I only know three ways people ever get eaten by bears. There could be others, but I haven’t run across them. First, people do something really stupid. That’s pretty common. Like the fool who thinks a bear would make a great prop for a selfie. Or the moron who tries to put a Smokey hat on a bear because that would make a great photo. Or, stretching it a little, that couple in Alaska a few years ago who thought grizzlies were big, friendly neighbors who’d be fun to camp out with. They even made a film about it. In the end, they found out how wrong they were. You probably heard about that, but I’ll bet you didn’t watch the film. People do things like that, I don’t have any sympathy for them. And what bothers me is, when someone gets eaten, everyone gets mad at the bear.
The second way people get eaten by bears is they just get scared. Bears are like any animals, they can smell fear. Bears are really good at it, though. Whining, screaming, pissing your pants, anything like that, they’ll pick right up on it. And as a general rule, never run away from an animal. It sets them off. Next thing, they’re chasing you, no idea why or what they’ll do when they catch up. And bears will catch up. You’d be surprised. They’re pretty fast. And then they’ll tear you apart and eat the soft parts. A lot of people get eaten that way, and it’s a shame. They’re just having a nice hike in the forest, not worried at all, but they just don’t have the guts for a real wilderness encounter. I feel bad for people that happens to. They don’t deserve it. And it’s not the bear’s fault, either. He’s just a bear. There’s not much he can do about that.
The third way someone can get eaten by a bear is if someone slams them in the head with a baseball bat, throws them in the back of a pickup truck and hauls them off to bear country for a little home delivery. That doesn’t happen that much, but it does happen, so you have to consider it. I’ve seen it happen. Just once, but still. And, of course, the bear catches hell for it.
When they wheeled Jimmy Cooks into my back room on a gurney, I knew it was going to be a bad one. Not because of the way he looked. There was a sheet over him, bled through, but at least he was covered. The main tip-off was the two sheriff’s deputies who brought him in taking turns running for the men’s room to retch their guts up into the toilet. They weren’t exactly wusses, but this was a little too much for them. They couldn’t even hold it together long enough to tell me what I was going to find under the sheet or give me a clue about how it got that way. But I had a pretty good idea.
I expected the worst, and I pretty much got it. Being a rural GP out here in west Texas as well as county medical examiner, I’ve seen most everything, but I’ll admit I hadn’t seen this before. It was pretty much a collection of body parts thrown together in a rough approximation of where they would go on a real human body. You could tell the deputies had rushed to get it done. The head was at one end, so I knew that was supposed to be the top. The left and right arms were switched, there was no left thigh, and there were chunks of the torso just piled up. There were clumps of dirt and a small branch thrown in, like the deputies had been doing some of it with their eyes closed. I couldn’t blame them. I wanted to close my own eyes, but somehow I couldn’t.
The worst thing was the after-shave. The body was doused in it. The sickening sweet smell took over the room in seconds. I swear, as God is my witness, I will never use after-shave again. And I’m pretty sure those deputies never will, either.
The head was mostly intact, just some lacerations and an eye torn out, so I knew right away it was Jimmy Cooks. He was sort of a local legend. Cooks wasn’t his real name, it was more like his calling in life, if you get what I mean. Sort of Walter White with a third-grade education. Between blowing up house trailers, pissing off most of the craziest people in the county and doing enough meth to fry every organ in a normal human body, it was a mystery how he’d lived this long. I wasn’t surprised he was dead, but I wouldn’t have thought he’d reach the end at the claws of a hungry bear. He wasn’t exactly an outdoorsman.
And, of course, it wasn’t the bear that got him.