Few people have a fight with a grizzly and live to tell about it.
Keith Rande, a former Conservation Officer, not only survived his battle with a bear but is sharing the tale in his self-published first book, Boot Polish, Bears and Bush Sense: Adventures of a British Columbia Conservation Officer.
Rande had been tracking the female grizzly, who had been relocated from Kitimat with two cubs, near Bella Coola in 1987 after it started killing livestock in the area. One of the cubs had also been shot and wounded.
“She just got the jump on me, knocked me down, and worked me over before the guys with me shot her while she was right on top of me,” said Rande, who spent a week in hospital after the incident. “It was a sad ending for that bear and we pieced the story together after the fact. It’s just typical with what happens with problem bears when they come into contact with humans.”
The story is one of several compelling short tales – some of them funny, others sad – that Rande collected during his time as a B.C. Conservation Officer from 1983 to 2014. He decided to pull the tales together in a book in 2020, reaching out to old friends and colleagues, who reminded him of more stories to include.
“You just think of interesting and bizarre things that happened, funny and sad. I made notes of those and in the winter of 2019 instead of watching TV, I just got on my computer,” Rande said. “You just relive it and it’s amazing how your mind can store stuff that you’ve forgotten about but when you get into it again it starts filtering back.”
Most of his stories revolve around encounters with animals that Rande interacted with as part of his job in Kamloops, Meritt, Bella Coola, Squamish, Dawson Creek and Fort St. John.
One of his favourites involves a moose calf that mysteriously escaped from the back of a horse trailer years ago.
He and a friend were on the way to release a pair of rehabilitated twin moose into the wild near Dawson Creek in 1996 but somehow lost the female on the way.
“We got there and the trailer’s sliding door, which we’d latched, had somehow come unlatched and slid open. We just envisioned something terrible happening along the way,” Rande said. “It turned out it had come loose on a logging road where we were doing 30 km/h. You could see in the snow where it had come out as it dragged its front legs on the ground with its back end still in the trailer. Eventually, it flopped out, got up and trotted off into the bush.”
Rande said he and his friend swore each other to secrecy and blamed the disappearance on aliens.
Working as a conservation officer meant every day was different for Rande. Some days he was enforcing environmental laws, other days he would police anglers and hunters, and every now and then he would track and trap animals.
“You name it, I deal with it. On the coast I dealt with raccoons and black bears while up north it was grizzlies, moose and deer,” Rande said. “I think most conservation officers really do enjoy working with the wildlife and that was really the part I truly did enjoy.”
Rande said he always wanted to work in 100 Mile House. Although he didn’t get the chance, he decided to settle here, keeping himself busy in the outdoors, or carving wooden birds and playing guitar.
Boot Polish, Bears and Bush Sense is available on Amazon and at the Parkside Art Gallery. Rande can also be contacted via Instagram: @wardenauthour on his website at www.keithrande.com.
“If you have any kind of appreciation for nature and the environment, I’d encourage you to pick it up and read it,” he said. “Even though there are stories of me having to destroy animals during the course of my job that was a sidebar to what happens out there.”