Chris Laing had a stressful Monday.
“I’d have waves of fear for no reason,” he said.
You probably would too if you had just survived a grizzly bear encounter the day before. Laing was hiking on the North Fork of the Teton Creek Trail in Teton Canyon on Sunday with his dog. When they got to the snowline, he turned around. His Alaskan malamute was running ahead about 20 yards in front of him when he heard light rustling in the bushes. Laing said he saw it was a bear and started running back up the steep trail while at the same time removing his bear spray from the holster. He said he made it about 20 feet up the trail and realized the bear had caught up to him in about three lunges. He turned around and she was moving a lot faster than he could. He waited a moment to see if she would bluff.
“She didn’t hesitate. She didn’t check her speed. She had no fear at all,” he said.
So Laing sprayed as the bear lunged within five feet of him. He said it worked immediately and the bear rolled down hill by his dog, swiping and pawing in the air. Laing then began yelling and swatting his walking stick and rolling rocks. The bear heard him and charged again. He sprayed her a second time and the bear rolled down hill again. Laing started running down the trail and put his dog on a leash. Two baby cubs were crying at his feet and the mama grizzly blew past them and was charging Laing again. Laing said he threw his dog behind him and sprayed her a third time from close range. With the third spay, he said he got a little on himself and couldn't see or breathe for a bit. He couldn't tell how close behind him the bear was then, and he heard the cubs crying. The bear then started wandering blindly. Laing said he made a bunch of noise the rest of the way down the trail, but didn't know if that was a good idea or not as it might lead the bear to his location. Laing warned some hikers parked at the trail head of what happened, and they left. Laing didn't see any other people camping or parked anywhere at the end of the canyon, so he doubts the bear was lured in by humans or food.
Mike Boyce, a bear management specialist with the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish said the bear was most likely defending her cubs and acting naturally. Boyce said he believes it was a grizzly from Laing's description. The behavior of the bear was consistent with grizzlies as well.
"They are inherently more aggressive than black bears," Boyce said.
Laing said the upper part of the bear's head was kind of flat. He said its nose kind of jutted out and wasn't rounded.
Both Laing and Boyce said the incident was a good reminder for people about what to do when encountering a bear. Laing said the spray definitely worked and turned the bear around instantly. He said it was the best thing he could have used.
"If I had a gun, even with a lethal shot, it probably would have still overtaken me and made contact," Laing said. He was glad he had the spray at his hip, too. Had it been in his backpack there's no way he could have gotten to it quickly enough, he said.
Laing said before his hike that day, he thought, "what good would this do," referring to the bear spray. He said he thought if he saw a bear he would pass out before using the spray. Boyce said Laing did everything right by carrying defense, making it accessible and using it.
"I think this serves as a reminder that people should take proper precautions when recreating in bear habitat," said Boyce.
While Laing was feeling some stress Monday, he said he slept well that night and felt fine Tuesday.
The Forest Service has put up signs warning hikers of bear activity in the area. On Wednesday morning Dave Ridill with the Forest Service said there are signs at the trail heads in Teton Canyon, but that doesn't mean other trails are bear-free. With snow still lingering, Ridill said he's not surprised there are bears in the area. He said grizzly tracks have been spotted on the Aspen Trail and people should use caution no matter what area they are in.
Boyce said they had no plans to close the trail or trap the bear.
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