Prowling Brown Bear

Photographing bears has been a passion of mine since I was old enough to point and shoot an instamatic camera (remember them?).  But it hasn't always been a comfortable relationship.

As a young boy I was terrified of bears.  When travelling in bear territory with my family, I would choose to sleep in the car rather than shelter within the thin canvas walls of our family tent.  I was happy enough snapping pictures from within the fortified confines of our AMC Rambler but had healthy respect for the power and danger ever-present in a large, clawed (and often hungry) predator.  

This fear was somewhat abated during three summers of working with Parks Canada as a campground attendant.  At the tender age of sixteen I joined the ranks of unionized government employees and discovered -- to my horror -- that my job description included chasing bears out of campsites!

This was decidedly uncool.  On my first day, touring the three campgrounds I was expected to attend to, my supervisor spied a large black bear rooting through a garbage bin at the entrace to our group campsite.  He slammed the truck into park, jumped out, grabbed a broom from the box, and started running at the beast, whirling the broom like a drunken witch.

Seriously.  I almost quit on the spot.

The bear reared onto its hind legs.  It appeared to be about eight feet tall.  I hid behind the truck and questioned the sanity of my boss.

But my boss -- Clarence -- knew his job.  His charge was just a bluff and by yelling and swinging the broom he made himself a lot bigger in appearance.  The bear dropped to all fours and ambled off.  I wouldn't say the bear was perturbed (certainly less than I was) but clearly he didn't care to contemplate a whirling dervish erupting from a truck that smelled far too much like trouble (park wardens drove similar trucks and they had tranquilizer guns).  And so I began learning about bears.

Today my behaviour around bears is much different than it was back in my Parks days.  I've learned there is huge difference between bears in public locations and bears in the deep, dark wild;  just as there is a paradigm shift between bears seeking scant scraps in the spring (still hungry from months of hibernation) and healthy, rotund bruins splashing after salmon in the fall.

Safe to say that I strongly prefer to photograph bears in the fall near salmon streams -- when the bears are sharply focused on one thing only: salmon.  The best of all worlds is to work in a relatively remote area that consistently practices good bear etiquette.  In areas of high public traffic, a bear's behavior can be very unpredictable -- they may have lost their inherant respect for humans, they may even see humans as threats, after been pepper-sprayed, shot at, and generally harassed.

Over the years I've been lucky to find several great locations to photograph bears.  I've photographed this large mother Alaskan brown bear several times over several years.  During the early weeks of September she prowls the banks of Silver Salmon Creek in Lake Clark National Park (Alaska).  On a drab day she tends to blend in with the sands and surf at the mouth of the stream but when she heads upstream she is absolutely gorgeous in the tall grass along the streams banks.

You can purchase this image today by selecting it from my Wildlife gallery.

- Mike