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'Armed bear' report certainly unusual for responding officers in northern Minnesota

A DNR conservation officer said they were able to find the pack, including the undamaged firearm, in about 45 minutes.

Severe drought in May and June caused a poor wild berry crop across much of Northeastern Minnesota last summer, sending bears searching for other food sources. Wildlife experts say to simply lock up any potential bear food - like garbage, pet food, grills and bird seed - and the bruins will move on. (Clint Austin / 2015 file / News Tribune)
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GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — In parts of Minnesota, adventurers are advised to protect their food against bears. On Sunday, July 11, a bear took off with a camper’s unattended backpack filled with some snacks at a portage landing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

When U.S. Forest Service law enforcement official Edward Belmore took the report, he learned there was much more to the camper’s plea.

The camper’s handgun was also in the backpack and a bear — in an odd turn of events — was suddenly “armed.”

Belmore summoned Mary Manning, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer for northern Cook County, to help him track down the missing backpack.

“We were a little surprised someone would leave a pack with a gun inside,” Manning said. “He was probably thinking it was a fairly short portage so they thought it'd be safe.”


In the winter months, Manning patrols her area with her sled dog team (perhaps the only conservation officer in the U.S. to do so) and competed in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon this past winter.

This time, the travel involved some paddling. The officers portaged to the location near Clearwater Lake northeast of the Gunflint Trail to help FIND the missing bag.

“It was probably best with a bit of daylight left to try to recover the pack,” Manning said. “It’s a lesson learned. We felt that with a firearm in it, we should find the pack.”

Manning said they found the backpack, including the firearm, in about 45 minutes.

The bear had its way with the backpack, however, partially shredding it with numerous empty snack wrappers left lying around. The firearm was undamaged.

“Had it just been his day pack with fishing gear, we’d probably just take a report,” Manning said. “It was an unusual occurrence.”

Tips on dealing with bears in the woods

  • Pay attention to certain times or locations where you're more likely to encounter bears. Bears often use the same areas that we do.

  • Watch for bears especially at dawn or dusk, as bears typically feed in the morning and evening.

  • Look ahead on trails and keep an eye open for signs of bear activity, such as scat (feces) or tracks and feeding sites. Keep the headphones at home and enjoy the sounds of nature.

  • In areas of dense vegetation or rushing water, periodically clap or give a quick shout to alert nearby bears to your presence.

  • Note that bears use berry patches in late summer (July and August). Pick berries with another person and have a conversation with them, or, if you are alone, play music on your phone's speakers. These sounds can alert the bear to your presence and reduce the chance that you will surprise the bear.

  • Keep your dogs leashed while recreating. Your domestic dog is no match for a bear. Dogs can trigger a defensive response from bears and cause them to chase dogs back to their owners. If you encounter a bear while with your dog, back away and leave the area. Do not try to separate your dog from an entanglement with a bear.

  • If you live or recreate in an area with frequent bear activity, carry bear spray and learn how to use it properly. It is effective.

  • If you encounter a bear, back away slowly and give the bear an escape route. Most often, it will flee before you have much time to react.

  • In the unlikely event that a bear makes contact with you, fight back.

  • Do not play dead.

  • Do not run from a black bear. Running may prompt the bear to chase and no human can outrun a bear.

Source: Minnesota DNR

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