My Close Encounter
By David B. Jack
On June 16th at approximately 2:00pm I was hiking on an old, overgrown logging road in Shiretoko National Park, Hokkaido, Japan. It was a hot and sunny afternoon, and I was heading back to my truck. I had just spent the last few hours exploring an open area where a small river meets the sea. This is an area I had been meaning to explore for quite some time as a ranger had referred to it as his favorite place in the park. The road was heavily wooded on both sides. There was a short rise to my left, with a steep drop off down to the river on the other side. I was enjoying the shade the forest provided, and studying my surroundings, unaware of the danger ahead.
I saw a large fallen tree that had totally blocked the trail about 30 meters in front of me. Immediately after spotting the tree I saw the head of a VERY LARGE Japanese Brown Bear behind it. I took a quick look around to make sure that there were no cubs present and concluded that the bear was alone. I immediately gave a yell to make sure the bear knew that I was there, but it didnít react. The bear was moving from side to side, a clear sign of aggression. This behavior should have warned me about what was about to happen, but unfortunately at that time, I thought the bear was confused about getting around the fallen tree.
I had my tripod and camera set up to get a better look at the bear, and to take a photo if at all possible. I quickly realized that this was neither the time nor the place to photograph this bear. I looked around and planned my next move. I couldnít see any trees that I could climb so I moved up the embankment on my left to put myself higher than the bear. I also continued to make noise to let the bear know where I was. I hoped that by moving out of its path the bear would not perceive me as a threat and would continue on its way down the trail.
Unfortunately after making its way around the tree, the bear came up the hill directly towards me. I continued making noise, thinking that it couldnít figure out what I was (I was in full camouflage). Then without warning, the bear charged. Luckily, I had previously removed my pepper spray from its holster (when I originally moved up the embankment) and I at this point had the safety off. I remember the bearís mouth being wide open but its teeth were not exposed. His head looked HUGE. The bear's head was wider than my shoulders. When the bear was approximately 12 meters from me I sprayed him. As he continued his charge, the spray engulfed him in a red fog. It immediately spun around and retreated. I now believe that it was only inches from striking me when it turned. I suspect that the combination of the sprayís noise and the spray hitting him caused him to bolt, well before the pepper could have possibly taken effect. I then accidentally sprayed myself as a little more spray came out of the can. Fortunately, very little went into the air on the second spray, but my hands were covered with the redish liquid. I held my breath and closed my eyes for a few moments and I was fine. I felt a burning sensation on my hands and face, meanwhile however, I imagined myself immobilized on the ground and the bear coming back for more.
The bear was now circling around behind me, across the top of the ridge. It moved quite slowly and never took its eyes off me. The trees were much closer together here so in the event of a second charge, it would not be as direct as the first. The bear then disappeared down the other side of the ridge. I was very concerned about my next move, as it was very possible for the bear to surprise me at any time. After pausing for a few moments, I went to the edge of the ridge hoping to see the bear far down the hill. To my horror the bear was just a short ways down the embankment and appeared to be digging. He saw me and immediately began to move up the hill towards me. At this point all I could think was that I had just gotten myself killed. I thought it very unlikely that the bear would retreat again from the spray so I moved along the ridge and placed myself directly behind the biggest tree I could find. The bear reached the top of the ridge and I could see that there was a large amount of white foam around its mouth (whether it was a result of the pepper spray or the stress of the encounter, Iím not sure). I then raised my can of bear spray and pointed it at the bear. It paused for a moment and then to my immense relief, retreated slowly back down the embankment.
I then slowly moved away from the bear keeping on the top of the ridge for two reasons. The first was that the trees were much closer together here and I thought that this would help prevent a quick charge. The second was that I could make sure that the bear wouldnít surprise me by circling around below the ridge. When I was about 100 meters from the encounter area I made my way back to the trail, which opened up at that point. Strangely, in retrospect, at no point during the encounter do I remember hearing the bear make even the slightest sound. I didnít even hear a twig break when he charged.
Further up the trail I found evidence of the animal that I had just encountered. In the soft mud, were the largest bear tracks that I had ever seen, a few inches longer and 2 or 3 inches wider than my size 9Ĺ hiking boot. I stood on one foot in the muck next to the track to get a better idea of his weight as well. I sank almost as deep as the track, and with all my gear, I weigh about 250lbs! Not far from the tracks, I also found a very large deposit of fresh, thick black scat. This was the first fresh bear sign that I had seen that day. I continued up the trail and I must add that I have never sung so much or so loudly. I have also never looked over my shoulder so many times in my life.
My analysis and observations of the attack are as follows:
I would like to thank the following people.
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