(Photo: Courtesy Kim DeLozier)
The Daily Rally

Kim DeLozier Cares for the Bears

During his first wilderness job, a chance encounter with a bear left the wildlife biologist with a profound respect for nature that has endured ever since

Courtesy Kim DeLozier

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Kim Delozier told his story to producer Sarah Fuss Kessler for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.

He kept getting closer and closer. By this time, I was walking backwards at a pretty steady pace, and the low tone voice was going to a screaming voice, hollering, “Bear, get back, bear! Get back!” And he continued to come.

Some people kind of turn their heads sideways when they hear my voice and hear the first name Kim. And I assure them I’m not a female, I was named after my grandfather.

I live in Seymour, Tennessee, probably 20 minutes from Dollywood, 30 minutes from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So that’s kind of in my backyard. I’ve lived here basically my entire life on our family farm.

I had a big interest in becoming a vet. I recall my dad calling me one night and saying, “Hey son, I need your help. We have a cow that has a prolapsed uterus.” When they’re trying to calf they strain so hard that the uterus turns inside out.

It was in January. It was the middle of the night, and cold and wet and nasty and muddy. No big training session necessary. You just get behind a cow, start pushing. You push everything back in. I remember when I pulled my arm back out and I said, “There has got to be a better way to make a living than doing this.”

So the very next day, I went to school at the University of Tennessee, and I changed my career over to wildlife and fisheries science from animal science.

My first position was actually a wild boar hunter for the government at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. First of all, I really didn’t even realize they had that program, and was really surprised they would even pay someone to do it. And I kept thinking, Well, why are you trying to get rid of them or reduce the population? The guy that I talked to said, “Basically it’s because they’re exotic. The National Park really protects native species and we try to get rid of non-native species.”

They moved into the park in the late 1940s, early 1950s. The mountains are a tough place to make a living, so your native species like bear and deer and squirrels and things like that rely on one of the most important food sources, fall foods. The fall food is acorns from oak trees. When you bring a whole population of wild pigs or wild boar in, they eat a tremendous amount of food that would be for your native species.

I had not really done a lot of backpacking or camping, but that quickly changed. The job basically was carrying your backpack up five to ten miles in the backcountry, having a little camp there where you had some supplies, then you basically look for wild boar in the late afternoon, evening, and nighttime period.

On one of the trips, we hiked six miles or so up to our base camp, dropped everything off, then started walking the Appalachian Trail.

No sound of airplanes or cars or anything like that. The only thing you could hear was the wind blowing, rustling the trees and stuff too. Almost to the point where your ears would hurt if that makes any sense, because there’s very few times we’re in a situation where we hear no sound at all.

I realized too, this is something pretty special that I got to experience. It didn’t take me very long to understand or know that this was something that I planned to do, I wanted to do for a long time.

I was pretty naive. So every day was a classroom for me. It was a lesson to be learned, too.

One time, we were hunting by ourselves. And I remember It was very quiet and I could hear a few birds chirping. I’m listening, and all of a sudden, I saw a whitetail deer run across a trail. And I thought, Well, that’s pretty neat. I could see something coming through the vegetation. And then I could see the top of a black head coming through. It turned out to be a pretty large-sized black bear.

I thought to myself, I know how to handle animals, so I’ll have a little fun with him. So I did a deer alarm sound, which is a blowing sound that tells you that these deer are afraid and they’re running away. Well, I did that to the bear and that’s when he made a bee-line towards me.

And when he kept on coming, I kept talking to the bear in this low tone saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t really mean to do that. That’s close enough. Please don’t come any closer.”

We used 12-gauge shotguns in the park at that time to kill wild pigs, and so I had that with me. I said, I’m not gonna shoot a bear. He’s not gonna get very close.

Well, when he finally hit the trail, I think I remember looking for its teeth more than anything else, and looking at the size of its legs that to me looked like power poles. I guess I probably went into a semi-comatose condition where I didn’t know what I was looking at or what I was saying or what I was doing. I just wanted that bear to get away from me.

He kept on getting closer. My speech had elevated to where I was screaming, I was waving my arms, I was kicking the dirt, doing everything, trying to get this animal to stop. And he wasn’t stopping.

When he got about seven or eight feet from me, I took my 12-gauge shotgun, pointed up in the air, and pulled the trigger.

Of course, it made a pretty loud sound. At that time, the bear stopped and he looked at me like he was evaluating me. It didn’t scare him very much at all like I thought it would. He kind of bobbed his head a couple times, as if he was trying to sense my smell. And he slowly turned around and walked away.

My knees were knocking, and I was pretty upset. You could probably push me over with a feather at that time.

I gained a pretty big respect for what these animals can do, and that we obviously need to act a certain way in their territory, as well.

After working over 30 years with the National Park Service, and most of that time as a wildlife biologist, another big lesson I learned was that it’s really too dangerous to put a tranquilized bear in the back of a helicopter. But that’s another story.

Currently I work with Appalachian Bear Rescue, which rehabilitates orphaned and injured cubs and yearlings. Now I spend a lot of time educating other people what their responsibilities are when they visit or live in bear country.

Obviously, some people want to get as close as possible. They want to get a picture, they want to throw a cookie or a cracker or a donut or a piece of fried chicken to it, thinking they’re helping it, when in fact they’re actually killing it.

With bears, their wild behavior is something that’s really their survival instinct, and they need that to be able to make it. And when we allow them to get our food and garbage and become food conditioned or habituated to people it puts their life in jeopardy. They’re probably not gonna live near as long.

Let the bear be a bear.

Kim Delozier has spent over three decades working as a wildlife biologist at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He wrote two books about his experiences, Bear in the Backseat one and two. He currently works with bears at Appalachian Bear Rescue, a winner of the 2022 Defender Service Award, established by Land Rover. These awards recognize the nonprofits doing selfless service for their communities every day. You can learn more about Kim’s work at

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Lead Photo: Courtesy Kim DeLozier