Published May 19. 2012 4:00AM
"Born on a mountain top in Tennessee,
Greenest state in the land of the free.
Raised in the woods so's he knew every tree,
Killed him a bear when he was only three."
Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, as those of us who wasted countless hours as kids watching TV know, was pretty quick on the draw, and when a charging grizzly bear came within a heartbeat of pouncing on me while my wife, Lisa, and I were camping outside Alaska's Denali National Park a number of years ago, I'm pretty sure that like Davy I would have tried to shoot it – had I been armed and known how to fire a weapon.
Since I was carrying only tent poles and have never pulled the trigger on anything more lethal than a water pistol my defense options were rather limited when Lisa screamed a warning, and I barely managed to save my skin by sprinting like hell for the car about 50 yards away.
Luckily I had a good lead and managed to slam the door just as the giant predator swiped with razor-sharp claws that missed my ear by about a quarter of an inch.
The bear gnashed its teeth and slammed against the window – fortunately it didn't wander to the rear of the car and discover the open hatch – before finally meandering away and swimming across the nearby Nenana River.
We dutifully reported the attack to a park ranger, and a few days later, while climbing Igloo Mountain, we saw a helicopter carrying a bear in a net. I checked afterward, and sure enough it was the one that not only came after me but also knocked down and slashed a woman earlier. Rangers had shot it with a tranquilizer gun and were flying it far north to the isolated Brooks Range.
I thought about that encounter the other day after reading about a Burlington, Conn. man accused of shooting and killing a 460-pound black bear he said had been wandering in his garage and backyard.
Police charged Cory Maitz, 42, with illegally killing a black bear and criminal possession of a pistol.
It turns out Connecticut's statute on killing bears is fairly similar to Florida's stand-your-ground law: You can fire only if you feel threatened. It remains to be seen if Maitz will try the George Zimmerman legal defense, and I'll admit to knowing nothing about the case other than what I've read in the newspaper – but I find it hard to justify shooting a hapless black bear.
I've seen black bears several times in Maine, and for the most part they're about as dangerous as a chipmunk unless you do something really stupid like try to feed one or get a close-up photograph of a cub. I've felt way more threatened by a bull moose, such as the one that blocked our path, bellowed and stomped while friends and I were climbing Mt. Katahdin one fall morning.
Anyway, I'm pleased Connecticut takes a more civil approach to bears than Maine, which not only has a hunting season but is one of only 11 states that still permits the unbelievably unsportsmanlike practice of bear-baiting.
While in a coffee shop one morning in the tiny village of Oquossoc I overheard a conversation between two guys in flannel shirts and Elmer Fudd hats.
"I use jelly doughnuts. I stop by the bakery every night and buy all the stale ones."
"Bacon grease works best for me. Just pour it over some bread and you're guaranteed to get a bear."
I kept my mouth shut. Just as it's never a good policy to whack a hornet's nest with a stick, it's not advisable to debate animal welfare with anyone carrying a hunting rifle.
Anyway, here in Connecticut there have been relatively few bear killings, but those incidents always seem to make the news.
Back in January police arrested an 82-year-old Windsor man on charges that he shot and killed a black bear that had climbed a tree and apparently damaged a bird feeder on his property.
Get this – he wasn't the oldest person accused of such a crime. Four years earlier
police charged a Simsbury man with unlawful bear hunting and unlawful destruction of a black bear. That man was 83. What is it with these old guys and bears?
I hope I never get up close and personal with another grizzly – though I may be tempting fate when I visit Yellowstone later this summer.
I can assure you I won't be packing heat – but I also won't be packing jelly doughnuts or bacon grease.