VENESKY: Unpredictable wild animals shouldn't be feared, but should always be respected

(Wilkes-Barre) Times-Leader (TNS)

Sometimes I wonder.

When I’m walking deep in the woods during the pre-dawn darkness to my deer stand, or busting through a impenetrable swamp to reach a bass pond, is there danger nearby?

Like all wild animals, Pennsylvania black bears can be unpredictable, and sometimes dangerous. FILE PHOTO

After all, the woods are full of wild creatures, and while they typically fear us more than we fear them, they are still unpredictable.

Fortunately, I never had any close calls with a bear, coyote or anything else. I’ve had plenty of close encounters, but nothing I perceived as a threat.

One day while hunting turkeys in the fall, I sat on a log to listen to the woods and found myself in the path of a large coyote.

The big canine just happened to be heading my way, and he trotted up within a few yards before noticing me. He stopped, we exchanged stares for a second and then the coyote sped off.

And bears … there have been plenty of instances when bruins unknowingly — at least I think so — walked right past me as I stood still. On those occasions, the bear was already so close that I felt if I shouted or moved to make my presence known it would’ve startled the creature.

It’s better to let them walk on by.

Still, wild animals are unpredictable. Just because one close encounter didn’t turn tragic doesn’t mean the next one won’t.

Lycoming County incident: Last week in Lycoming County a woman had a close encounter with a bear, and, unfortunately, in this instance the bruin didn’t just walk on by.

According to news reports, the woman was outside with her dog when a bear with cubs turned up. The Pennsylvania Game Commission reported the woman was attacked by the bear — I assume the adult female — as she attempted to retrieve her dog, which had run toward the bears.

The bear reportedly grabbed the woman by the leg and dragged her more than 80 yards, leaving her with serious injuries.

The Game Commission is still investigating the incident and is trying to locate the bear. The agency set two live traps in the area on Thursday and, on Friday, employed a team of tracking dogs in attempt to follow the bear’s trail.

It’s a tragic incident and one that is extremely rare.

Two key questions: And there are two important questions to be answered.

What attracted the bear and cubs to the area in the first place?

What triggered the attack?

My guesses are a food source of some sort attracted the bears, and the dog that ran toward them triggered the attack.

Scary incident: In the summer I wrote a column about Slocum Township resident Norb Dotzel, who also had a scary encounter with a bear and cubs. Dotzel was walking down his driveway with his two small dogs when three cubs bolted across, just 30 yards away. Dotzel’s dogs instinctively ran toward the cubs when out stepped another bear — the adult female. As Dotzel tried to call his dogs back, the adult bear swatted one and held it down on the ground with its front foot.

Dotzel yelled at the bear hoping it would release his dog, and then something happened that is very similar to the incident that occurred in Lycoming County.

The bear began walking toward Dotzel.

“I don’t get scared easily, but I was scared right then,” Dotzel said at the time. “The bear didn’t charge me, but it wouldn’t stop walking toward me. I didn’t have anything to defend myself.”

With no other option, Dotzel turned and ran while the second dog distracted the bear. Dotzel escaped unscathed, but the dog that the bear had stepped on was dead.

Wild animals unpredictable: If the PGC captures the bear that was involved in the Lycoming County attack, it will be euthanized and evaluated at Penn State’s animal diagnostics laboratory.

Who knows what will be found, but I’m guessing the real reason behind the attack won’t turn up in any lab test.

Wild animals are simply unpredictable.

They shouldn’t be feared, but should always be respected.