It was 3:30 in the morning. The acrid smell of gunpowder lingered in the air, mixed with the sweet, sickening smell of bear blood that oozed down the driveway of the home. The blood looked black illuminated in the glow of the porch light and the wavering beams of our flashlights. The bear was black too — big, black, and now, lifeless.
I wish that it hadn't ended up this way; the bear's final agonized writhing in the driveway, the smoking shotgun, my hands shaking from the rush of adrenaline and emotion. Unfortunately, neither of us had much say in the matter. This tragic end had been decided long ago.
This is part of my job as a district wildlife manager, a part that I despise. Dozens of wildlife officers must perform this same awful duty every year throughout Colorado. Some bears, no doubt, must be killed. But many of these incidents can be avoided if people used some common sense.
I knew this end would come, long before he did. I met him three years ago, when he was just a cub. He was trapped in a dumpster that his mother led him into to eat. I lifted him out with a snare pole and let him go — he was freed from the confines of the dumpster, but he couldn't escape his fate — the end of his story was already being written.
Our paths crossed several times over the next couple of years. He'd pull down bird feeders and I'd give out "Living with Bears" brochures to the homeowners. A month later I'd see the birdfeeders hung out again, right against the picture window. The homeowners would report the bears "aggressive behavior," how it stood and looked in their window — how it wasn't frightened of people, even as they stood just on the other side of the pane and took pictures of it.
I knew what the bear must have thought, too. Four hours picking berries one by one, versus four minutes munching down birdseed for the same caloric gain. The goofy looking humans on the other side of the glass had never bothered him, never told him he was trespassing, never tried to stop him, never tried to help him by permanently taking down the birdfeeders. Plainly, that meant the birdseed was his. This side of the window became his turf, not theirs.
Later we hashed it out over trashcans and dumpsters. He was a good-sized bear by now, handsome and black as the night. In the dark, he was a mere shadow, or more so, a complete absence of light. He was big enough to upend a dumpster if he felt like it, but more often than not he just took advantage of the myriad of trash cans left casually, thoughtlessly, out on the street. The complaints would come, and the garbage can owners would all cite the same solution — get rid of the bear.