In the national forests there were signs warning us to stay in the car if we saw bears. Other signs said, “Don’t feed the bears.”
Only those who wanted to appear super macho got out of the car anyway.
Now things are different. The bears are leaving the mountains and coming to see us. They are turning up in people’s backyards, on streets, roads and highways. Earlier this week, three schools in Atlanta were locked down because of a bear or bears seen nearby.
The bears are searching for food. We are told not to have anything outside that would attract them to our businesses and homes. That includes bird feeders and outside garbage cans. Bears have even broken into cars, trucks and houses.
Some describe the bears moving in with us as nuisance bears. They are definitely that, but, not to be forgotten is that any bear can be dangerous.
Added to the possibility of hitting a deer on the road, we now must be concerned about hitting a bear.
Bears in the wild are not a threat to people except those who invade their territory. My son Joel is an avid hunter. He hunts bears, wild turkeys and wild hogs. In bird season he hunts quail.
Each year, he and friends go about 50 miles north of here to bear hunt. Being honest, I secretly hope he does not see any bears and more than that, I hope no bears see him.
Like many who enjoy the outdoors, Joel puts action-activated cameras in the woods. On one hunting trip a bear discovered one of the cameras.
It came nearer and nearer to investigate. The bear put its nose just in front of the camera before it knocked it down. As the camera spiraled to the ground it took pictures of the bear from all directions.
A few weeks, ago Joel called to ask me to meet him and a friend at a local restaurant. They were passing through Canton on their way home to deep South Alabama.
Since they were dressed in camouflage and had not shaved for several days, the waitress assumed they were hunters. As expected, she asked, “Did you get anything?”
Joel had killed a bear and it was iced down on the back of his truck. She asked if he would show it to her if she followed him out to the parking lot. When others realized what was happening, with their cellphone cameras in hand, they came out to look, too.
Several asked the same question. “What are you going to do with it?” Joel answered. “I’m going to mix it with other meat and make sausage.”
Some of those gathered around seemed to think he was joking. But, I knew he was serious. When their church has their annual wild game supper, one of the entrees on the menu will be bear sausage.
I like that. I do not believe any animal should be killed just so someone can brag, “I killed a bear,” or to hang its head on the wall. At the same time, I do not plan to eat any of that bear sausage.
So what should you and I do if we encounter a bear? Hopefully, we can safely retreat. Beyond that, most of us do not know what to do. Our natural reaction would be to run away from it like Goldilocks did, but I am told that is a losing race with the bear winning every time.
In the case of a teenager who went bear hunting with Joel and another friend, his mother gave him some motherly advice. She said if a bear was after the three of them, he was to shoot one of the others in the foot and keep running.
On a serious note, if in the future we continue to have more and more bears in our area, the public needs to be better educated about how to protect ourselves if we find ourselves face to face with a bear in the carport or around the corner of the house.
Do we stay quiet or do we try to scare it away? Do we call animal control? What does the law say about killing a bear? Most of us have a lot to learn.
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.