Over the last week or so we have been sharing pictures and updates on Facebook of the two young Grizzly bears that have been satisfying their curiosity on our property this spring. Last night with the charge of one of the two Grizzly bears convinced us that we had enjoyed their presence long enough and that it was time to send them on their way.
Many folks enjoyed the photos that we shared and I thought that it might be a good idea to make clear again the thoughts and experiences that allowed me to feel capable of getting these pictures for you.
The two Grizzlies that have been the subject of our ongoing photo-op (we estimate) are in their fourth year of age. One has a 4 ½” paw print which roughly equals a 5 ½’ bear and the other has a 5+” print which is approximately a 6’ bear.
Grizzly bears have been a favorite subject for me to share with you. Here are some of those posts:
Practice, experience and a good sneak allow me to get close enough to take some amazing photographs. That said, I can only caution and remind folks that even the young and curious bears are incredibly dangerous. They are powerful predators and this must not ever be forgotten, even for a moment.
The Grizzly bear lumbers along, sitting down and just seeming to drift off into daydreams. Chasing squirrels around, poking their nose into holes, swatting at butterflies and just being as amazingly beautiful as any animal could be; the Grizzly bear can move unbelievably fast, closing the distance between them and you faster than anything imaginable.
In our travels, I was honored to meet Donny Reinhart, Jr. who is an exotic animal trainer and am blessed to have become good friends with him over the years. During his touring lectures Donny repeats often to his audiences, “They are trained, not tamed. These animals (tigers, lions, bears) will always be, at the heart and core, wild animals.”
With Donny at my side I was lucky to be able to interact with, play, feed and handle various animals throughout the years. During one visit, I spent quite a bit of time with his bears. He had Grizzlies from all over the world and an American Black Bear. After spending some time in the Black bear’s enclosure, a 10 month old, raised from infancy, 90-pound black bear; I came away with a vivid understanding of the animal’s strength. It was all I could do to stay on my feet and to keep him from scratching or chewing on me, to the point of after 30 minutes being drenched in sweat and exhausted in every way.
Grizzly Bear Charge
Many were concerned that while I was photographing these Grizzly bears that I was putting myself in horrific danger. Obviously, I disagree. I have very little respect for those who “play” with wild animals, leading themselves and others to believe that they are safe and have a bond that transcends their nature. However, I also know that for the most part a Grizzly bear is not going to perceive me as a threat, from a distance and taking care to remain invisible allows me to share this wonderful gift of the wilderness with those who might never experience it for themselves.
At all times, I am protected; by at least one or more often two, experienced marksmen with the appropriate caliber rifle. Rarely are they with me, more often taking positions to create a free line of sight or in most cases in my experience, the shape of a triangle.
Here is the most important point, however, that I had hoped to share with you. Photographing Grizzly bears is by no means to be ever an excuse, reason or inroad to killing one. Trigger-happy is not an adjective I would ever accept in an adventure partner.
Truth? More than half of the Professional Guides I have worked with over the last 20+ years would not have been capable of not shooting one of the bears I was photographing, using their proximately (closeness) as an excuse. Many Professional Guides have no problem with adding their own ”back-up” shot to a client’s Grizzly bear on a Big Game Hunt. This is NOT professional.
Master Guide Terry Overly shares with Trainees a story of when he first began guiding for his Mother and Bud in the 1960’s. After adding his own shot to a wounded but not yet dead Grizzly bear on a Big Game Hunt with a client, the client then turned to him and congratulated him. Terry, very young and still inexperienced was genuinely confused and asked “For what?” The client then responded with “Your trophy Grizzly bear.” Lesson learned and enough said. A Professional Guide is called upon to assure the safety of the client as well as assisting in harvesting a Grizzly bear at times, not allowing it to escape wounded if the client cannot finish the job accurately but this should never be an acceptable procedure in each harvest.
Back to my choice for back up: Master Guide Terry Overly and Glen Murphy are both highly experienced marksmen as well as rarely excitable. Both men can be counted on for cool heads as well as understanding and allowing me to do what I need to do to get the photo I need. They both share the same admiration and respect that the animal deserves and they both know that while I may have no measurable pain tolerance, I am willing to put myself on the line to share our world with those who cannot be a part of it.
Grizzly Bear Charge
A Grizzly bear’s charge is certainly nothing to ignore or even brush off; there is little that makes the fact that humans are certainly not at the top of the food chain in the wilderness. This would be the breaking point for many people who believe themselves to be acceptable back up. Wrong. Yes, one of the Grizzly bears charged me. Yes it was quite unnerving and yes, when it was over my knees were shaking. But here is the real point: He stopped about 9 feet away, turned and ran away. Yes, 9 feet from a highly pissed off Grizzly bear is about 100 feet too close. But charging and huffing his irritated voice is the only way he has to let me know that I am crowding him, I am too close, this is his and he wants me to go away.
The charge signaled the end of the photo-op. We had three wonderful days of observing and photographing the two young bears and knew that this was an amazing grace period. Pushing for anymore would be not only foolish but inexcusable. The dogs have been loosed of their chains again and most of our crew is armed with noisy rifles to remind then, if and when they return, that they are no longer welcome so close.
So now I am even more impatiently awaiting the start of our Summer Horseback Adventures, so that we can (fingers crossed) have more opportunities to see and photograph the Grizzly bears in the wilderness. I tend to be much more at ease as well on my horse anyhow. So I hope you will be joining us on an incredible adventure this year, but if you cannot, I will be sure to share ours with you!