Wednesday, September 03, 2008

G Is For Grizzly

This Bear Charged Me A Few Hours Ago

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON



Yes, you did read that correctly. I shot this photograph while being charged by a grizzly late yesterday evening.

Yes, I know - you're not the only one who thinks I'm mad. But this is how it happened.

Before I flew out to the Yukon, I thought the schedule that was meticulously prepared by Margaret Goodwin of Yukon Tourism was a great way to see as much of the Territory as I possibly could in a week. What we didn't know at that stage was that I would encounter a grizzly at speed!

We were taken on a hike in Kluane National Park by Brent Liddle (see photo below) of Kluane Ecotours. He's a very interesting bloke, who not only cares deeply for this park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but is a mine of information on the area, as well as local flora and fauna. At the start of the hike, Brent informed us that he had carried bear spray for thirty years, but had never had to use it.


At the end of a six-hour hike through a stunning landscape of mountains surrounding Lake Kathleen, we were probably five minutes from the four-wheel drives. That's when one of our seven-member group called out that there was a grizzly up ahead. She had seen the bear stand up and reckoned he was at least seven to eight feet tall.

With two cameras around my neck and a sweater and a rain jacket knotted loosely around my waist, I ran on to join the group. Brent told us to stand together so that the grizzly, with its poor eyesight, would think we were a large enough object to pose a threat.

At the start of the hike, he had told us not to make loud noises if confronted by a bear, so as not to frighten it. And he had emphasised that you never run, because that action signals to the bear that you are prey.

Run? I wasn't going to run. I wanted photographs of this grizzly.

Mate, how many people get a chance to do that? Seriously?

I moved to the front of the group just as the grizzly re-appeared. He looked at us very briefly and then began his charge.

There was no time to think. He charged 10 metres (about 30 feet) and covered the ground very quickly. I shot the first image during his charge, but before I had any time to hit the shutter a second time, he changed his mind and ran into the undergrowth instead.


A few seconds later, he re-appeared on another trail a few metres to our right - exactly where I'd run to catch up with the group. I got four shots of him on the track before he vanished again.

But here's the deal. Because I have an analytical mind, I tried working out why I'd only had time to shoot a solitary frame as he charged us. Then I figured it out. I had my 300mm lens on a Pentax K200D slung around my neck. Over that, supported in my right hand, was my all-purpose 18-125mm lens on my Pentax K100D.

I estimated that the bear appeared for three seconds while he made up his mind. His charge lasted another three seconds. That was six seconds in all - but here's where it gets really interesting.

I had shut off the Pentax K200D with the long lens and I had fully retracted the double-barrel lens, because we were practically at the end of the hike. As I mulled over the time-and-motion study in my head, I realised what the answer was.

I asked one of the hikers to time me as I re-created the exact situation. I went through exactly the same motions. I moved the Pentax K100D away from my chest and grabbed the Pentax K200D with both hands. With my right thumb, I triggered the "on-off" switch. With my left thumb, I moved the focus button from auto to manual. Pointing the camera at the bear, I had rotated the first barrel to the fully open position. Then I had rotated the focus ring to the maximum. Next, I used my left thumb to move the focus button to auto and finally hit the trigger with my right thumb.

It took five seconds, as I had suspected.

All of which gave me one second to take the shot. I guess one solitary frame isn't a bad result in those conditions.

Brent's bear spray lives on - and hopefully he won't have to use it for another 30 years!

For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

72 comments:

aims said...

You do know - I know you know - how utterly lucky you are my friend.

My heart was pounding as I read all of this David. Good Lord!

We have grizzlies and blacks up where we go rafting. Setting up lunch is always a little scary as you listen to the crashings in the forest around you. My brother always tells me it's just big squirrels. Ya - right!

So glad you are safe and not mauled to ribbons.

btw- great shot!

Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

Ye gods and little fishes! And... big bears! That is indeed (and hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime photo! Not that I don't want you to have other photos of grizzlies, but 'charging you?' No! Thank goodness it turned away. Has the adrenaline rush stopped yet? :)

Bart said...

Jeez, I run when medium size dogs charge.

EatPlayLove said...

Wow! How incredibly scary and exciting!

I've met a couple of black bears by chance when living in a canyon outside of Boulder, Colorado. They didn't want anything to do with me luckily.

Neva said...

Yikes! I do not think I could have done that as I would have been shaking so hard..but..wait...moot point...as I would never voluntarily be near bears!!!Great picture!

Louise said...

