I am forbidden, under the terms of my National Park Service Commercial Use Authorization, from carrying a firearm while I guide. As a private citizen, anyone may carry (it was a rider to Federal credit card legislation of all things) so long as they are following the laws of the state in which the National Park resides. But not me when I am working. So a knife it is if I am ever attacked.
As a general rule I do not like to voluntarily lower my position on the food chain. While I know I am more likely to be struck by lightning than be attacked by a shark, I can further reduce those odds by staying out of saltwater. However, as a freshwater trout-guide, bears are a different story.
I never did see a grizzly bear in my 4 years in Idaho (excepting inside a car while driving through Yellowstone). And only once did I see a black bear on the bank as I floated down the Snake River in my drift boat. This changed when we moved back East and I began to guide in the Smoky Mountain National Park.
I cross paths with a black bear a few times a summer. Usually it is just catching a glimpse of the bear’s ass-end as it crashes through the rhododendrons and away from the trail. Occasionally, the encounter requires some waving, shouting, and banging of rocks. There is one encounter that stands out as one of the coolest instances of wildlife behavior that I have ever witnessed.
I was guiding on Greenbrier Creek (Middle Prong Little Pigeon River) when I crested a mobile home-sized boulder. Up ahead of me, about 50 yards upstream, were a mama bear and 3 cubs crossing the river. Luckily, she was between us and the cubs. If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself between mama and her progeny it is like being between Chuck Schumer and a TV camera – not a safe place.
I hunkered down so I was just barely peeking over the rock, and I waved my clients up quietly. I could tell Mama was aware of our presence because while she never became agitated or looked to be aware of us, she circled around behind the trailing cub in line and bit it on the butt, hustling its pace. It was the equivalent of a parent “dope slapping” their kid on the back of the head.
It worked and she proceeded to shepherd her brood across the river and up the hill. They disappeared into the brush, and I turned to my clients and asked, “that was an intentional act wasn’t it?”. They both replied, “I have never seen anything like it”. It was truly remarkable.
Truthfully, I would rather run into a bear than a wild boar. These are becoming a problem in the GSMNP, but while I have seen plenty of torn up ground, I have never seen a pig in the Park. Bears are relatively predictable, boars – not so much. Oh, and there are snakes as well, like this Timber Rattler I saw on Wednesday. Usually, it is a copperhead.
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