Cabin Wrecking Bears

When you live and work in the Canadian bush you will, at some point, encounter BEARS!

Fellow Camp Cook Vanessa watching a grizzly from on top of a hill. We nearly ran into him and his mate on the wagon trail below! Kananaskis, AB

Some people are bear magnets.  I’ve personally worked with a couple of them.  They look like just regular people.  They don’t smell any different than the rest of us, they aren’t any more messy or clumsy or naive, they just seem to run into bears.  It’s like a chronic thing for them.  Me, on the other hand, I wasn’t exactly a bear magnet.  In fact I was one of the few camp cooks that worked many months out of the year in cabins and tents and never once had a problem, directly, with a bear wrecking my cabin or invading my “personal space” while I was there.  However, I did see evidence many times of bears wrecking cabins and I did encounter bears in camp stealing meat and other goodies while I was horse wrangling.  A couple times I did run into bears while canoeing, riding or hiking but thankfully left with only pictures and a good story.

2nd Grizzly Bear spotted only 300 meters from Camp. Kananaskis, Alberta

Bears are always a concern when you work in the bush.  One time I was hiking along a wagon trail in Kananaskis County, Alberta, after cooking supper for a group of trail riders with Anchor D Outfitters.  I was accompanied by my assistant cook and my dog Chevy.  We wanted to take in the sunset and randomly decided to climb a  steep bank beside the wagon trail.  We chatted and laughed our way up the hill, stopping to pick wildflowers until we reached the top.  As I stood up a black shape on the road below caught my eye and I thought there was a man standing there, not 40 yards from us.  Suddenly I realized it was a grizzly standing up watching us curiously.  I shouted Bear to Vanessa who quickly scrambled up beside me as I fumbled for my camera.  We shout and hollered and Chevy started barking like crazy.  The bear dropped down to all fours and then wandered off into the bush.  At first we though he was headed towards camp where unsuspecting people sat around the fire.  So we hollered more.  Another bear popped out of the bushes and stood on the road looking at us.  Two Grizz only 300 meters from camp.  Well we yelled as loud as we could at them and they took off in the opposite direction from camp.

Grizzly track

After they were long gone, we scrambled down the hill and headed back to camp to warn our guests and alert the guides and wranglers.  It was a little sketchy sleeping that night in our wall tents, as our sleeping tent was right beside the cook tent and very separate from the others.  Thankfully we had a number of camp dogs on high alert all night, though after a while I thought getting mauled by a bear might be preferable to 3 dogs barking all night right outside your tent.  (But that’s a 4 0’clock-in-the-morning-and-haven’t-slept-all-night thought.  I really did appreciate the dogs’ patrol.)  Read a poem written by fellow cook and artist Christine Nagel who cooked for many years at Anchor D called Balancing the Bear.  This poem takes place at the same camp I spotted those two grizzlies, only a number of years earlier.

We used a portable electric wire system to secure the campsite every time we left, as we had to keep grain and food supplies there all summer and we didn’t want the tents ruined before we could get back with the next round of trail-riding guests.  Tents are much harder to repair on the spot than cabins, but the mess a bear can make of a cabin is just as disastrous.

Dry Lake Camp's Cache, Northern BC

Every outfit I worked for had numerous methods to deter bears from entering their cabins.  Usually boards with nails driven through were placed over the windows and doors, with the pointy ends of the nails sticking out.  Some times a “welcome” mat was laid out in front of the door. (Nails sticking up out of a plywood sheet)  One place I was asked to scatter mothballs around the entire cabin perimeter.  Usually all food was placed in a high cache if there was one available or secured in big steel barrel-drums.  One old trapper lady mentioned that she always collected her own urine and “marked” her territory with it and never had a bear invade the perimeter she created around her cabin.

Chevy guarding lodge door. Door jams show evidence of bears trying to pry off the bear-deter-ant boards to get inside

After my first season as a camp cook, I ended up getting a big Labrador x Alaskan Malamute dog for a camp guard.  Chevy warned me on a few occasions of a bear passing by camp.  His great huge alarm barks always sent me scurrying for a gun if I had one near.  It was a great comfort to have a dog around.  The outfitter of Anchor D, Dewy, swore by his dogs and always had at least 2 dogs patrolling his camps. (These dogs were bred and trained to guard camp and scare off bears.)

Oh, there are numerous ways and methods to deter bears from wrecking a cabin.  But usually they failed, due to error by the person securing the place, ingenuity of the bear, or his BRUTE strength.

(By the way, I’m curious if you have any other PROVEN or UNIQUE methods to deter bears from your cabin or campsite, I would love hearing about them!)

There is one cabin down from Line Lake, where I worked in northern British Columbia, that was consistently wrecked by a bear.  One year they built a new cabin after the old one was demolished because the bear kept pushing out the plywood walls. In the process they changed the location of the door.  The next spring they came back and saw that the bear had entered the cabin exactly where he had previous times, only this time he had entered through the wall and exited out the other side through the wall.  The door remained unscathed.

The outfitter for Ceaser Lake in the Yukon, also had a problem with bears and doors.  On a hunt we camped along the Coal River.  There, the old cabin was left doorless due to a big grizzly that habitually entered the cabin every year.  If they left the door off, he would exit the same way and not destroy the cabin.  His tracks where indelibly imprinted into the pathway leading into the cabin.  Big, deep rounds left from where he walked EXACTLY in the same track from his previous visit, as grizzlies do.  (It was somewhat eery putting up my little pup tent for the night.)

