Dangerous Territory

“Keep your bear spray in your hands!” This warning from the biologist was meant to protect us as we meander through the wetlands inhabited by many moose on the National Elk Refuge. As we advise visitors, moose are the most dangerous animals in the area.

With this in mind, we always pluck the bear spray canisters from their holsters when we arrive to monitor swans and perform other biological duties in this habitat. We have seen many moose in the wetlands, but we’ve never felt threatened by them.

Holding Bear Spray

We pull our bear spray whenever we encounter wildlife that could present a problem, but the only time we’ve ever deployed it was on a neighborhood dog who attacked us from across a street. The spray deterrent did its job, and the dog switched directions and scampered home.

But taking precautions is a good idea, and that’s what the protection is for. Actually, we’ve never felt threatened by bears, elk, wolves, or any other wildlife.

Until one day not long ago.

Scary Encounter

After tromping through waist-high grasses, tripping over downed timber, and sloshing through shallow waters, all the while holding bear spray in hands, we worked our way along a deer trail leading back to the Refuge vehicle. Suddenly a rustling behind us caused the hair on the backs of our necks to prickle. In all the treks we’d made through this area, we’d never before heard anything like this agitated swishing sound. We tightened our grips on the bear spray canisters and, hearts thumping wildly, we slowly turned around.

As the racket intensified close behind us, we lowered our gaze to the ground where a sage grouse swished her wings through vegetation in a frantic struggle to alarm us into fleeing.

“She’s protecting a nest,” Chuck said, as we breathed a sigh of relief. When the grouse realized we were “on” to her, she switched to pretending that she suffered an injured wing, struggling and limping, attempting to lead us away from her offspring.

Safe at Last

Feeling a bit foolish after being threatened and frightened by an animal we could hold in our palms, we left her to protect her home and returned to the sanctity of the waiting Suburban, safe at last.

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