What would you do if you were attacked by a black bear? We’ve all thought about it at one point or another. Some say they would want a gun to defend themselves. Others swear bear spray is the safest line of defense. But for a 54-year-old man from British Columbia saved his own life with an axe.
According to a report by Outside, Alex Woods, who is a forest pathologist, was hiking in the bush outside Gitxsan village of Gitanyow. He was following GPS coordinates to check for “Armillaria root disease in an undeveloped piece of the forest”. Knowing there were bears and other animals around, he yelled “Yo bear! Yo bear!” as he moved through the terrain.
“I could hear the creek at the bottom,” Woods says, “so I yell even louder because that’s a place where you could potentially surprise a bear. It was really steep, like 45 degrees, with mature timber that was freshly burnt from last year, so it was relatively open and the visibility was good. I was about three-quarters of the way down the slope, and I’d noticed some morels that were coming up, so I picked a couple, but then made sure I was back on my bearing and kept yelling. And then I look up, and there’s this bear running at me—full speed, no sounds, just running at me as fast as it can go from 100 feet away, straight up the slope.”
Woods positioned himself with a tree between him and the bear. He reached for his bear spray but couldn’t get the cap off.
“And then the bear’s head came right in,” he continued. “I hauled off and kicked it as hard as I could, and that connected with its jaw and knocked it back. I’m not a big guy, but because I was on such a steep slope, I was just big enough to get it. The bear fell back a bit, but then it came running around the tree and I kicked it hard again in the head, yelling as loud as I could the whole time. It took off and ran up another burned tree about eight feet away, still staring at me.”
Sensing the attack was not over, Wood’s mind wandered to the axe he kept in his vest. The bear began to move down the tree and Woods reached for the weapon. “The bear was right back on me by then, so I just sank the hatchet into its head. I was lucky enough that it happened where those trees were, and on such a steep slope. I wouldn’t have been able to kick it otherwise or get it on the head. Those trees slowed it down, and fortunately, I didn’t struggle getting the hatchet out like I struggled with the bear spray. But also, if it wasn’t for those two charred trees, I’d probably be dead.”
The bear tumbled down the hill. After taking a few minutes to be sure the bear wasn’t going to come after him, Woods rushed back to his truck. He reported the attack and B.C. Conservation Officers went to investigate. They discovered the bear was a sow with cubs. She was still alive but the blow to her head would have been lethal.
“That’s really f’d up,” Woods said, “That’s not good at all. I’m still processing that. But before it happened, I did everything you’re supposed to do, and exactly what’s worked for me for 35 years. I yelled, I made lots of noise. A mother bear, if it was a normal situation, would have heard that, even though it was near a creek. The experts I’ve talked to today told me it was totally predatory behavior. There was no warning. They said that bear wanted you—and they’re right, it wanted me.”
Have you ever had a close encounter with a bear? How did you handle it?