By Jeremy Patton
On July 2, 2016, my sweet girlfriend Delania and I visited Buzzard Rock in McCreary County, Kentucky. The overlook is perched above the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, near Whitley City.
The unofficial trail, less than one mile long, ascends a steep ridge to the rocky prominence. If you are interested in visiting this overlook, read my article on “Buzzard Rock.”
The day was hot, but we still managed to enjoy our time on the sun-baked perch. As night approached and cool winds warned of a possible storm, we decided to make the return trip a bit earlier than planned.
While descending, a black bear crashed through the bushes and halted about 50 feet in front of us. We froze as she stood on her hind legs and her cub scurried up a tree. We backed away slowly. The presence of her cub made what would normally be a brief encounter, a stand-off.
The protective mother refused to leave the trail, unknowingly blocking our only exit. This presented us with a problem. We did not want to get stuck in the woods at night with an agitated bear in the vicinity.
I drew my pistol, puffed out my chest and shouted. She still would not budge. Delania picked up a big stick as we took several menacing steps forward. Mama bear seemed unimpressed.
I fired a warning shot that changed her mind.
She retreated and crouched below a nearby hill. She growled and snorted as we cautiously slid between her and the treed cub and made our way back to our vehicle.
It was Delania’s first run-in with a wild bear. She said that she was terrified, but would do it all over again, which made me a proud boyfriend.
On our way back to Pulaski County, we talked about the encounter and concluded that we had acted appropriately. We discussed what to do if the warning shot had failed. We decided that we would have hiked back up the ridge to give the bears time to move along. We had packed flashlights, so we could have exited the forest safely, as long as the bears were gone.
I have now encountered wild bears on three occasions. I believe that they will leave you alone, if you leave them alone. They can be very bold if you have food around, however, so remember to hang your goodies in a tree at night, away from your campsite. And always carry a firearm in the wilderness – always.
Unfortunately, I did not get a photograph of either bear because the close-encounter was…too close.