Bears always seem to find a way into cabins.  The destruction they havoc on the cabin is thrilling and a little disheartening when you’re the one who has to clean it up.  I’ve seen chunks taken out of beams in ceilings and claw marks etched into tables and walls.  Stoves bashed in and steel drums smushed and dented in half from a bear jumping up and down on it.  You can just imagine the fun the bear is having as he’s tearing into things!

Eventually SOMETHING has to be done about the bears.  Too much property ruined gets an outfitter’s britches in a knot.  Add to that, the worry that someone will get hurt and ways are devised to get rid of the problem bear.

Black Bear in the Kispiox Valley, BC

One guide I worked with said one time they had a problem with two black bears in camp.  Every time they would leave camp these two bears would amble into the cabin and preceded to have a party.  So the guide had a hunter with black bear tags who agreed to “stake out” the cabin alone, while he left with the other hunter in pursuit of a moose.  When they came back to the cabin, there was two black bears on the ground and a grinning hunter, but the inside of the cabin was still torn apart.  When the guide questioned the hunter why he didn’t shoot the bears before they went in the cabin, the hunter responded.  “I had to make sure they were the right bears.”

The main lodge at Ceaser Lake, where I worked in the Yukon, was also trashed year after year by the same grizzly.  They tried many times to “catch” the bear but failed.  Eventually, I was told a number of years later, that the bear was shot, and they’ve not had a problem since.

Grizzly Rug mounted on Rainbow Lake Lodge's Dining Room WallYep, most cabin-wrecking bears meet with an untimely end. Their party days are over. Traps are set. Stake outs held. And the bear ends up stuffed. (Check out The Hungry Hills "Phantom" Grizzly displayed at Smither's Airport)

This brought to mind the story of Samson, the super-strong man of the Bible.  You might find some similarities between cabin-wrecking bears and Samson after reading Judges 13-16.  Basically, Samson was blessed by God, from birth, with incomparable strength.  A true superhero!  Except he was swept along by his emotions, reacting  completely without thought for the consequences of his actions, because his own strength could get him out of any and every tangle he got into.  Once he killed a young lion with his bare hands.  Another time he went on a rampage after losing a bet and killed 30 men and took their coats so he could pay his debt.  Yet another time in anger he caught and tied 300 hundred! jackals together in pairs with a torch between them and let them loose in his enemies’ grain fields, torching everything in sight.  In retaliation his enemies murdered his wife and her father.  So Samson avenged them by slaughtering the lot of them. Eventually his enemies plotted to capture him and rid themselves of the man who’d brought such devastation on their families and property.  They tried to capture Samson in force, but he killed the whole company of soldiers (1000 men!) with the jawbone of a donkey.

Samson killing a lion with his bare hands

Samson had a habit, or an addiction for women—maybe even an addiction to adrenalin.    He continued to retraced his steps into enemy territory, completely confident in his supreme strength to get himself out of any trap or plot of his enemies.  Enter, Delilah.  A beautiful woman that he fell in love with.  Delilah was approached by Samson’s enemies and asked to find out what his secret of strength was.  After several failed attempts and traps on her part to find out—traps that Samson used his muscles to bust out of, Delilah whined and pleaded with Samson until he tired of her nagging and told her the truth.  Delilah set the trap and called his enemies upon him.  When he tried to muscle his way out he found his strength was gone and he was captured.  His eyes gouged out.  You gotta wonder why Samson kept going back, even though it seems obvious to everyone, but him, what Delilah was doing.

We can easily be very much like a cabin wrecking bear or like Samson.  We fall into a habits of retracing our steps into situations or places that are (in the long run) not very good for us.  Sometimes this turns into a serious addiction that ruins lives and relationships.  Sometimes the only one hurt is yourself, and often not until the very end, when you end up caught in a tangle of selfishness, self-confidence and denial—completely relying on your own strength to get yourself out of trouble.  You gotta wonder why a person keeps going back to things or situations when it seems obvious what will happen in the long run.

“As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.  But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.” Romans 6:20-23 The Message

Samson paid the consequences of retracing his steps.  But he humbled himself before God calling him “Master God” (indicating that he put himself under God’s authority) and recognized the true giver of his strength.  He finally realized his own strength got him no where in the end but death, yet called on God to give him strength one last time so that God could have vengeance on his enemies.  Samson ended his life by taking more of his enemy in death than he did in his life.

Black Bear caught raiding camp scraps

The lesson I draw from watching cabin wrecking bears and reading about Samson is that I need to be careful of what is motivating my life, to be aware of the areas I’m retracing my steps into and what the consequences might be.  I need to pinpoint where I’m relying on my own strength and not God’s, to get my out of trouble.

I want to be motivated, not by things or situations that give me pleasure or make me happy, but by a humble acknowledgment of Christ as the source of all strength in my life.  When I do this, God promises: “My strength comes into it’s own in your weakness.” and I can quote with Paul “I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”  2 Corinthians 12:10 The Message.

Grizzly foraging outside of Atlin, BC

Gallery | This entry was posted in Cooking and Wrangling along the Great Divide in the Alberta Rockies, Cooking and Wrangling the Wilds of Northern British Columbia, Horse Wrangling in the Yukon and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Cabin Wrecking Bears

  1. Marie says:

    Hey Jake,
    Really enjoying “getting to know you” through this blog.
    I hope that one day you are able to publish!!
    Thinking of you,

  2. Pingback: Last pair of Jeans—Soaked | lessonslearnedinthebush

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