Bear guy

There are groupies who follow their favourite bands across the country, people who flock to country clubs to play golf and fireworks junkies who can’t wait for the next opportunity to smell gunpowder. Did you know grizzly bears have their own loyal band of followers?

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This was one of three young grizzlies that disappeared through the opening in the brightly coloured willows and my only reasonable photo. I got to see them for only a short time but found out later they had been hanging around for hours while I was elsewhere. I’m still recovering from that.

It’s no secret if you want to set up a meeting of bear groupies, just park a fine-looking grizzly at the side of the road. Attendance will flourish. However, in my wanderings around Grand Teton National Park, it quickly became obvious there was something more going on here.

There were the obvious visitors like me. In addition there was a highly addicted group of real grizzly bear chasers comprised of people who lived in the area. I asked one guy from Jackson whether he was part of the group but he said no – he only made it out two or three times a week!

Here’s how it worked as best as I could figure out. The group would fan out across the limited number of park roads in areas where they knew bears often used. When someone spotted a bear, they would text or call each other and quickly assemble for a meeting. When the bear disappeared, they would scatter like a huge dragnet, focusing on areas they knew the bears frequented. Along the way there were frequent stops to talk to other bear followers and compare notes.

One day I was chatting with an older guy who spoke lovingly of the bears as if they were his grandchildren. He had amazing knowledge of the bears – where they spent the nite, familiar routes and the identification numbers of all the local grizzlies. Just as we were bemoaning the lack of sightings, he excitedly proclaimed that we should get more information from the bear guy who just drove up. Who knew there was a bear guy?

We walked up to the unassuming blue truck and those two were quickly talking everything grizzly. I knew he must be the real bear guy since he spoke with even more knowledgeable authority and I could see a can of bear spray poking up out of a jacket pocket.

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A young grizzly I found in Canada. On this occasion we were the only ones watching – it seemed like our grizzly.

The two men compared all the information from the day in graphic detail, including the routes the bear had taken and where they might appear next. They were puzzled by a young bear that had recently left its mother and hadn’t yet established a predictable routine. Despite all this information, they knew of the current location of the same number of bears as I did – none.

While they chatted, and I stood there enthralled and amused, other members of the bear club came and shared their knowledge and frustration by the current drought of bears – no sighting for a few full hours! None of these band of loyal followers seemed fussed about photography and all of them had watched bears for countless hours. They just wanted more.

I understood the sentiment. If only I lived close to the Grand Tetons, I would definitely join them.

The Grizzly Family Tree

From talking with various people, I eventually put together the following story about grizzlies in the Grand Tetons. There was an original grizzly mom who had a female cub. Years later she had three cubs and her mom had two cubs. At some point the older mom took one of her daughter’s cubs. Speculation was that three were too many cubs for the young mom. The next spring the adopted cub was back with her birth mom. Of course large males kept entering the picture at opportune times. The hot news this past spring was that the young mom had just set the three cubs out on their own the previous week. They were still hanging out together and we had the opportunity to see them.

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Latest Comments

  1. artsifrtsy says:

    I can relate, I only visit the Boxley elk about once or twice a week. Great shots, I would love to get a sighting of a bear, as long as it’s not at my house.

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Thanks. Yes a house might be a little awkward place for a bear to visit.

      Like

      • artsifrtsy says:

        We actually had one stay here on the mountain for a couple of months. They migrate down the hills in the spring most years, but this guy found some birdfeeders and stuck around. Soon a neighbor thought it would be cool to put out some dog food to lure him to take photos. After a week he decided to stay. I never saw him, but he destroyed my gardens and trash containers, he overturned some beehives, he just became a nuisance. Fish and Game wanted to destroy him, because he was becoming accustomed to humans – thankfully he left on his own.

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  2. dweezer19 says:

    Classic. sounds similar to my “birding” experience in Costa Rica as we stalked the elusive Quetzal. I got so many enthusiastic “oohs and aahs” over my in-flight’ shots, even though they were less than perfect. I was enthralled with the birders as much as with the birds. After photographing many birds since that time, I am at least a fringe birder myself and completely understand the enthusiasm. Nice photos. Bears simply take my breath away. Like sharks and crocodiles.

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I have always been amused by passionate people and they are often more interesting than the subject they are pursuing. Bears take my breath away too. Glad you like the photos.

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  3. mflahertyphoto says:

    It’s tough to get their (relatively) small eyes well enough and you did it Lyle. Nice job!

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  4. doriswamyganesh says:

    Dear Lyle, I have not had the pleasure of reading a better and a more enthusiastic sincere analysis withe the depth of love attached to nature than the one written by you. Lovely article.Regards, Ganesh.

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  5. Kodiak My Little Grizzly says:

    Well, I love bears… A local photographer put out a book with his photos. “Kodiak Kings” by Jason Wood
    We have that book and many others about bears, wolves, moose, otters and well anything wild. After all my boys are named after animals and youngest is Kodiak. Some are afraid like my dad… Some stand in aw like my mom and I! Some are fenatical and put others in danger but in reality they are amazing creatures! Love to watch them!

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      It’s nice to share that passion for animals with others. I could try to clinically dissect why I like bears but it would miss out the intangibles that keep luring me back to watch … and be amazed.

