SideLines: What to do if you meet a bear

It may have been the biggest manhunt – or in this case, bear hunt – in DeKalb County in years.

Last week, a black bear was spotted south of Genoa heading east. Local authorities had tracked his progression from Stephenson County through here. No one seems to know where the poor fellow came from or where he was headed. Perhaps he was taking a little summer vacation to visit relatives at Brookfield Zoo or maybe the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

Or maybe not.

Most likely, he got lost or came here because he was looking for food. But who really knows?

There hasn’t been this much excitement over a bear sighting in DeKalb County since Shawn Gayle herded a group of his former Chicago Bears teammates, all members of their 1985 Super Bowl team, to DeKalb High School two summers ago. Besides conducting a blood drive for Life Source, Gayle and Bear buddies Otis Wilson, Steve Fuller, Dennis Gentry, Tim Wrightman and Tyronne Keys conducted what they called a “Gridiron Glory” football camp for area youth. (Perhaps some of what they taught rubbed off on the Sycamore football team as they soared to their best finish ever last fall.)

The excitement is so much that at any moment, I keep expecting to see T-shirts popping up at Wal-Mart, proclaiming they spotted Blackie. (If we’re going to talk about him, it’s only fair he has a name. I can’t call him Smokey because that’s my cat’s name; plus, that is rather obvious anyway.)

As I sat in the newsroom last week listening to sporadic reports coming in over the police scanner, I was hoping we’d get a hot phone tip or two about Blackie’s exact whereabouts. Being a hardy news person, I was more than a little tempted to take a drive over there for a look myself. Of course, the big question was: what would I do if I should run into him?

Like Elvis or Bigfoot, in order to prove that I actually saw him, I’d have to get his picture. The problem with that was I didn’t have my telephoto lens with me. All I had was my little 35 mm, which meant I’d have to get up real close, like within a few feet, to get a really good picture.

If I did, what would I say to him? I certainly couldn’t say “cheese,” the way you do with people to get them to smile and relax. If I were to say cheese, the bear might think of Wisconsin. (Who of us wouldn’t?) If he thought of Wisconsin, his thoughts might then drift to Green Bay. If he thought of Green Bay, being a true, blue bear, he would naturally think of the Packers.

That, I’m afraid, might just rile him up. (Especially if he remembered how the Packers beat the Bears on that last second Hail Mary pass in the last game of last season to beat them out of the playoffs.)

And then who knows what could happen?

I wondered where the big fellow planned to spend the night. Someone suggested he might camp out at Russell Woods Forest Preserve, while someone else suggested the old Boy Scout Camp in Kirkland. Personally, I thought Jonamac Apple Orchard might be more appropriate.

I know horses like apples. Do bears? I don’t know.

I also don’t know why there aren’t more bears in this area. If you think about it, this seems like a pretty good place to raise your cubs. There are plenty of parks and recreational activities, great muskie fishing at Shabbona Lake, and, so long as you don’t mess with them or their garbage, most of the people are very friendly.

Best of all, there’s no official bear hunting season around here that I know of.

I do have a tip for Blackie. If you plan to head back east, you’d better be careful. Trust me, once you hit Randall Road, that traffic can be unbearable.

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