A Cumberland Bear

I had harvested a nice buck and was in the process of packaging it up for the freezer when the phone rang. It was my neighbour. “Jim”, she said, “a large black bear just broke into our shed and was trying to pull down the deer my husband got this morning. It doesn’t seem to be afraid of people and it was very difficult to chase away so watch out, he might be coming over to your place.” Thanking her I hung up and proceeded to finish packaging the venison for the freezer.

All of a sudden my Springer spaniel began to growl. I looked up and there was a big black bear watching me through the basement door window. Without hesitating, I went upstairs, grabbed my shotgun and ammunition, and realized I only had one shell. I went back to the basement to put the venison in the freezer. I looked at my watch and it was 10:00 p.m. I was home alone, and from then until 1:00 a.m. the drama unfolded. The bear began to play cat-and-mouse with me, circling the house and coming into the carport. I had the light on in the carport so looking out of my daughter’s bedroom I could look down into the carport and see him checking things out. Then back to the basement door he went, and I went back to the basement stairs. He was pushing on the basement door and when I went down the stairs, he disappeared. 

I phoned the Ministry of Environment. The Conservation Officer was unavailable because of bear problems elsewhere. I phoned the RCMP and they told me this was outside their jurisdiction, so basically I was on my own. As things intensified with the bear, I phoned the RCMP again. I told them I didn’t want to have to put this bear down unless I had no choice. They told me not to shoot it as I was in a residential area. I replied that I would not shoot indiscriminately and that if I had to shoot the bear, I would make sure there was no danger of hitting a house. 

Hanging up the phone, I went back into my daughter’s room and looked out the window. The bear had come up the outside stairs to the kitchen door and was standing, looking through the kitchen door window with a front paw on each side of the door. I can still see that image today. He filled up the door entrance. Running out of the bedroom and around to the kitchen I was prepared to do what I had to do. He was gone. I didn’t know if he had left or was still prowling around. Things got quiet for quite a while. Then I heard a noise on the front porch which backed onto the living room entrance. I had just that day installed an expensive cedar front door and jamb, and I heard the bear snuffling at the door. Going into the living room I stood and listened. The door went bump. Then there was a series of bumps as he tested the door. I remember thinking, “I sure hope my door doesn’t get ruined.” Raising the shotgun to my shoulder I waited and the bear started pushing on the door. I just stood and kept waiting. After a minute or two he stopped and things got quiet again, very quiet. I really didn’t know what to think at that point, although my mind was crystal clear and assessing second to second. Was he gone or still outside the house? Then I heard a noise in the basement and up the stairs came my spaniel with a howling scream I had never heard before. She was absolutely terrified. Her eyes bugged out, her mouth was puckered up and she was trying to howl at the same time. She burst into the kitchen, ran underneath the kitchen table and just sat there shaking, cowering and whining. She was obviously traumatized. 

I stood at the top of the basement stairs just listening when there was a loud crash of breaking glass coming from the basement. I heard woofing and heavy breathing and thought, “Oh no, he’s taken the basement window out and now is in the basement.” I knew I had no choice. I couldn’t leave the house, knowing the amount of damage that would happen if I did. I had only one choice. Go down the basement stairs and confront him. So down I went one step at a time until I could see under the floor joists. I thought he was inside and under the stairs. Then he woofed at me. He had taken the basement window out above the washer and dryer and there was glass everywhere. He filled the window completely. Raising the shotgun to my shoulder I aimed at his head, with the muzzle only about five feet away from him. Time slowed. There was complete stillness. It was him and me. He was woofing and chomping his jaws, slobbering and swinging his head back and forth at me. I just waited because I didn’t want to wound him. This standoff lasted a couple of minutes. He pushed forward a bit as he was swinging his head back and forth, and then turned his head slightly sideways, giving me the right shot. I fired. I never heard the shot. Everything was so intense and he just disappeared. I waited for signs of life, then carefully went to the broken window and there he was, dead, outside the window. 

This was a dump bear that weighed about 450 pounds. His teeth were in terrible shape from being in the dump yet his claws were needle sharp with no fur worn off from digging or tearing old stumps and logs apart, which a wilderness bear would have had. Then the conservation officer showed up, at approximately 2:00 a.m. He went out and checked the bear out. Coming back into the house his comment was, “Boy, Jim, you sure know how to use a shotgun.” 

I have read about incidents like this but when it happens to you, it comes right down to survival, regardless of the circumstances that created it.  Bears came down into Coquitlam in 2008, being habitualized to an urban environment, and finally a bear attacked a woman in her garden. If it hadn’t been for her neighbours, the bear would have killed her. 

I was never one to leave garbage around. Plain and simple this bear wanted red meat. There was fruit on the neighbouring apple trees and he ignored it. Also, the bears were nearing hibernation time when they are driven to put on the pounds for the coming winter. Interestingly enough, this experience led me to working with the Ministry of Environment in the Kemano Valley, relocating grizzly bears. 


Jim Swift is an artist, and an outdoor enthusiast since childhood who has enjoyed many adventures in the wilderness.