, thanks for sharing another stunning photo & tale!

    ~Jack & Moo's mom, Pat

  4. oh my goodness. I would have given a million dollars to be by your side to witness this amazing event. Thank you for sharing the photo and your calm cool confidence. Bet your going to frame that shot!! I know I would.

  5. WOW WOW WOW! What an incredible moment. And that photo is incrediable and say volumes. I could almost hear the mothers grunts.

  6. OMD,! What a photo, KB! And what a calm, confident girl Shyla was!

  7. This is astounding! And you bring us another wonderful experience. The picture of the cub is perfect, and what a fine looking cub. You learn how to be around bears and teach us through your experiences, thanks Kb, this is a great post.

  8. Oh wow, that is incredible! You're so lucky. Just incredible.

  9. Beautiful picture! Amazing experience, lucky day for you!

  10. Oh my goodness!! I can only imagine how beautiful a moment that must have been! Awesome photo!

  11. What an amazing gift you were given. The cub is all that is beautiful about animals in the wild. So proud of Shyla.

  12. Good for you for taking that course and being prepared!

  13. It was a magical moment....and what a fantastic photo of the cub!

  14. Wow, what a meeting! Must been awsome! yes you for sure never forget that. Great you know how to act when you come so near them.
    Lovely Picture!

  15. What a cutie the cub is and we're so happy that you and Shyla had this awesome experience, KB!

    Love ya lots♥
    Mitch and Molly

  16. WOW!! What an amazing encounter to have. What's even more amazing to me is the photo of the cub you were able to calmly take!! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    Could I ask which course you took?

    I know Stephen Hererro has a great video on bear behavior that has helped me for when I encounter bears.

    Again, Kudo's on the outstanding cub photo!
    Behr's mom :)

  17. Whaaaaaaaatt?? Wow,YOU may have taken a course, but Shyla didn't! Amazing that she behaved the way she did! Different behavior from a dog could have turned that situation bad in a hurry. Love the cub - just adorable!

  18. Liparifam - You are right. I was very lucky that Shyla behaved so calmly. I don't think that Shyla would've provoked the mother bear to be aggressive if she had "chased" but she might have driven the mother bear too far away from her cub (although I don't know that for sure - and the situation also might have turned to scary chaos). I felt really good seeing the mother and cub leave together, knowing that all was still okay in their world.

  19. I'm kind of surprised that it hasn't happened to you before, but I'm glad that all went well! Good on Shyla for sticking with you, too!

  20. Wow, what a post. Good to see that Shyla did not chase the bear and that you handled the situation well.

    A friend and I very recently encountered a bear that started running from us, so for fun I spoke to it in a soothing manner and told it we meant no harm, repeatedly. It actually stopped running looked back a couple of times and then walked into the bush to disappear. I was glad it ended up not overly alarmed. It was a very neat experience, so I totally understand yours.


  21. What an awesome encounter. I don't think Torrey would have been so calm. She won't chase if i tell her not to, but she may have growled. I'm glad everyone walked away none the worse for wear.

  22. What a beautiful experience but you scared us! Do you carry bear pepper spray?
    Lily & Edward

  23. Those really are such amazing photos!

  24. What a wonderful experience. I think Shyla remaining calm must have really helped the whole event go well. I guess running into a bear this closely was bound to happen eventually. Glad it was a safe encounter for all involved.

  25. What an awesome experience! Not only did your bear training work well for you but all that training of Shyla sure did come in handy to keep her and you safe. Love those big ears, just like puppy ears:)

  26. Superb photograph and great story. Living where we do, encounters with bears are not too unusual and I have rarely found the bears aggressive at all, as long as you respect their cubs.

    Thanks for sharing.

  27. How wonderful. One of those moments of a life time. And we get to share itwith you.

  28. You and Shyla being calm definitely helped in that situation! I haven't ever seen an actual bear in real life, so I would have pooped myself. But good for you for remembering what you learned and getting a great photo and story out of it!

  29. WOW!! You have so many amazing wildlife encounters - lucky you. Seeing a bear in the wild is something I have only been lucky enough to do a few times, the most amazing was a sow with two cubs. Thanks for sharing.

  30. Hi there, I'm not surprised that you knew just how to behave in a calm manner to diffuse the whole situation. So glad the sow remained calm too-it could have turned out differently. Beautiful photo.

  31. That is SO AWESOME! I love the photo you got - and wow, what a great experience!
    PS: Sorry I am so behind reading and commenting. It's just been crazy here!!

  32. Is this the once in a lifetime experience? Your training calmness, and Shyla the real good girl in this, safe by your side, and cub and Mum reunited. Superb photo, and we are all so really truly happy you share this with us, stay safe. Cheers, Jean.

  33. My goodness gracious! Add yet another WOW or maybe 100 to the collection!!! Thank you for the valuable information about how to try to stay calm when coming across a sow and cub in the wilderness. Since my cub sightings last year, I've often wondered what I should do if I encounter a mom and her baby... I hope I can stay as calm as you and capture a portrait as good as yours!

    And three cheers for Shyla for being such a good girl!

  34. How scary! ...but, how very neat!

    Monty and Harlow

  35. Love the story and the bear cub. Early yesterday morning my husband was on the screened porch with Lucy. She suddenly stiffened and started a very low woof. Then Randy saw the black bear meandering past the house. He looks like a male on his own for the first time this year. The bear glanced up at Lucy and then kept walking.

  36. Whoa, our blood pressure went up just reading about it!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

    Pee Ess - Just 2 days until the first ever Fractured Fryday Hairy Tails (see tab on our bloggy for details).

  37. Wow and holy cod! Amazing encounter and just wonderful photography. I think I'd have been scared silly, but I've not had any training on how to act around bears.

    BTW, my coworker sent me this link...and I see quite a few well-known blogging dogs and cats around the CB here. LOL. (My cats have a blog too.) Crazy coincidence.

  38. Good dog, Shyla! And nice snap, KB!
    I've always been glad not to have run across bear with Piper, because I just don't know how she would react, and I'd be so concerned about her reaction I might easily make a mistake myself. Sounds like you and Shyla did exactly the right thing! :)

  39. Hi Y'all!

    OH what a beautiful cub! Looks like he/she is posing for you.

    Great to know what the bear sounds mean, because we are surrounded by all sorts of wildlife here.

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog


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