That Aint No Coon

Last night, just after 10:00, I took the dogs outside to do their thing one last time before we went to bed. While waiting for them to pee on things and eat a little rabbit poop, I heard a racket coming from the back of the house. We’ve been dealing with a raccoon getting into the trash, so I figured he was in the dumpster again. I shined the light over that way and could see that the lid was down, so he wasn’t in there. I realized that the noise was coming from closer to the house than I thought, which meant he was in the trash can we keep by Dayna’s car, finishing the chocolate-chip pancakes he’d started on the night before.

Not wanting to deal with a confrontation between my dogs and a coon, I rounded them up and herded them back in the house. Once they were inside, I headed around the house to chase the coon away, armed with a flashlight and a fly swat. I turned the corner of the house, stepping out of the light and realized there was a large, dark shape coming towards me. My night vision hadn’t recovered yet and I first thought was looking at a large dog. But as it moved closer and I had a better look, my second thought was “Oh F*ck! That’s a BEAR!!!”

I then did what any red-blooded American would do. I screamed like a little girl and ran for the house. Dayna tells me she could hear me yelling obscenities as I ran, but I don’t remember doing that. Running was the worst possible choice of actions since it could have triggered his predatory response—if he had been a mountain lion instead of a bear, running would have probably gotten me in big trouble—but there was absolutely no conscious thought involved. Just my fight-or-flight response kicking in, dialed all the way over to flight. 

My next memory is actually slamming the door behind me, checking to see if I needed a clean pair of shorts (I didn’t) and yelling at Dayna that “there’s a f*cking bear in the yard.” I still had my flashlight and fly swat (lesson: don’t take a fly swat bear hunting! Unless you happen to be Chuck Norris, then you’re OK.) and we spent the next half hour walking around the house, shining the light out the windows. We didn’t catch even so much as another glimpse of the bear (I probably scared him as much as he did me) but did see a mama coon and three kittens in the back yard. The adrenaline finally wore off after a couple of hours, I crashed and went to bed.

I was texting my brother about the excitement this morning and found out that my closest neighbor, with whom my brother is close friends, has seen what is probably the same bear on a regular basis. He’s caught it on a game camera and has a cell phone photo taken in his yard.

Both photos © Tony Towner, 2017.


We think that’s the same bear in both photos and if it’s also the bear I encountered, he’s not as large as he seems in the game cam image. I’d guess him at 250-300 pounds—keep in mind this is the second bear I’ve ever seen in the wild, giving me vast experience judging their size—so I may well have outweighed him for all the good that did me. The photos also look a lot like the bear I saw and posted about back in June. That was less than two miles away as the crow flies, so it could easily be the same critter.

I was hoping he had stopped by the pond for a drink. The rest of the yard is bone dry and hard as rock, so the mud around the pond is the only place he could have left tracks. Sadly, he had drunk elsewhere, for there were no bear prints this morning, just a mess of coon tracks.

So after going 50 years without seeing a bear, I have two encounters within six weeks and one of them way more intimate than I cared for. Don’t get me wrong, I’m tickled shitless that bears are returning to the Ozarks, but I didn’t need to be surprised by one, literally within spitting distance and in the dark, thank you very much. I can tell you one thing though. The next time I hear something in the trash, I am NOT going to assume it’s a raccoon, that’s for damn sure.

Update: The day after I originally posted this, Dayna’s aunt, who lives 5 miles from us through the woods, posted photos of a bear to Facebook. He was cinnamon colored and looked to be about the same size, so it could easily be the same bear making another appearance. How many cinnamon-colored, 250 pound bears could there be in the area? It walked around her yard, completely carefree, while she shot photos and video from the house. During our encounter, he didn’t act in any way aggressively towards me, but he walked within 20′ of me and I know he could see me better than I could see him, so he clearly wasn’t afraid of me (though my screaming may have put the fear of God into him.) This bear seems entirely too comfortable around humans and I’m worried that he’s going to become a problem. I hope for his sake and whoever might run into him in the future that I’m wrong.

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