Were my eyes playing tricks, or was I being stalked?  Was it a beast whose silhouette I saw, or just a huge boulder
given life and movement by flickering moonlight?  Everywhere around me, across meadow and forest, the land
danced with shadows cast by clouds racing under a bright full moon.  Some of those shadows were just shadows;
others were alive. Three times already that night, shadows had turned into bears.  Would this one do the same?

Unlike Daniel Boone, I wasn’t in the Appalachians and I hadn’t had to “rassle” any of those bears.  I was in
Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains, near the Idaho border, where blackies usually avoid people of their own accord.  

Also, unlike Daniel, I had gotten lost.  Well, not exactly lost.  I always knew my approximate location.  But that
afternoon, I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up a couple of miles off course.  Getting back on track took so long
that night fell while I was still far from camp.   

I could see reasonably well.  The ground had a light dusting of snow that reflected moonlight.  Between Trapper
Peak’s bulk on my west and Lupine Lake to the east, there was just a strip of wet meadow several hundred yards
wide.  I couldn’t wander far off course again even if I was sleepwalking.  I’d have been okay just trudging along,
but for the bears.  

Back then, at age 20, I knew nothing of bruins except their fearsome reputation.  Dread spurred my imagination,
transforming shadows into “monsters.”  I knew that, and guarded against it.  So I was startled when one of those
shadows jumped up and ran away.

I’d been walking close to the talus slope bordering Trapper Peak’s towering cliffs.  This bear had been lying within
the overhang of a house-sized boulder.  Whereas most bears flee when any person gets within a few hundred yards,
this one waited until I was within five yards.  When it did flee, it wasn’t into the meadow, but deeper into the talus.

Not long afterwards, I encountered a second, smaller black bear that crowded into a deadend crevice from which
there was no retreat.  

The adjacent wet meadow must have been prime foraging for bears.  No surprise that one or more blackies would
be bedded nearby. But why had they had waited abnormally long to move, then crowded into tiny refuges among
boulders?  Very strange.

Fearful of meeting more black bears, I tried cutting across the wet meadow, walking through knee-high sedge
grass underlain by ankle-deep mud.  Briefly absorbed in the struggle not to slip and fall, I’d gone maybe fifty yards
before looking up.  Behind the moonlit waters of Lupine Lake, the mountain slope appeared black. Yet, much
closer, silhouetted against the sparkling lake, was something even darker.  Whatever this thing was, boulder or
animal, its upper surface looked like the humped back of a moose or grizzly. Initially thinking that my
imagination was working overtime, I continued until the object seemed to move in ways that couldn’t be due to
cloud shadows.  

Griz!  Almost certainly, griz.  No wonder the blackies were so spooky.  I knew exactly how they felt.  A month or so
earlier, less than a hundred miles north near Lolo Pass, a woman had been mauled by what looked like a grizzly.
Would I be next?

Retreating at a fast walk across the meadow, I headed back to the base of the talus slope.  When the black shape
didn’t follow, I began again thinking it must be just a boulder – that all the movement I’d seen actually was from
cloud shadows. Just to be safe though, I stayed close to the huge boulders where I might take refuge if a bear did
try to get me – assuming I found a crevice big enough for me but not for a grizzly.
Alternating between deep fear and feeling foolish for possibly exaggerating the danger, I continued around the
lake until I ran into a third black bear. This one was also under an overhang; but instead of leaving its lair, it
retreated as far as possible under the rock.

I looked back into the meadow. The dark shape seemed as close as ever, despite the fact I'd  walked  a good half-
mile from  where I'd first seen it. Now, there could be no doubt.  I was being stalked. But why?  Was the grizzly
curious?  Or was I being sized up for dinner?  Waves of hot and cold pulsed through my body.  Fear made me feel
so weak that I wondered whether I'd be able to reach a refuge if the grizzly came for me.

I guess I'd been praying for help for quite awhile. But now my prayers were constant. I prayed to God and to the
grizzly, promising to spend my life protecting bears and other wildlife if I was spared.
Another half-hour brought me to the top of the ridge separating Lupine and Black Bear basins.  There before me,
just a quarter-mile away on the shore of Black Bear Lake, a big fire blazed.  Camp.
Ecstatic with relief, I wanted to rush headlong toward my companions. But “never run from a bear,” I told myself.  
“Running could trigger attack.”  Or I could trip and break a leg on the talus of shattered rock. Reining in my
desperation to reach safety, I continued ahead, forcing myself to move carefully over the rough terrain.

At least fifteen minutes passed without again sighting the shadowed grizzly. Once again, I began to doubt what I'd
seen, to think it had all been a figment of imagination. Then a horrible roar pierced the night. So terrified I nearly
soiled myself, I spun around. A hundred yards up the slope, the head of a grizzly were silhouetted against a great
reddish orange moon. Then it was gone.  

