The barn workroom was in shambles. We had flown in to Campbell’s Ferry only hours earlier. When Doug unlocked the barn door he was greeted with devastation. His neatly organized shelves and tool racks were a disaster. The jars holding nails and screws organized by size and type were broken and their contents strewn across the floor. The area for garden storage was ripped apart. Sacks of fertilizer and garden soil were torn open and partially devoured. The spray containers, empty planting pots, and garden tools were torn off the shelves, scattered and showed teeth marks. Only a very few things throughout the barn were in their assigned spaces. Walking gingerly through the wreckage, Doug found his way to the back of the workroom. The huge, stout locked storage bin, which we had always thought to be invincible, had a gaping rip through its heavy boards. An empty torn 31 pound bag of dog food lay on the floor next to a large ravaged bag of dry cat food and a 15 pound bag of chicken scratch. The evidence was clear…BEAR. Searching the space, Doug could not figure out how the bear managed to get inside. The outside door was locked, all the walls and floors were intact. Although there is an opening at the top of a ten foot high wall, there were no claw or scratch marks to show that the bear had scrambled over the side. It appeared we had a Houdini-like bear who could suddenly materialize inside the barn and then disappear without a trace. In the midst of trying to get our water supply going, Doug had to stop to repair the damaged feed bin to safeguard the remaining pet food inside. He quickly repaired the hole with the existing boards and went off to deal with the water system.
The next morning Houdini had struck again. The repaired bin was torn apart and more bags of food were torn open, eaten and scattered on the floor. Although he still had the water system to work on, Doug took the time to put up thick new boards and secured the lid of the storage bin with 3 inch screws. There was no time to clean anything up so the thick layer of dog/cat/chicken food remained on the floor. Now Doug was really getting annoyed. He went on-line to buy a bear tag. We knew that the bear was returning to the scene of the crime around nightfall so, after dinner, Doug set up a stake out at the barn and waited…and waited. About 8:45 PM he returned to the cabin without seeing the bear. No more than 20 minutes later I was standing at the sink doing dishes when I could just make out a bear-shape coming out of the woods. Doug took his gun and quietly moved toward the barn. He saw the bear slipping behind the barn wall and followed. Just then the bear stuck his head around the corner, spotted Doug and took off for the woods. Doug fired after the bear but it is hard to hit a black bear running through the woods at twilight. In any case, we figured the bear would be scared enough to think twice about returning.
We figured wrong. If he thought twice he must have thought it was worth another try. The next morning…deja vu all over again…the new repair job was in splinters. We were now moving past the “annoyed” stage. Doug repaired the bin again, set some old traps that had been hanging on the barn wall since the 1940s and buried the the traps in the food mess the bear had left on the floor. They weren’t really large enough to capture a bear but they might make an impression if they clamped shut on a bear nose or paw. A game camera was positioned in the barn. Motion-activated, it would capture a mug shot of the perpetrator. That night Doug set up an unsuccessful watch in the barn for several hours. We went to bed hopeful that we might be awakened by a surprised howling if Houdini stumbled onto a trap. Unfortunately, our sleep was uninterrupted.
But, in the morning it was just like “Groundhog Day”, the bin was torn open but Houdini had managed to avoid the traps while setting them off. No spare bear parts were in evidence and not a drop of blood. Doug brought the game camera back to the cabin and there were the photos…a profile of Houdini inspecting Doug’s repair work with what must have been, by now, an air of contempt and a full frontal inadvertent selfie. We had evidence! That bear could never get away with proclaiming innocence. That night Doug set up another stake out. It was close to dark when I heard a single shot ring out through the stillness. Doug returned to report that Houdini was last seen fleeing over a ridge headed to the next county with the not so pleasant sting of #6 birdshot from a 20 gauge shotgun to remind him that the Ferry was not the best of lunch stops.
For now at least Houdini has done a disappearing act. The storage bin has been intact and undisturbed for over a week.
We never have figured out how he was getting in and out of the barn.