Nuisance Bear Shot With Pellets in Garrison

Bird feeders provided tempting food source

By Michael Turton

“It was big — more than 300 pounds.” That’s how Nick Berger described the black bear that came face-to-face with him on the evening of Monday, Dec. 8, just outside his home on Old West Point Road in Garrison. The area is heavily wooded.

The bear had taken a liking to the bird feeders located near the Bergers’ home, destroying the feeders in the process of getting at the food they contained. Its appearance at around 9:30 that evening was the third time the animal had approached the Berger home — however this encounter would prove to be the most dramatic by far.

After the bear’s earlier visits, Berger had tried to discourage it from returning by placing a board with protruding, 2-inch spikes directly below one of the bird feeders — hoping that the sharp nails would convince the bear to leave the feeder alone. But the bear was unfazed. “It didn’t bother him. He stood right on the spikes,” Berger said.

Things only got worse. The bear not only came very close to the house — it was leaning against one of the windows.

Warning shot not enough

“I figured I’d yell at it,” Berger said, and at first that strategy seemed to work. Stepping outside, Berger hollered at the bear. It backed off by “about 7 or 8 feet.” But then it stopped. Armed with a shotgun, Berger decided to shoot a round into the air, thinking that the loud noise would startle the animal, hastening its exit.

Berger fired the shotgun into the air. The bear’s reaction had to have come as shock. “The darn thing charged me. It ran straight at me,” Berger recalled.

After its initial retreat, the bear had stood about 15 feet from Berger. Now it was coming at him — and very quickly closing that gap. It was an adrenaline rush “to say the least,” Berger said. “I was completely surprised. I didn’t have time to think twice.” He aimed and shot. “By the time I shot, the bear was only 6 feet away,” he said. The shot stung the bear. It ran into the woods and has not returned since.

Berger called the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department and a deputy was quickly dispatched to the house, though by then the crisis had ended.

Birdshot spared the bear

“I have no interest in shooting anything. I support hunting but I’m not a hunter,” Berger said. “I didn’t want to kill him.” To that end, he had purchased birdshot, shotgun shells filled with lightweight pellets and commonly used for hunting small game such as rabbits and pheasants but not powerful enough to kill a bear. Since the incident, Berger has also purchased rubber bullets in case the bear decides to return.

Berger said he had purchased a shotgun because, “If you live in the woods, you have to have something.” On three occasions he used the weapon to shoot rabid raccoons, one of which had actually chased him.

A much darker incident had also contributed to Berger’s decision to arm himself. “After the John Marcinak killing I figured I needed [a gun],” he said. Marcinak, owner of the Garrison Garage, was murdered outside his Route 9 business on New Year’s Eve, 2008.

Numbers may be increasing

In an email to The Paper, John Stowell, program coordinator at the Taconic Outdoor Education Center (TOEC), said that birdseed is a favorite food source for black bears, a species that he said is “skilled at manipulating feeders.” He advised homeowners that if problem bears are in an area prior to and after winter, their heavy sleep period, birdseed, dog food, household garbage and other food sources should be secured and removed from the exterior of homes.

A black bear checks out a dumpster. (Photo courtesy if Taconic Outdoor Education Center)

A black bear checks out a dumpster.
(Photo courtesy if Taconic Outdoor Education Center)

According to Stowell, bears in western Putnam County are transient while parts of the county may have a resident population. “This pattern may soon change as black bear populations are increasing and ranges are expanding in southeast New York.”

He said that TOEC staff and other reliable sources have reported several sightings over the past two years. “Most sightings are in the late spring … when second-year bears are encouraged to leave the family structure and seek their own way — often wandering through residential areas.” As a result, he suggested that homeowners remove all bird feeders from around the home by April 1.

Stowell also had some advice for hikers or local residents who might encounter a black bear. “Do not run. Stand tall, hold your ground and make as much noise as possible,” he said.

