I grew up in Northern Saskatchewan, Canada, in the tiny Dene (Pronounced DEN-eh) first nation band of Black Lake, which sits on a Lake of the same name. I’m Métis, which in Canada means some of my family is of European Ancestry (my mom’s side) and some of my family are First Nations (My dad’s side, who are Dene). Through my dad I grew up to love the outdoors; he took me hunting in the endless acres of forest that surrounded our tiny town. Reservations are rough places to grow up in the best of times, so I was happy to escape the depression and rampant alcoholism of the reserve by using my dad’s crossbow to stalk the many deer and moose that lived in the woods. Most of the time I didn’t even make a kill; I just went to enjoy nature and listen to the wind whistling in the evergreen woods.
One day, after a particularly rough day in school in the mid-fall – when the first flurries of the oncoming Canadian winter were beginning to come down – I grabbed my dad’s crossbow with his permission, and trekked out down my street out into the woods. A smile crossed my face as I ducked under the fallen pine I usually passed as I went hunting. Slowly the distant sounds of the community faded away, and I was left with bird sound and the rustling of small squirrels and chipmunks. I followed the little-known path to my makeshift deer stand I’d made with my dad – a small platform lashed to a tree by a creekbank that drained into the nearby lake. I was about eight feet off the ground with a small step ladder leading up to it. The platform was the remains of an old fire lookout structure that my dad had bought on the cheap from the Province. It was about two kilometers down that path I’d been walking on, and when I got there I pulled myself up the step ladder onto the platform and made myself comfortable, scanning the river bank silently for any deer coming down for a drink. After a few hours it became clear today wasn’t going to be my day, so I took a lighter from my pocket, stuffed some kindling into an old coffee pot I kept on the platform and lit a small campfire to ward of the chill of the evening fall air.
As I sat there, crossbow across my lap and enjoying the warmth of the little blaze, I felt myself dozing a little – letting the flurries melt on my warm toque. But then I heard a sound that snapped me instantly awake, and completely on guard.
Down below me, I heard a distinct sniffing, huffing sound – which in these woods, meant only one thing: Bear. Now, we get Grizzlies and Black Bears aplenty up here in the north; and this sounded like and enormous Grizzly, hungry and smelling for food. I mentally cursed myself for lighting the fire, and I stamped it out with my combat boot. I raised my crossbow towards the edge, and it braced by boot against the hold of it, pulling the string back till it made and audible CLICK as it locked in place.
The sniffling sound stopped, and I held my breath. A chill of fear went over me as I realized the bear now most definitely knew where I was. Almost as soon as the thought crossed my mind – the bear reared up on its back legs – and my heart skipped a beat.
I mentioned earlier that this platform is raised eight feet off the ground. Now, the biggest Grizzly known is around nine feet along – absolutely huge, almost the size of a Polar Bear, which get even bigger. But they only ever really get that big in the Wilds of Alaska and the Yukon. So my heart dropped when this bear, standing on its back legs, easily towered and head and shoulders above the lip of the platform – easily ten or eleven feet tall. It also looked nothing like a normal grizzly – its fur was a dark grey, with light grey areas around the eyes that gave it almost and owl-like look. It had a much shorter snout than most Bears, and its eyes were yellow instead of the normal brown you see on most bears. Its jaws gaped, massive fangs protruding from its mouth. It stared at me for a moment before its jaws yawned and it roared, so long and loud it made my ears hurt. I screamed and pulled the trigger of the bow, and in the blink of an eye the bolt buried itself in the beast’s arm. A spurt of blood pumped from the beast’s arm, and it staggered back.
Then it met my eyes, and in that instant I knew I’d made a huge mistake: I’d only injured the beast, and now it was even angrier than before. It raised a massive garbage-can-lid-sized paw and swiped at the logs holding the platform and instantly destroyed it. Logs flew in every direction as I tumbled out of the tree, falling head over heels into the creek next to the platform. I fell under the water, hitting my head on a log and seeing stars. In the chaos the crossbow fell from my grasp and I was unarmed except for my pocket Swiss Army knife. I pushed past the pain and surfaced, gasping – to face the bear, this massive Grey Bear, stalking the bank – leaning its massive head over the bank and pawing the water with its huge claws. With a yell I kicked back as it splashed its paws through the water, raking one of my legs with its claws. I felt the pulse in my leg as blood poured into the creek, and I realized this was a serious wound. I needed help and fast, before the mystery bear tore me apart.
I kicked downstream, riding the rapids and staying as far away from that bear as I could. It followed me downstream from the bank, glaring at me with those yellow eyes and and swiping at the water with enormous roars that made the water vibrate. Eventually it stopped following me, and the last I saw of it before I passed out from blood loss was the bear standing on its hind legs and staring at me from the trees.
When I awoke next it was three days later, and I was in a hospital bed being treated for hypothermia and severe blood loss. I told my dad what happened to me, and at first he didn’t believe me; but the more I insisted, the more convinced he became. I know it had to be a bear, but it didn’t match the description of any bear I’d ever seen before, or any bear known to man. So what was it?