Everyone thought that the blueberry season was going to be terrible in northern Ontario and northern Quebec this past summer. A frost and cold weather in June seemed to have stifled the blueberry crop. In July, it was evident to everyone that it was not going to be a great summer for blueberries.

In my conversations with Elders in July, they advised me to be careful up at my isolated cottage in Quebec, as there would be few berries for the bears this summer. I don’t often get much bear traffic around my place in the remote wilderness, but this July there was evidence that some were dropping by. Although I appreciate these large animals and in fact all forms of life on this planet, I am acutely aware that starving bears view me as a potential food source.

Some of my neighbours on the lake reported evidence of bears and the local trash bins nearby showed signs of tampering.

Bears don’t normally present a problem to people. They are mainly vegetarian but they will eat anything to survive. Although they may look cute and cuddly from a distance, a small bear that may weigh 400 to 600 pounds can easily kill a human. Other than the firepower of a shotgun, there is not much defence from these giants of the north. Bears are incredibly powerful and their tough hide and fat skin combined with a thick head of bone offers them great protection. They are almost all muscle and capable of tearing just about anything apart and running very fast. They can also climb trees.

I admire bears and often I see them in the wild, but I am very cautious around these mighty creatures. In particular if a mother bear and her cubs are wandering around nearby, I make sure to keep my distance. The cubs are always cute and cuddly looking, but if a human gets anywhere near them, the mother will instinctively remove anyone and anything away from her cubs. There is nothing much you can do to fight them off and when they are hungry, they have been known to stalk people.

A blow to the nose has been said to deter a bear from advancing, but trying to club one over the head is useless as their boney skull is immense. A high-powered rifle shot in a frantic emergency might only wound a bear and that could make it really angry. My dad always claimed that in a case of emergency, a shotgun blast to the face was the only real way of actually maiming one and eliminating it as a threat. The shotgun blast blinds and disorients the bear, so that it is difficult for it to carry through with an attack.

The best defence for a bear is to respect their power and keep your distance. You should never leave garbage or food out on your property in the wilderness. If you are using a barbecue, you should burn off any fat or residue before you shut down. If a bear has been spotted nearby, make sure to take your time when you are heading out. Check for signs of an animal looking for food.

Don’t think that lying down or playing dead is going to deter a bear either. Always create a lot of noise when you are in an isolated wilderness area to make sure that a bear knows you are around. The clanging of pots and pans seems to work quite well. If you do happen to round a corner and spot a bear, try raising your arms and making yourself bigger and back away slowly. Don’t turn and run.

Thankfully, with a warm end of July and a hot early August, the blueberries ended up reviving quite well. In my area, this has meant fewer bear sightings as they are feeding off a second and third growth of berries. I hope that they all fatten up and have a wonderful hibernation. Perhaps next summer will be a better year for blueberries.