Nose to Nose Surprises with Bears - UPDATE February 28, 2023
Catching up with my old junior college friend Tom Dygert on the phone a few days ago, he told me of an exciting bear experience he had in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula back on November 14, 1977. Exploring the woods near the town of Marinisco, he saw what might be an old bear den. Crawling in several feet to see what it’s like in a bear den, he paused to let his eyes dilate in the darkness. When he could see, he was one inch from the bear’s nose and backed out pronto. I was amazed to hear his story, having seen a lot of bears more expressive than that. But each bear has its own personality, and I have a nice memory of nearly the same thing happening to me on March 14, 1986. It was a 21-year-old mother with three cubs. I was with my USFS boss and was trying to not do anything that would seem unsafe. It was a surface bed—not much of a den. She seemed lethargic. It was windy. I knelt down, put my camera up to my face and wondered what was wrong. It wouldn’t focus and was just black. I pushed the button a couple times but still the same. I took the camera down from my face to see what was wrong and found we were nearly nose-to-nose. With the wind, I hadn’t heard her lunge three feet to my face. What I was seeing was her black fur too close to be in focus. I quickly moved back and was amazed she had done nothing as we were suddenly face to face with me backing away like Tom did. But it gave me a good feeling to see this bear show once again that black bears are far more likely to show restraint than ferocity. It was doubly amazing to me that she was not more defensive considering that she was so wary that she evaded my barrel traps for four years before I finally caught and radio-collared her. Then she went on to become the oldest bear of that long-term study, making it to 29¾ before being shot by a hunter in 1994. She had her last cub, a single (just like Shadow’s last cub Spanky was a single) at the age of 26 in 1991.
The picture is a bear in a den but is neither of the above bears. It is 7-year-old Juliet (daughter of Shadow) back on March 14, 2010, one of my favorite pictures of a mother looking out of her den.
Thank you for all you do,
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center