When Darrin Foster and his son Nick sat down on a log Saturday morning to take a break in unfamiliar woods on Richard K. Yancey Wildlife Management Area, neither of them was expecting an up-close encounter with a Louisiana black bear - but that's exactly what happened.
“We’re sitting there on this log, and I tell you what, by the time we saw this bear, he was so close. We never heard him coming,” said Foster, who has hunted on the WMA for 10 years and never encountered a bear in the woods. “He didn’t make a sound. I thought it was a hog at first, and my son said, ‘Look, a hog’s coming. Then he said, “No, it’s a bear.’
“I looked, and there he is, 20 yards away closing in, and he’s got his nose to the ground.”
Nick, 12, shot video of the encounter with his phone as the bear casually approached to within about 5 yards of the hunters in thick woods off Shell Road a few miles down from the second campground.
“He must have sensed something not right, because he ran off,” Foster said. “Then he turned around and started coming back. I don’t know what he was trying to do.”
As shocked as the Fosters were to see the bear, Maria Davidson, large carnivore program manager with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said it’s likely the bear was just as surprised to encounter the hunters.
“Bears are a stomach following a nose on feet,” Davidson said. “They are an opportunistic omnivore — that’s what a black bear is. So it is in his best interest to investigate any smell he finds in the woods. That’s what they do.
“So he’s investigating a weird smell, and in this case he’s smelling this man and his son. The bear was not aware of their presence until he was up close.”
Although the situation was a bit unnerving, Foster said he tried to remain calm as the bear approached about 9:30 Saturday morning.
“In this case, it was about keeping a cool head. I’m at high alert, but at the same time, I don’t want to harm the bear,” he said. “I’m thinking the bear is not wanting to harm us. He never charged us or anything of that nature. But I’ve got my gun ready. I was thinking about a warning shot.”
They yelled at the bear, which eventually meandered off about 20 yards away and hunkered down behind a tree.
“He stayed there the whole time looking at us. He was licking his paws and covering his face,” Foster said. “We watched him for 20 minutes before we backed out. He never left. The whole time we backed away he was still behind that tree, looking in our direction.”
Davidson said the No. 1 rule if you encounter a bear while hunting is to make sure the animal is aware you’re there.
“Always allow the bear to know you’re there to give them the opportunity to move away from your presence,” she said.
If a bear continues to approach, Davidson said to make yourself appear as large as you possibly can.
“Bears don’t really want to get hurt, so they would prefer not to fight stuff bigger than themselves. You want to become bigger than the bear,” she said. “Step on top of a log if you can find one. I sure wouldn’t be sitting down so that I’m beneath the eye level of the bear — that would never be a good idea.
“You should stand up and get on top of the log. If it’s two people, you would be side-by-side. If you had a jacket on, you would put your hands in your pockets and open your jacket up, or raise your arms above your head. Make yourself appear bigger than you actually are. You don’t have to scream like a banshee, but you can speak firmly, too.”
Foster said it appeared the bear was showing his teeth, but Davidson said this particular bear, a young male which is collared and part of LDWF’s restoration project, is actually missing one entire side of his top lip.
“He’s horrid. He looks terrible,” she said. “You can see the entire row of this teeth, and most of his gum line, that’s how much of his lip is missing. I don’t know what happened to him, but I’m assuming it’s a fighting injury.”
Davidson wasn't surprised the hunters didn't see the bear until he was relatively close.
"Bears don’t have hooves - they've got soft padded feet and they move as quietly as a human walking barefoot," she said. "They move incredibly quietly through the woods."
The elder Foster was obviously relieved the encounter ended peacefully, and said both father and son were excited to have the experience.
“I tell you what, Nick wasn’t scared, but he was really nervous,” Foster said. “He was really impressed at the size of the bear, and with his teeth. He kept saying, ‘Look at the teeth.’
“He said, ‘Man, I never expected to see a bear in the wild, especially hunting here in Louisiana.’ It was neat, man. It’s engrained in my memory forever to be that close to a bear.”