A British Columbia family experienced an absolutely terrifying ordeal as two grizzlies showed zero fear and laid siege to their home.
“We were surrounded by two grizzlies and they were potentially going to get into the house.”
Cowan, his children and girlfriend were on their property outside of the small community of Atlin in the northwestern part of the province, when the two bears appeared.
“My girlfriend looked out the window and up the driveway, and there’s these two silver-backed grizzlies coming down the driveway,” recalled Cowan.
“As soon as I started yelling at the dog to come in the house, the bears took a look at me and did a full-on charge right at the house and at me, both side by side,” he said. “Scared the crap out of me.”
Cowan is an experienced outdoorsman who has been around bears before, but even he was shaken by the bears’ aggressive behavior.
“I’ve been around bears most of my life, and I mean, I was absolutely terrified,” he said. “I got the door shut about five feet from them actually getting into the house, behind me.”
The bears not only appeared to be unconcerned with the humans or barking dogs, they seemed intent on attacking.
Cowan’s teenaged daughter was in a separate cabin next to the main house but her dog was outside. Cowan said he yelled at her through the window to let the dog in, but when she opened the door of the cabin the grizzlies “bolted” toward her as well.
“She basically slammed the door and almost… They were about three feet from getting in,” he said. “They were really, really close.”
“Literally there’s only a two inch steel door with a window in it, and I’m on one side. And two full-size grizzlies are on the other side of it, like one foot away from me,” he recounted. “With their weight, they could have just pushed it in and I could not have stopped them.”
Cowan telephoned his father who lives nearby and told him of the siege they were under. He had also left his own guns at his father’s house and he asked the elder Cowan to please come to their aid with a gun.
Cowan senior quickly arrived, honking his horn to try to frighten the bears, but they appeared unfazed. The bears moved toward Cowan’s father and didn’t stop, even when he loosed a rifle round into a wood pile to try to scare them off.
“He didn’t really want to shoot them. He’s one of these guys that really loves bears and grizzlies and whatnot, and respects the wildlife. So he just sat there with his rifle, yelling at them, honking the horn,” Cowan said.
“They started coming at him. And they were not stopping. So he ended up firing a shot right at the one bear and shot it right in the chest, killing it pretty much instantly.”
Cowan told CBC News that the other bear looked at his father, sniffed at its dead partner, ate some dandelions, then “slowly meandered off into the trees.”
Conservation officers arrived, having been called by Cowen’s girlfriend. They took a statement and examined the scene before heading into the woods to make sure that the other bear was gone and was no longer an immediate threat. They couldn’t find it.
Cowan took the opportunity to quickly drive to his father’s house to retrieve his own guns. When he returned around 20 minutes later everyone was still agitated but relieved that the ordeal seemed to be over. That’s when it all started again.
“My kids all of a sudden started screaming at me that this other bear had come back,” he said. “And it walked right up beside the house again.”
This time Cowan was ready and determined. He stepped out the door, rifle in hand. “As soon as it saw me, it started taking an interest again and coming towards me, so I fired a shot and hit it square right in the chest,” he recalled.
The bear felt the sting of the bullet, turned and began to run, and dropped.
Conservation officer Jeff Piwek concluded that the Cowans were justified in dispatching the bears. “The bears were exhibiting some behaviors that show they were habituated, not fearful of people, and potentially aggressive,” said Piwek.
“They came at me from the start, with a barking dog. Just made no sense,” Cowan said. “The aggressiveness that one would exhibit, the other would feed off of. And they were just looking for trouble. They had no intention of just moseying out of there.”
The fearless and aggressive behavior of the bears led officials to believe that the two grizzlies, which they also assumed were siblings, had somehow become habituated to humans. Both bears weighed around 350 pounds.
Cowan asked the officers to donate the carcasses to the Taku River Tlingit First Nation.
“Hopefully they’ll be honored by the people that utilize them,” he said.
The experience has affected Cowan. “I felt completely out of control. I had no means to protect the people that were there. Even being barricaded in the house was not protection, because they could have come in,” he said. “We do live in the wilderness and this is the reality of what can take place. And even with all these years of living up here, I was never prepared for the panic and the fear that set in.”
While both father and son did what needed to be done, and were shaken from the ordeal, they remain regretful that the bears had to be dispatched.
Cowan reflected thoughtfully, “I hope people can understand that this was not an intentional killing, or wanting to kill them or anything.”
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