Fearful that the unseen bear was charging and but moments from at-tacking, I stood petrified, awaiting the
inevitable crush of its jaws, the stab and rip of its teeth and claws.

Yet, minute after minute passed with no further sign of the bruin. Finally, I calmed down and finished walking to

Arriving, I was greeted by a worried crew and congratulated on making it back.  Their skepticism about my story
of running into three black bears paled by comparison to their ridicule when I mentioned the grizzly.  Even trail
guide Ray Higgins chuckled. “No griz in these mountains anymore; not since the Second World War, kid. You've
just got a vivid imagination.”

The last laugh was mine however – had I been in any mood to enjoy saying “I told you so.” We awoke the next
morning to find our horses had pulled their picket pins and were gone. But their hoof prints were clear in the
snow, as were the tracks of the grizzly that spooked them. We spent the next several hours chasing down our fear-
crazed mounts, lest we have to walk the many miles back to Trapper Peak Lodge.

Each fall, for almost a decade thereafter (i.e., until the grizzly was declared a Threatened Species), Ray Higgins and
his hunter clients sought that bear.  Each fall they saw tracks of a big boar (too big to be a sow), but they never saw
the boar, even when he snuck in and stole the baits they set.  That’s why Ray called this bear the Phantom

Apparently, Phantom wasn’t the only griz left in the Bitterroots.  There must have been at least one female who
left descendents – five generations of them.  For a young griz was recently seen there.   Hope-fully, there are

Had Phantom mauled me or someone else, the event might have been frontpage news.  It might have appeared on
TV sets across America.  But there was no attack, just as there usually isn’t when bears and people encounter one
another – a fact that really is news to a lot of folks, but unfortunately not the kind of news that sells.

*  All mentions of “bears” refer to grizzly/brown bears (Ursus arctos) and black bears (Ursus americanus) unless
otherwise stated. References to polar bears (Ursus maritimus) will be identified as such.  In North America,
“brown bears” are U. arctos living near the sea coast of central or southern Alaska or of British Co-lumbia.  All
other U. arctos  on the continent are grizzlies.  Although brown and grizzly bears are of the same species, their
temperaments are as different as of those of people from “nice” vs. “rough” neighborhoods.   Beware!

Many of the maulings that do occur could have been prevented had the victims been more careful to avoid
encounters or better prepared to cope with them.  

I’ve spent decades learning how to cope during personal encounters with grizzly/brown and black bears.  What I
learned, I teach.  As notes for my courses began piling up, I decided to put them into book form.  I expected one
book of under 300 pages to cover everything anyone would need to know. Not so.  Even after writing over 1200
pages, there was still more to say.  So it has been divided into a series of books, listed on the following page.

My third book, the Alaska Magnum Bear Safety Manual, explains how to avoid bears while hiking, camping,
fishing, hunting, or wildlife viewing.  It also advises you on how to cope with encounters.  For aggressive
encounters, it explains how to escape, appease, intimidate, deter or kill a bruin. (More advanced techniques are
presented in my forthcoming book
Bear Aggression).  For encounters with black or brown bears that begin
peacefully, the Manual offers ten “golden rules” for viewing the animals safely, with minimal impact.
1)   Be prepared
2)   Avoid bears when and where you are not prepared to cope with them
3)   View from a bear-proof location unless you can cope with en-counters
4)   Avoid surprise encounters and tunnel vision
5)   Remain with at least five other people
6)   Be wary, sensitive, cooperative and adaptable
7)   View only trusting and respectful – i.e., acclimated -- bears
8)   Don’t crowd bears or trespass on their turf
9)   Don’t smell or act like food; don’t compete with bears for food; don’t feed bears or touch them.
10) Don’t disturb bears or fellow viewers
For descriptions of prime viewing opportunities in North America, read
Bear Viewing in Alaska.

Implementing Golden Rules 6 & 8 requires further elaboration, especially regarding ursid responses to intruders,
methods of communicating with bears, and using diplomatic techniques to negotiate with them during close
encounters.  Hence this book. Although it is tailored to people who want to watch bears at photographic range, it  
could be of great assistance to anyone who encounters black or brown bears that are not strongly defensive,
competitive or predatory towards people.  Anyone, that is, who has spent the time and effort to master these
techniques or who accompanies someone who has.

Negotiation can also work with a grizzly or polar bear, but the prob-ability is lower.  If you cannot avoid these
bruins by a wide margin or remain in a bear-proof vehicle or structure, you are more likely to need a deterrent or

Chapter 1: addresses the challenges to identifying effective safety precautions while culling out superstitions –
useless or dangerous precautions that persist because no one dares to or knows how to test them systematically.

