I have hiked a lot and even done a little backpacking. I never see wildlife. Well, okay, there was that close encounter with a rattlesnake. Other than that, a deer or two, and a split second view of the south end of a north bound elk. That’s about it, not that I really want to get within eye-shot of a lion, or even a bear. But I hike in the wilderness. I’m supposed to see wildlife. Well, except for Tigers.

Lions are so stealth and so elusive, I doubt I’ll ever see one. However, someone I know did see a lion cross the Crest Trail here in the Sandia Mountains a year or so back. And if a lion is stalking you, you’ll never know it until you feel it jump on your back.

But bears? Not so stealth.

I really haven’t worried too much about bears. I try to keep a clean camp. Keep all the scented items in a bear canister. Cook and eat some distance away from the campsite. Don’t sleep in the clothes I had on when I cooked and ate. The usual bear precautions.

However, I am getting more and more interested in hiking off trail and doing a little route finding. And the same for backpacking. I just think it would be really cool to take an established trail out to a certain point and then just take off cross-country where the odds of running into another human is pretty slim, at best.

Learning and practicing land navigation is fascinating to me. And you can only read and study so much. At some point, you just have to go out and do it. Naturally, to be safe, I’d get into it a little at a time while I gained experience and built up my confidence. Anyone who knows me knows I’m very big on safety.

I always carry a good compass and know how to use it. I never go backpacking without a 24k topo map of the area. I always carry a GPS and a PLB, as well as backup batteries. My maps and GPS are set to use UTM, instead of Lat/Long. And after talking with someone I’ve hiked with, someone who was a land navigator in the military when he was in Vietnam, I’ve also made some pace count beads.

So what does all that have to do with bears?

In all the research I’ve done on bears, black bears in particular, there is always a slight possibility of running into a predatory black bear. And the deeper you go into the back country, the more remote you get, the possibility of running into a predatory black bear is a little greater. Predatory black bears are opportunistic and see humans as a food source. The less contact a bear has had with humans ups the possibility it could become predatory. So bears in the very remote back country would present the greatest risk. But again, the odds of running into a predatory black bear are still very small, even in the remote back country. It’s just something I need to be aware of if/when I do start going off trail and getting into the remote back country.

I have always read that bears are fast as lightning, that they can get up to 20-30 miles per hour in just a few seconds. No matter how many times you read something like that, it really is impossible to comprehend and appreciate unless you have had an encounter with a bear that has charged you, and you were fortunate enough for it to have been a bluff-charge, meaning the bear let you live so you can have nightmares about it for the rest of your life!

Since a bluff-charge hasn’t happened to me — you see, you have to actually see a bear for that to happen, and I’m the guy who doesn’t see wildlife! — where better to get a feel for predatory bears and to see how fast a bear really moves than… YouTube!

So I found three videos that really got my attention. One video is of predatory black bear stalking someone for a very long time before it finally decided to move on to other things and let the poor guy live so he could have nightmares for the rest of his life! Two videos were of bears that suddenly decided they wanted to climb a tree to where hunters were perched in their stand, and did so from a standstill. And when they say bears are lightning fast, I think that might actually be an… understatement!

Here is the video of a black bear stalking someone in a predatory  manner.

Here are the two videos of bears moving much faster than fast. In fact, you won’t believe how fast these bears got up that tree. I was stunned!