I’m writing this post from inside my tent, pitched deep in a spruce forest on a black new moon night. I said goodbye to my friends, Gaz and Teash earlier today – alone on the road again.
It’s a beautiful night, not another soul or town for miles – it’s nights like this that make camping in the bush special. I love it.
I can still hear the giant swell, easily 5 or 6 times overhead, smashing and crashing into the tortured cliffs of Oregon – a constant roar of energy.
Oregon feels less like bears.
Not that I didn’t enjoy camping in Alaska and Canada – but after a few interesting encounters, its kind of nice to think that I’m slowly working my way out of bear country.
For a long time I slept in my tent with bear spray to my left, a second can of bear spray to my right, head torch around my neck and my machete tucked behind my head.
I’ve woken up on countless nights, grasping one in each hand – waiting with baited breath, ready to face whatever the hell was just outside my tent.
Normally just a raven or a deer...
The most intense nights were easily those in spruce forests of coastal Alaska, especially on the coast – teeming salmon runs feeding dense populations of gigantic bears.
Alone almost every night – no campgrounds – just in the bush.
Sort of alone...
I never had to use my spray or machete, but came face to face with the bears on a few occasions.
I didn’t have my camera with me when I literally opened my tent to a Black bear 2 feet from me (who had just eaten all my poorly strung food bag), and so later was determined to try and get a selfie when a griz decided to surprise me as I set up camp.
This was as best as I could do..
It’s a wide angle lens, which makes him look small, and it’s only his top half visible - his abdomen and hind legs below the embankment.
So the frame-grab’s not too impressive (my hands were also shaking a lot too) – but it was an awesome feeling locking eyes with a coastal brown bear at such close quarters. Slowly backing away, heart beating hard.
Heart beating very hard…
You get a better idea of his size here…
Such a different feeling than any of the blacks I’ve met.
The browns rule the land.
Once saw a gigantic fully grown moose, the size of two dairy cows put together, lying on the forest edge, its skeleton freshly gleaned of meat – bright white with streaks of red in morning light.
For animals that can grow to 1500 pounds, they move mighty fast, and have been clocked at 50km an hour – there’s no outrunning them. Or outswimming. Or outclimbing.
Actually the only tactic for Browns recommended by the biologists and authorities is to slowly back away, and if it charges, play dead.
“If an attack is prolonged (after playing dead) or the bear starts eating you, it is no longer being defensive and it is time to fight back” (www.bearsmart.com)
Later I had a more calculated encounter with a wild brown bear (Grizzly), sitting far away, on the end of a long focal length.
Oh and by the way, not sure if you remember Noora, the Finnish hiker attempting to cross the Brooks range solo, on a month-long hike in ridiculously remote Alaska?
Noora had a run in with a Grizzly – got off fortunately unharmed, but understandably decided to turn around and count her lucky stars after the incident.
“I was crossing a big river in a thick fog, when out of nowhere this grizzly appeared right in front of me. I managed to spray it on the face, but its paw touched me enough to make me fall in to the big river. Luckily I managed to get to the shore, miraculously found my backpack about 500 meters downsteam, and got myself warm again after many hours. As I said, good to be alive.”
Attacks like these are actually exceedingly rare, and for the most part bears do not perceive us as potential prey or as food. Most attacks occur when a bear is surprised (which may have been the case in Noora’s situation, given that it was foggy and the sound of the river might’ve drowned out her approach?), or defending food or cubs.
There were some mornings in the forests of Yakutat where I would wake up and find a pile of bear scat that resembled something an elephant would’ve been proud to have deposited. Right outside the front of my tent.
They were somewhat melancholy moments, feeling slightly shaken that a coastal brown was obviously checking me out during the night while I slept, but also relieved and content in the knowledge that they don’t really want to eat us – not too often anyway.
If they did, I would have been chomped a long time ago.
They definitely don’t attack nearly as often as the sports hunters like to shoot them for fun.
Some ‘hunters’ just lay bait, secure themselves safely away in a hide, wait for a bear to turn up to check out the bait, then shoot the Bruin giant at point-blank.
Not very ‘sporting’ now is it. Not really even hunting.
Just safe trickery in my opinion
I'm a little dubious as to how many of ‘hunters’ actually eat the grizzly bear meat themselves, and how many do it more for the gloryand peer awe of a taxidermed bruin in the loungeroom.
I’m all for sustainable hunting of game, more so than eating meats from the unetheical shelves of most supermarkets, and I’ve done a lot of spearfishing and the odd bit of boar hunting in the past.
But to term any of it a 'sport'...?