The American black bear is found throughout most of North America including Alaska, much of Canada and the mainland U.S., and as far south as northern Mexico. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, there are 6,000 to 8,000 black bears in the state. Adult males average 300 pounds while females weigh in at about 170 pounds.

8 thoughts on “Nuisance Bear Shot With Pellets in Garrison

  1. This is awful. Take your bird feeders in at night, secure your garbage and stop enticing this bear. Boards with nails through them? This sounds like the man in Montana placing a purse in his garage and waiting for an intruder to shoot. I’m appalled.

  2. I agree with Nick. What a cruel and uncalled for act. Spikes and a shotgun blast! Put your birdfeeders away and the bear will move on. If you are truly concerned for your safety, stay inside and call the sheriff or DEC. Now we may have a wounded and enraged bear wandering around. Does that help the rest of the residents in the area? Furthermore, I question the legality of these acts. Discharging a weapon in a residential area? Non-compliance with the NY state bear-hunting regulations?

    • Legality? You have the right to defend yourself against a bear. If you think any jury/judge would define these crazy set of circumstances as bear hunting, you’re crazy. Also, “residential area”? Have you ever been to Garrison? Did you read the article when it said the area was “heavily wooded”? Did the guy make all the right calls? Of course not. But that’s part of life and in the end he solved the issue. You think the sheriff would of been better equipped to deal with the bear?

  3. This forum is ideal to spread the word where bears are seen so that all feeders are removed.

    Sharp nails placed exactly where the bear will stand is against New York State law § 353. Overdriving, torturing and injuring animals and “unjustifiably injures…or unjustifiably injured,” and § 353-a. Aggravated cruelty to animals.

  4. I don’t understand the gentleman’s quote of “when you live in the woods, you have to have something” (meaning a shotgun to defend yourself with). If he was talking about the Alaska bush country where there are grizzly bears, then maybe. But this is Putnam County and the most dangerous critter around these parts are ticks! I’ve lived on a dead-end dirt road in 13,000-acre Fahnestock Park for several years, and the idea that I needed a shotgun to defend myself is absolutely preposterous. From mosquitoes? I fear our gun-toting Garrison resident’s perception of the woods is slightly amiss, and smacks of a lack of knowledge of ecology and wildlife, and common sense.

    • There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting a firearm for protection, especially if you live in an isolated place. Animals are not the only reason one would chose to arm themselves. Police don’t stop crime, they show up after they’re over.

  5. Philipstown.info, thank you for this article — it is valuable consciousness-raising for your readers! John Stowell of Taconic Outdoor Education Center gives good counsel. Additional guidance in dealing with bears can be found at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation site. At this site there is a Black Bear Response Manual which provides sounds advice for us all. The DEC also offers relatively humane bear relocation when indicated.

  6. One of the scariest experiences I had while hiking happened several years ago when I was searching for some naughty escaped goats on the adjoining 3,000 acres of the Lake Valhalla Highlands. I was attacked by two large German Shepherds who were out “wilding,” sans owner. They had me cornered with my back up against a tree, snarling and growling and very menacing. I have worked with many dangerous dogs in my NYC career as a veterinarian in some tough neighborhoods, and these dogs were ready to tear me apart! I stared at the ground while softly singing lullabies, and they backed down. But since then, I don’t venture into that territory without adequate protection. I have also been accosted (on my farm) by both rattlesnakes and the more deadly copperheads.

    In my birth state of Kansas, the sheriff has pointedly advised us to be prepared to protect ourselves from crime by keeping a gun in the home. He said that it would not be possible to answer a 911 call in time to save a homeowner from “bad guys.” Every farmstead out there had a long gun in a respected place in the house, as a necessity. And we were taught proper respect for these necessities. However, that was before violent video games and TV programs made Americans “stupid” regarding the use of lethal weapons.

    There are a few programs that I think should be brought back to the high school curriculum, for instance, gun safety and home economics (the latter so our kids learn how to cook real food!).