Going On a Bear Hunt

Do you know the song/chant Going on a Bear Hunt? I learned it when I was 9. I thought it was great fun. I never expected to act it out in real life.

We’re goin’ on a bear hunt,
We’re going to catch a big one,
I’m not scared
What a beautiful day!

Going on a Bear Hunt was one of our favorite songs in Brownies. There were lots of verses about grass and mushrooms and rivers and lots of hand motions and clapping and foot-stomping that went with it, but I’m going to skip ahead to my own Bear Hunt story.

It was a beautiful day as the 5 of us climbed aboard the little float plane and soared off to a remote Alaskan island. 5 passengers plus a major case of the flu, which I was unwittingly spreading everywhere, on the one hour flight. I don’t look too sick in this photo but my gills were green 3 hours later. Most of the green was due to the flu – some of it was The Bear Hunt.

B,T,D & H

Once the second plane landed, our little group hiked to the top of the hill where we piled into a van and drove back to the path we would follow down to the bear watching platform just above the creek. Before the hike, we were given a safety talk by our guide.

Our guide J

His main points were:

  • This is not a zoo

Polar bear napping in the Anchorage Zoo

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Bears have really big paws and claws

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This Black Bear was napping on his hammock in the Anchorage Zoo.

  • Although they prefer berries, bears can eat you
  • Bears own this island (5 of them for each 1 of us)
  • Don’t make aggressive movements toward a bear or he will want to eat you
  • We’re entering a very remote area – try to spot bears on both sides of the path

He would look something like this only bigger and smellier and hungrier – and quicker

  • If a bear attacks you, make yourself as small as possible and play dead (doubt that this would take much acting)
  • Don’t climb a tree if a bear starts to chase you – they’re better at it

Bear scratches on a tree on the trail

  • Don’t try to pet a bear, he will eat your hand (you have to tell people this?)
  • As you walk through the forest, be very quiet so you don’t scare the bears away

This last one gave me pause. J concluded his 10 minutes speech about all the ways a bear might confuse us for a snack, by telling us to be very, very quiet so we didn’t scare any potential traveling companions away. We’d only been hiking a short time when the man in the yellow jacket stepped smack into a whole lot of scat. He wore his scat like a treasure.

Soon enough we heard/saw/ smelled a bear to our right. He kept pace with us for a few moments before veering off down to the river.

He’s there – you’ll just have to take my word for it

Heidi’s bear phobic (ursaphobia) due to a series of unfortunate and rather terrifying bear encounters as a child on the Boundary Waters in Ely. She was understandably tense. I wasn’t worried since I’m more completely irrationally arachnophobic having had just regular encounters with spiders when I was little. But just to be empathetic, I tried to imagine the forest teeming with 400 pound spiders and that was plenty creepy.

The scariest part of The Bear Hunt, to me, was our guide, J. If I’m going to take a hike, in the wilderness with a bear stalking me I want to be led by one of two types of people:

  1. a Bear Hunter (who carries a rifle and knows how to use it) or
  2. a Bear Whisperer (who rehabilitates bears and trains people) Instead we had
  3. a New Yorker who got tired of the city life, moved to Alaska, bought a Jimmy Riffle hat, a really big knife and a can of pepper spray.

Note knife and pepper spray

I’m willing to concede that by the time we reached the platform, where we did watch a black bear enjoy a salmon dinner – I had a fever and my flu symptoms were raging.

Shooting into the light with my camera phone – bear is on right of the big rock

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Snacking on salmon

Still, it didn’t feel quite right when J said that just last week, a cute bear cub had climbed onto the platform in the middle of a tour. Everybody had a great photo opps until the Momma bear came snarling up. Ironically she reached under the sign explaining the Life Cycle of Salmon and grabbed her offspring. J’s words: I just stood back and watched while people got to get real close to the cub. How cool is that?

J telling the baby bear story right on the spot where it took place

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Always respect Mother Nature. Especially when she weighs 400 pounds and is guarding her baby. ~ James Rollins

We’re goin’ on a bear hunt,
We’re going to catch a big one,
I’m not scared
What a beautiful day!
Uh, oh! It’s dark in here.
I feel something,
It has lots of hair!
It has sharp teeth!
It’s a bear!
Run in the house and lock the door.
Phew! That was close!

I’m not afraid!

Right.

The man in the yellow jacket got back in the van, still admiring his souvenir scat.

It wasn’t much like the bear hunt I’d imagined when I was 9 but it certainly was an adventure!

***Exit pursued by a bear. ~ William Shakespeare
[STAGE DIRECTIONS in The Winter’s Tale]