We were living down the canyon in a big, round house with a 45-minute drive one way just to get to the grocery store. So we grew some of our own produce and raised chickens (and a duck) for eggs.
Living out in the woods with gardens surrounding your house and a small flock of birds, it’s to be expected wild predators might come lurking. We already knew there were coyotes, owls, black bears, raccoons, and opossums in the area (the basic critters of the wild) and expected an issue or two — but not a burglar bear that would break into our home and rob us.
The First Bear Break-In
It all started one day when we were making what we called a “town run.” Since everything was so far away, we would make a day of the trip, getting everything done that we had to including shopping for the month. We loaded up and headed out — leaving the chickens in their run to avoid any risk of predators taking off with them. Everything was going as normal until we got home and noticed the kitchen door wasn’t quite closed.
We thought we just didn’t latch it.
But while putting groceries away things became suspicious. A 20-pound bag of rice and a 5-gallon bucket full of cat food were gone. I questioned my sanity for a moment and asked my partner and our son if they remembered us going through all of the rice. Nope.
Many years before we moved to the canyon, travelers would stop and stay a night or two. Back in the 70s it was a community and it became one again in the 00s. It had only been a few years since the last community dissipated so we considered maybe someone who didn’t know it had come out and walked away with some grub. None of the neighbors heard or saw anything, however, so we let it go and reminded one another to lock up well before the next town trip.
Another Suspicious Clue
Later that same week we were out gathering wood and foraging a bit. I saw a 5-gallon bucket along the creek, and it was ours! Hmmmmm. Upon further inspection, I discovered teeth and claw marks. Something huge tore into the bucket and ate all the cat food. At that moment we realized it could only have been one of two things: A bear or a bad joke.
The Second Bear Break-In
The next time we were away from home there was another break-in, and this time we knew we had closed all of the doors. Items from our pantry were gone again — but there were some clues leading to the culprit. The kitchen door was open and a coffee mug lay on the ground in front of it.
This time we were more cautious when entering our home because we knew the door had been closed, and we didn’t want to startle a burglar bear! Luckily nothing was in the house other than a big mess and missing goods. I’ve got to tell you, the black bears, or at least the one in my neck of the woods, preferred maple syrup over raw honey. He made sure to sample it before he left with his desired choice.
Related Post: Tips For Bear Awareness
We did some work on our doors and windows to try and make sure neither bear nor burglar could enter the home so easily. I added some reinforcements to the wooden doors and included padlocks.
Caught In The Act
The saying “third times a charm” seems fitting here. A few weeks later, we were making another trip to town when we finally saw the burglar bear. As we slowly trekked up the windy hill away from our house, we could see a young black bear watching us leave and heading in the direction of our home. We had important things to do so we couldn’t turn around.
The bear politely busted into the bottom half of the door, ripping off just enough to fit his fat rear end into our kitchen. He also busted the padlock latch — splitting the metal in two. He had a great time tearing things apart.
Not only was the kitchen trashed, but a majority of our shelved goods were also shattered because they were in glass, and every tin can of sauce, paste (or anything tomato for that matter) was punctured and left to sit oozing. Black bears don’t seem too keen on tomato products.
And our chickens were all hanging out on the kitchen counter when we got home! I guess the bear wanted someone to blame.
What I Learned From This Experience
After all of these incidents occurred, there were a few life lessons that I learned about dealing with bears.
Always Use Caution
Coexisting with wildlife can be a beautiful pleasantry. However, it is important to remember these animals are wild and pretty much do what they want. Black bears are mostly harmless but if they get spooked, they can cause harm.
Black bears are less likely to become aggressive than the grizzly bears, but you never know what could happen. If you live in the country and it looks like a critter may have found their way into your home, chicken coop, or barn, use caution and try to be quiet.
Make Sure To Critter Proof Your Homestead
There are many different ways a home or barn can be critter proofed, but bears have incredible strength and will laugh at fragile structures. Locks seemed to be fitting, and I thought securing the doors better would be enough, but once bears find a goody stash, they return and force their way.
In our case, we weren’t leaving for an entire season or I could’ve boarded up and moved on. It was only for a few hours at a time and the bear was a stalker so boarding up didn’t seem logical. That said, don’t nail your boards in from the outside because a bear will just pull them off the wall. It has to be done from the inside.
Don’t Feed Them
I considered leaving the bear a stash of food out in the woods, but I talked to some folks with more experience and they told me that bears will just keep coming back. Once there is nothing left in the cache they will come to the house and help themselves to whatever they want — and even what they don’t want.
How To Deter Black Bears
Black bears are easily frightened so booby traps that make all kinds of commotion usually deter them from the area. I like to live cohesively with nature so harming this beautiful bear wasn’t in the plans.
However, clanking cans, falling brooms, and anything else that sounded like a human might be around the corner seemed to work. The problem can be that the bears catch on fast. If they figure out what is making the noise, they will no longer have the fear.
Bears Are Burglars
As it turns out, the cartoon Yogi Bear wasn’t so far from the truth. We imagine them as creatures that go out and forage and catch their meals like our ancestors once did (and some of us still do today) but while they’re foraging, any cabin is fair game.
In the end, we realized we were inviting our friendly burglar bear right into our home. Oftentimes, before we went on long town trips, we would cook up a big hearty breakfast. Bears have an amazing sense of smell so (I think) as the food was cooking, the incredible scents of breakfast would waft right to him. In order to prevent leaving breakfast scents, we opted for granola and fresh fruit on the days we would be out.
We made sure to wipe down all surfaces in the kitchen with a bleach-type cleaner to eliminate food odors. We used the same odor eliminator on the door to the kitchen, too. All of our food cans and jars went to recycle and normally got washed with soap and water, but we took it a step further to sterilize them and eliminate their scent.
We still bear-boarded the doors so he couldn’t get in but noticed that without the enticing smells, he kind of looked elsewhere for food. The noisy booby traps worked to startle him and eventually, our pantry stayed stocked. He did leave some prints to let us know he stopped by, but without any food smells, he moved on.
When we finally got to see the burglar bear face-to-face, it was a rather enchanting moment of beauty. We stood talking about the events of our day by the steps to the kitchen, and when we looked up, he was standing not even 50 feet away from us. We looked at him and he looked at us and everything was still and quiet.
He wasn’t very big or scary — more cute and fuzzy. All was well until someone inside the house made a noise and the bear booked it. I would’ve been much more nervous to come face-to-face with a human burglar than the beautiful bear and so embarrassed if I had called the authorities to report stolen goods and a thief — only to find out that I was outwitted by a big ole bear! Moral of the story, bears are burglars.