Chapter 2:  Negotiating close encounters is easiest if you can assess a bear’s mood and intentions through reading
its body language.  The first step in learning ursid communication is comparing it to dog body language —
something you may already know. Visible and audible signals by which dogs express fear, anger and playfulness
are compared to signals by which bears express those same emotions, as well as frustration and curiosity.  This
chapter also describes defensive threats (Please leave me alone) where a bear wants to end the encounter
peacefully.  It contrasts those to offensive threats (Do ... or else!) where the bear is willing to escalate the
encounter as necessary to achieve some goal, such as taking your food.  Lastly, this chapter helps you distinguish
such social (agonistic) aggression from predatory aggression.

Chapter 3 explains how bears minimize fighting through winning one-another’s trust and respect.          Chapters 4
and 5
explain how we can mimic ursine tactics to achieve our own mutual trust and respect with bears.

Chapter 6 discusses crowding and trespass in bear terms.  Chapter 7 explains how to approach a bear without
crowding it, trespassing on its turf, or otherwise disturbing it.  The best method depends in part on whether you are
in an area where bears expect to encounter people and are tolerant of that, or whether an encounter would highly
stress bruins.

The distance you maintain from a bear will, of course, depend on what both you and the bear do.  
Chapters 8
discusses slow approaches by bold and curious bears.  
Chapter 9 addresses scenarios where a bear approaches you
rapidly but not aggressively -- for instance cases where it might be running towards a salmon in the creek near
you, or where it might be fleeing another bear.  

“Whispering,” the Everest of bear-human diplomacy, requires empathetic socialization. Reaching this peak can be
extremely rewarding, but only at significant risk.  If you insist on trying, you’ll need a lot of luck to meet the right
bears in the right situations.  And you’ll need very careful preparation.  Be patient.  Advance step by step,
mastering all the techniques in BVA’s various books and companion videos, with particular attention to
10 and 11
in this book. Don’t fly by the seat of your pants.  Don’t end up like Tim Treadwell.

Again, this book assumes that readers are trying to minimize risk to themselves and unnecessary harm to bears.  
These assumptions are implicit in nearly every piece of advice given.  When words like “should” or “shouldn’t” are
used, at least by implication, these are not moral or authoritative demands, but shorthand statements of causation.
For example:  “If you surprise a sow with cubs at close range, [you should] initially stand your ground and do
nothing to further alarm the bear.”
That translates into:  “If you surprise a sow with cubs at close range, [you are most likely to minimize attack risk
and unnecessary harm to bears if you] initially stand your ground and do nothing to further alarm the bear.”

The techniques and products described in this book, or in other Bear Viewing Association materials, are meant to
minimize your risk of bear-inflicted injury, while simultaneously minimizing your impact on bears. Hence, when
words like “should” or “shouldn’t” are used, at least by implication, these are not moral or authoritative demands,
but shorthand statements of causation. For example:

“If you surprise a sow with cubs at close range, [you should] initially stand your ground and do nothing to further
alarm the bear.”

That translates into:  “If you surprise a sow with cubs at close range, [you are most likely to minimize attack risk
and unnecessary harm to bears if you] initially stand your ground and do nothing to further alarm the bear.”

BVA’s advice is based on a synthesis of current research, writings, and informed opinion. However, understanding
bear psychology is still in its infancy.  Research on bear behavior and on safety precautions is ongoing and
continues to provide new insights, approaches, and solutions.  You should stay current with new discoveries.

Because of the unique and unpredictable circumstances of each human-bear encounter, even  the  best techniques  
cannot  guarantee  anyone’s safety.  Furthermore, we have no control how you apply recommended techniques or

You are solely responsible to make appropriate decisions for the unique situations you encounter.  Any actions you
take should be based on your wisest decisions and your sound judgment.  It is your responsibility to be cautious in
bear habitat. Nothing in this book or in other BVA materials should be interpreted to mean that you can reduce
the degree of caution necessary in dealing with bears, especially in situations where bears should be avoided, and
where diplomacy is less appropriate for dealing with bears than deterring or killing them.

Neither the author of this book, nor anyone else involved in its publication or sale, warranties that following its
advice will protect you from injury by bears. We shall have no responsibility nor accept any liability for any actions
you take as a result of information in this book. Not all bear safety experts agree on everything in this (or any
other) book.

To round out your education, consult additional sources, written and otherwise, including BVA’s website

It is extremely difficult to discern reliable patterns in the behaviors of bears and people, and then to convey those
very complex patterns in words that are sufficiently simple, brief and clear to satisfy readers.  Given the
limitations on what words can convey, you should supplement reading this and other written material with careful
study of video footage on bear behavior.  BVA is producing DVDs for this purpose, including one to supplement
this book, showing many of the encounters described herein.

You should also get field training under the guidance of a certified expert in all aspects of avoiding, appeasing,
intimidating, deterring and killing bears.  If you plan on trying to befriend bears, get tutoring in “whispering”
techniques too.
When Bears Whisper, Do You Listen?
"Rediscovering the adventure of discovery."