In a final gesture of its natural majesty and that of its species, a mortally wounded San Bernardino Mountain black bear last month mauled the hunter who had fatally wounded it.
The hunter, who had a permit and a tag that allowed him to take one of the creatures using a bow and arrow during the archery bear hunt season that opens in late August and closes in early September, believed the 300-pound plus animal had expired when he approached it.
The bear, however, was still alive, and nearly killed the man, who likely would have died beside the ursine he had killed if not for the assistance of two of his hunting colleagues, who quickly summoned for him medical assistance.
Experienced bear hunters who fell their prey with arrows usually observe a several minute wait that can last as much as a half hour before approaching their kill. That may have been the case on August 24, but a conflicting report held that the hunter and his two companions believed he had registered an immediate kill. At any rate, after the hunter, described as quite experienced, believing he had observed a sufficient interval and observing no movement, left the perch from which he had dispatched his projectile, and he presumed, the bear. When he reached it, however, the bear took its grim revenge in what were the last minutes of its existence.
According to Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, “When he ran up on the bear, the bear attacked him and it mauled him severely.”
The man sustained severe injuries to his upper torso, face and arms. He lost several pints of blood before he reached a hospital.
“Approaching an animal that is injured or wounded can be dangerous if that animal is in a position where it can forcibly defend itself,” said Foy.
The attack occurred in a southern extension of the San Bernardino Mountains across the Riverside County line in Banning Canyon.
Black bears are not native to the San Bernardino Mountains, which were inhabited by grizzly bears, nearly all of which were hunted to extinction in the 19th Century. The forerunner of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the state Fish and Game Service, introduced the Yosemite black bears to Southern California in 1933.
While they are not exactly docile, black bears have little of the ferocity of grizzly bears. Mothers protecting their young will attack humans. When foraging for food, black bears will exhibit impatience with humans who obstruct them. There have been isolated instances of attacks on humans. The bears, armed with great strength, claws and intimidating dentition, are capable of inflicting tremendous damage on virtually any other land inhabitant, and mature bears can function in water.
Nevertheless the Department of Fish and Wildlife has prohibited the use of firearms in bear hunts, imposing on those who wish to bag them a requirement that they invite upon themselves the same specter of mortality they impose upon the bears in pursuing their bloodsport. Some hunters, however, do not want to live by that code, and they have submitted a petition to the Department of Fish and Wildlife asking that they be permitted to carry firearms on bear hunts “for safety.”