Hungry Bear at War Eagle

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service
Payette National Forest Heritage Program
By Steve Stoddard as told by Mark Schreiter
September 2000

Mark Schreiter is a 22 year veteran at the War Eagle Lookout, an R-6 style 1961 flattop on the McCall Ranger District of the Payette National Forest in the mountains of central Idaho The 64,000 acre Burgdorf Junction Fire has just been declared contained, and he thought the summer's excitement was over. He was wrong. At about 2 o'clock in the afternoon of Tuesday, September 12, 2000, he was on duty in the tower when his two dogs suddenly got excited and began barking wildly. The night before, his empty garbage can had been tipped over, probably by a fox, he thought. He went to the door and was surprised to see a large, mature male bear with a white V-shaped patch on its chest coming up the steps in an aggressive way, implacable and shaking its head. "It just kept a-coming and a-coming," he said. Mark's hobby is archery, and his lookout is festooned with the traditional bows and arrows that he makes and uses, but the bear was at the top of the stairs, with only a fragile 3-foot high wooded gate between Mark and the bear. "It all happened so quickly, I didn't even think about the bows until later," he said. "I just grabbed the 8mm (rifle) and shot him from 9 feet away. He crashed through the chain link railing and fell off the lookout. Later, I found that he weighed 350 pounds."

A number of theories have been advanced as to why the bear chose to climb the lookout. The most likely is that with the season's large fires, most of the huckleberry patches and other food sources in the area have been depleted, and bears have been driven into some of the nearby populated areas by hunger. Eight have been sighted in the city limits of McCall, Idaho in recent weeks. "I felt bad afterwards," said Mark, "but he was not going to stop"