BILLINGS — It wasn’t until the following day that Kathy Kenyon considered whether her bold approach to shooing three bears out of her kitchen might have been unsafe.
“At the time, stupidly, I didn’t feel that afraid,” the Red Lodge resident recalled of the Sunday night encounter.
Kenyon was watching television around 9:30 p.m. in the home she and husband Don Redfoot have lived in since 2018. The house is about a mile west of Red Lodge, along the West Fork of Rock Creek. Everything from whitetail deer to moose, bobcats and large predators like black bears and mountain lions have been photographed on their property, using a game camera.
“We get used to seeing wildlife,” Kenyon told the Billings Gazette.
But when something black and furry scurried into the TV room and then quickly back out, her first thought wasn’t that it was a bear cub. Instead, she thought it might be the neighbor’s black dog.
Stepping into the doorway to the kitchen to investigate, she quickly figured out the intruder was a mother black bear and her two cubs. They had pushed out a screen in a partly opened window and crawled in to dine on freshly bought peaches and Hershey’s chocolates.
“The cubs seemed particularly fond of those,” Redfoot said.
Redfoot was in the bedroom when he heard a crash and went to investigate, calling out to his wife, “Kathy, what are you doing out there?”
Stepping around the corner, he came face to face with momma bear. He quickly opened the front door, hoping to give the bear an escape route. The black bear was only about 10 feet away.
“It wasn’t like she was being threatening, it was like she wanted to greet me,” he said.
Unwilling to find out the bear’s intentions, Redfoot quickly retreated to the bedroom and closed the door.
What the …?
“Don, there’s a bear in the house!” Kenyon called out after seeing the bears.
Her first instinct was to find her cellphone and call the local Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden, Matt Heaton, for advice.
Instead, she decided to clap and yell at the bears to see if she could scare them back outside. The mother bear jumped out the open window, but the cubs lingered while eating the chocolates.
At some point in the confusion, she yelled at Redfoot to take a photograph.
“I meant of the cubs, not me,” she said.
“Don is always taking pictures.”
To urge the last cub out, Kenyon picked up the dislodged window screen and advanced. She estimated the screen was about 5 feet long.
“That screen was certainly effective protection,” Redfoot said.
“I haven’t been able to talk to Matt about whether I should have done that,” Kenyon said of the FWP warden.
“He would probably say you were out of your mind,” Redfoot said and laughed.
But Kenyon felt safe since she was close to the adjacent room and a door that she could quickly close if her bluff was called.
“So it wasn’t as insane as it looks in that picture,” Kenyon said.
With the gentle prodding, the cub left through the window.
“It never appeared threatening or fierce,” she said. “It appeared nonchalant and not too concerned about me.”
The photo, posted on Redfoot’s Facebook page, shows Kenyon in profile, her mouth open and hands apart clapping. Across the kitchen about 10 feet on a shelf below the window two large furry black bear cubs lurk.
“I don’t think I ever touched him with the screen,” Kenyon said.
“I would beg to differ,” Redfoot interjected.
The tactic worked. The cub left, and Kenyon rushed over to quickly close the window behind it. That’s when the momma bear’s face popped into view, at very close range.
“That was the point when I thought, ‘Oh Kathy, what have you done?’” she said.
The momma bear was trying to crawl back in.
“That’s when I began to question whether I had made a prudent decision,” she said. “I would not recommend what I did in most circumstances. On the other hand, we had minor damage.”
After their eviction, the bears lingered outside the window.
“They remained for a couple of minutes looking at us like they were expecting us to invite them back in,” Redfoot said.
The bears also returned the next day, but didn’t gain entry this time.
“This bear momma is teaching her cubs bad habits,” Kenyon said.
Since last September when Redfoot set up a game camera, he’s captured some unusual footage of wildlife in his backyard. That’s because he also placed a stuffed bright orange teddy bear and small lion in front of the cameras.
The toys have led to some unusual interactions that the cameras have captured: a bear playing and rolling atop the stuffed bear; a squirrel knocking the lion toy off a boulder in an odd king-of-the-mountain showdown; deer walking past as well as the backside of a mountain lion.
Last week, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks issued a warning to Red Lodge residents about grizzly bears in the area. A collared female with two cubs is being monitored as it roams along Rock Creek, according to Shawn Stewart, FWP wildlife biologist in Red Lodge.
“Everyone has a bear story if they’ve lived here any length of time,” Kenyon said. “It’s just not unusual for people who have lived here for a while to have some type of bear encounter at their home.”
Redfoot and Kenyon often take walks in their neighborhood, always accompanied by bear spray just in case of an encounter. But so far the bears they’ve seen have always run the other way. They also keep their home bear-proofed to lessen the chance of such encounters.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.