First Date

Many years ago, a geologist I knew was out in the field in northern Canada, head down looking at rocks-when a grizzly attacked him from behind.

The unprovoked attack left him with permanent scars to his face and head. He survived having his head in the grizzly bear’s mouth, and being buried alive, all while he remained conscious.  After the bear left him there, planning on returning to his kill later, the geologist waited and then walked out to safety. It is an amazing story of survival, and he is lucky to be alive.

Geologist looking at a quartz vein

Having seen a grizzly up close and personal in my dreams, I decided it was best to avoid them in real life. As the head of a gold exploration company in northern Canada, the chance of seeing a grizzly at work was a high probability. So, I decided, in addition to the usual safety protocols in place, everyone in the field had to complete bear safety training. I brought in a world-renowned expert on bear behavior and bear safety to our staff meeting.

With 70 people in the room, our bear expert proceeded to teach everyone how to avoid a bear encounter of the close kind. We learned that how you conduct yourself depends on the behavior of the bear. It also depends on understanding your environment and knowing the likely locations you would encounter a bear. For example, in the spring – south facing mountain sides with a creek are best to be avoided. Probably a great spot for a den.

At times, if you unexpectedly encounter a bear, you may surprise it too and if so you can slowly drop your jacket or pack and back away. Never turning your back on the bear. But that depends on bumping into a bear in a defensive situation.

When you encounter an aggressive grizzly, it’s a whole different story.

The bear expert proceeded to tell a story of being on a first date and going out for a hike on a mountain known for its large sheep (stone sheep not little lamb sheep) population. What they did not know was one of the sheep was injured and the injury had drawn blood. To a grizzly, blood in the air could be compared to blood in the water for a great white shark.

As they hiked on a narrow trail, a very angry grizzly charged them and stood above them growling and roaring. They, in the bears mind, were weak prey, likely the source of the blood. Faced with a frenzied bear, running was clearly the path to peril. Think of the end of “Legends of Fall” as that is pretty much what it was.

 In this situation, the bear expert said it was best to be aggressive, plus on a narrow trail there was nowhere to run. So the bear expert got really big, arms up and started yelling at the bear. The bear did not back down and continued to growl and pound the ground. To the bear, this was a fight now, no longer viewing them as prey.

The expert then started picking up large shale rocks, lifting them over his head, yelling and throwing the rocks on the ground. The bear didn’t budge. With only a few yards separating the bear from the couple on the trail, this pattern repeated itself for a very long time. If my memory serves me correct, it was around an hour. Then finally the bear, sensing that the fight was not an easy victory, turned away. The couple vacated the mountain trail as fast as possible, at a flat out run, before the bear changed its mind and charged them, again.

At the end of the story, the expert summed up the need to assess the situation, location and actions of the bear to determine your actions, then asked if there were any questions.

Only one person raised a hand and asked a simple question – did you get a 2nd date?


Please do not consider this advice on bear safety, best to consult an expert.


About the Author

Janet Sheriff

An innovative entrepreneur, Janet brings her extensive experience in all aspects of strategic planning, management, indigenous affairs and communications to start ups, new ventures and the mining & exploration sectors. Janet focuses her entrepreneurial spirit, leadership skills and vision to create new opportunities, award-winning innovative programs and new ways of conducting business. Her strong commitment to community engagement, sustainability and inclusion provides her the proven ability to work effectively and respectfully in cross-cultural environments.