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  6. Mike Powell says:

    I can easily understand how folks could excited observing these beautiful creatures. Are many of the “club” retired males? Where I live, there is an almost equally dedicated group of bird watchers. They have lots of free time, because they are retired, and move from one location to another, adding to their “life list” of bird sightings or simply observing them. Most of them are not photographers and thye are content to hear the birds or catch a glimpse of them in their enormous spotting scopes.
    I really like and admire your bear shots, knowing how rare such opportunities arise and how difficult it is to nail the exposure and focus as you did. The more I get into photography, the more I appreciate how difficult it is to get really good wildlife photos.

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I’ve seen people get excited about different kinds of wildlife but bears seem to add a little something extra. I would have expected most of the bear followers to be retired males but there were a number of age groups represented. While there definitely were more men, the most passionate bear person I encountered was a woman.

      Glad you like the bear shots. I still have a few left from my trips so they will slide into a post somewhere. Once a person participates in an activity, you gain a whole new appreciation for what is involved whether it’s sports, photography or anything else. From an armchair, nothing seems that difficult.

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  7. Michelle at The Green Study says:

    It sounds like the bears need to take out a restraining order or 20. I’m always glad to learn about animals and love the photographs, but one can understand why, on occasion, the paparazzi gets bitten.

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      That’s actually quite funny. I hadn’t thot of it in paparazzi terms before though most of the bear watchers weren’t photographers. However, I can see where you might get an incomplete impression from my post. In Grand Teton National Park, road access is quite limited and there are vast areas of wilderness stretching out toward the mountains. It’s actually not that easy to find bears which is why we saw so few. The other thing I learned is that wherever the bear watchers go, a park ranger also goes to make sure no one does anything foolish. In my few bear encounters in that park and Yellowstone, I was quite impressed with the balanced approach the rangers took – allowing people to see the bears and making sure the bears had their space to eat or wander. I am actually encouraged by how much more respect bears are given now especially compared to years ago when it was common to feed them. Of course there will always be a few stupid people and they probably deserve to be chewed on now and then for bad behaviour. But I didn’t see any of that.

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      • Michelle at The Green Study says:

        Your initial description weighed in on the side of enthusiasm and I imagined human lurkers behind every bush. Thanks for the further explanation – it sounds like a considered approach to wildlife. Enough to educate and awe, not invasive enough to be punched in the face by an angry bear who just wanted a quiet dinner out with her family.

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        • Lyle Krahn says:

          Yes when it comes to bears, my enthusiasm tends to take over so the story gets told with that bias. It’s so different taking a few elements and making a post than actually being there to experience it. I start with the premise that I spent hours and hours looking for bears and finding nothing so the adrenaline starts to flow when it finally happens. I think those parks are aiming for a balanced approach but I think there will always be a tension trying to find a good balance. I’m just pleased that there are still large areas like this and huge national parks in Canada that try to preserve more natural places for wildlife.

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  8. Honie Briggs says:

    Lyle, it is incredible that you are capturing these images. That said, remember Timothy Treadwell?

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I had forgotten the name but I as soon as I looked it up, it all came back to me. There is no fear of me getting that close to the bears (I have a hard enough time finding them) or losing my healthy respect for their wildness or what they can do. Long lenses are wonderful. Glad you like the photos.

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  9. Mandy says:

    Educate the Aussie time. Bear spray? Is that i) an attractant (like aftershave) because he is a “real bear guy” or ii) a deterrent because he is just a guy and that is still a grizzly?

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Bear spray is a can that people carry in bear country in the off chance they get attacked by a bear. It causes temporary eye-tearing and respiratory distress, but leaves no permanent damage. The tricky part is that it doesn’t have a long range so you have wait until the bear is close to use it. As I’ve mentioned before, the odds of that kind of encounter are rare since bears typically avoid humans unless you surprise them or accidentally get too close to cubs. However, I actually like the after shave concept better.

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  10. Jeff | Planet Bell says:

    That is very interesting about both the “bear people” and the mother-cub.

    A few years ago I got to watch a young bear in the spring, who I think was recently weened. He’d crawl up the side of this steep slope and then slide down. He did it over and again, just playing. I can see how people get addicted to watching them.

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      That would have been fun to watch and more than a little addicting. The amusing part of my bear compilation story was that it came from so many different people and was surprisingly consistent. Maybe bear gossip is more accurate!

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  11. Phil Lanoue says:

    I can not imagine anyone employing similar crazy tactics over any animal, certainly not a goofy pink bird for instance. Shear lunacy I tell you.
    Excellent Grizz shots!

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  12. Steve Gingold says:

    That sounds like a fortunate encounter, Lyle. My best friend is a moose guy in Maine. He and a few others will have a similar conversation with who saw which moose where, their behavior and what other moose encounters might be possible. But I am not aware of moose clubs or the like. Anyway, that must have been fun and you have some nice images.,

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  13. Deb W. Trotter says:

    Very amusing! In 2007, the last time I was in the Tetons, we were dismayed to see a traffic jam right near the Visitor Center and then happily joined it when we realized it was a “grizzly jam.” We and dozens of others were out of our cars to watch a mother bear and 2 cubs a long distance away enjoying the taste of something growing on the hillside. I did not know there are people in the area who crave grizzly bear fixes as often as possible!

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  14. caleephotography says:

    Great shots, Lyle, I love the warm light in #1 and the bear’s eyes in #2! I think I can say I’m a grizzly groupie too, but would probably be more like a stalker if I lived closer to them 😉 😉

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Thanks. I often wondered what would happen if I lived close to them. I think it would take a lot of viewing before I got tired of them. I might be a bear stalker too but I’d probably be going in the wrong direction.

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  15. jonasfernandez says:

    Love the colors yellows and reds in the first photograph ( sorry my english ) !!!! :DDDD

    Like

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