“Hey Ridgerunner,” someone shouted at me from the relatively safety of Mashipacong Shelter. “There’s a bear! Over near the bear box!”
A small bear was 50 feet away in the trees near the bear-proof box hikers use to keep their packs safe from wildlife. As it slipped back into the trees, we spotted a second small bear not far away. Then another hiker shouted, “My God, look at the size of that one!”
The evening’s third bear looked to weigh 400 pounds. It lumbered along a fire trail 50 yards away, thankfully headed the other way without a backward glance.
Bear traps were set (last) weekend for a routine census, and six bears, including a 400-pound male near Mashipacong, had been tagged and released.
These were my first bears of the new season, but I had seen and dealt with enough of them during four summers in these woods.
A bear stole my empty backpack from outside my tent and a foot from my head in the middle of the night last August.
I later found the pack a hundred yards away undamaged except for tooth marks and a ripped outside pocket.
Wildlife officers baited a trap with bacon and Dunkin’ Donuts to nab that nuisance bear. It was tagged and then released, encouraged by rubber bullets to stay away.
This has been an interesting weekend up here in a world where bears are an ongoing problem.
Bear warnings are being shared along the Appalachian Trail as hikers report seeing large male bears running across the trail and also checking out wilderness camping areas.
No problem encounters have been reported here, but the trail community knows Jersey has more bears than any other state.
And, hikers have heard the horror stories: A black bear bit a hiker and dragged him by the head from his hammock as he camped with his father in the Great Smokies recently. Last fall, a black bear mauled and killed a hiker in a nearby New Jersey state park, the first time in recorded history.
Both bears were later found and killed.
The three bears we sighted, especially the huge one, got into my head as I tried to sleep that night. Night noises from the dark forest rattled me, and I felt like a woodlands newbie, shining a dim light toward the trees and fearing the worst. But I woke the next morning to slow drizzle gloom and no wildlife.