Mad? I don't know. Re-creating the whole thing to find out why you only got one shot? That's probably more mad than trying to get a picture of the bear. I think anyone who likes to take a picture might tend to throw a little too much caution to the wind to get a good one. I've done it with a rattlesnake. Different than a bear, granted, but a little crazy none-the-less.

You are the luckiest devil I "know."

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

'well boo boo' as yogi bear would say!! you are a lucky lucky fella!

great story for photo story wednesday...

how long you out there?
saz

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

'well boo boo' as yogi bear would say!! you are a lucky lucky fella!

great story for photo story wednesday...

how long you out there?
saz

Daryl said...

Leave it to you to figure out how long it took to take the shot... SO glad that nothing more happened .. and that the spray worked!

:-Daryl

lime said...

you know i grew up around black bears and i am utterly non-plussed by being in their proximity. even my kids have seen them at their busstop and gave it a shrug. but mate, you are touched in the head! grizzlies have a very different temperament than black bears do and i'd not be pointing a bloody camera at them in the wild unless i were far, far away and using some gigantic paparazzi lens or safely inside a bear proof cage.

strewth!

Sue said...

All I can say is "Holy Crap" you are definitely much braver than I!!!

Beautiful shot, but black bears make me nervous and this fella looks twice as big and far more dangerous!!!

Happy WW :)

My WW entries for today are at:

Pastyme With Good Companye

The Paranormal Blog

Nuttin' But

Please stop by if you have a moment :)

Betsy said...

You 'bearly' got the shot! ;)

Lee said...

Ohmygosh, David! I'm glad you got the shot but thrilled that you escaped mayhem by the grizzly. I've seen other bears in action and they are unbelievably strong. One ripped a set in the ground trash container right out of its setting. That was after it tore the lid off trying to get into the thing for food scraps.

Breathing a sigh of relief that you're ok. And yes, it was a great shot.

Peace!

Lee said...

Bytheway, you're the only person I know who counts seconds. No wonder you get so much accomplished. :)

Cheers!

RiverPoet said...

I like your style, David. I only know one other person who would have handled the situation the way you did, and I married him. That bold fearlessness and feeling that you're right where you're supposed to be is unique.

Peace - D

(and I'm glad you are unscathed!)

Celebration of Life said...

Scary story, David; I'm glad you got your shot and are able to blog about it!

Bear Naked said...

Well as I said before, "Welcome to Canada."
You certainly have had an interesting time here,haven't you?
Glad you got that photo but I am happier to see you write about it, after the fact.
Is there anything else we Canadians could entertain you with while you are here?
I think anything else would be a tough act to follow.

Bear((( )))

Ryanne said...

Wow, charged by a grizzly! I have seen one before, but at a greater distance than that. I was charged by a black bear, and wouldn't you know it, I was in Canada when it happened. We were really close to our car so we jumped in a started to drive away. You kno what that silly bear did? He continued to try to catch us. I rolled down my window and sat on the sill and captured a few shots...my friends that were with me thiought I was crazy, 'cause the bear was less than the cars length from me. His snout was even with the back door when I clicked the shutter! I will have to see if I can find the prints, alas, it was before my digital age.
Any way to make a short message long, I am glad no one was hurt and that you were able to get those great pictures.

Akelamalu said...

Gggggggood Gggggggod!

Sandi McBride said...

David, ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND? And did you go into the bear's home smelling like a picnic basket or a chicken dinner? If you were my husband or child I would beat you severely about your camera focusing hand! We have brown bears in our neck of the woods...seldom seen, thank GOD or my older son (also a photographer) would have been wild kingdom dinner long ago! Thank God you were safe...and got such a great shot, as well!!!
Sandi
ps
Don't do that again!

RuneE said...

Thank you for the photo advice - but shouldn't you be glad you are ALIVE???

Katney said...

Well, actually, this is the kind of occasion when an automatic point and shoot camera that is turned on is pretty handy. goes pretty fast.

Really, now, even with that I only got one shot of our little yearling black bear, and he wasn't even charging.

I was just looking through my dad's albums again this morning and shaking my head at a couple of snapshots from 1929 of folks pretty much just hanging around with the bears. They were black bears, though, not grizzlies.

ellen b said...

Whoa! How fabulous for a photographer like you that you got that shot. I'm not that dedicated yet :0) I would have made sure I was right next to someone who couldn't run as fast as me :0)

Maggie May said...

There's you worrying about how many seconds it takes to grab a camera & you could have been killed!
Pictures would have been the last thing on my mind!
I guess you thrive on excitement!

SandyCarlson said...

Ooh, what a moment!

Abraham Lincoln said...

I would say you are fortunate the G in your photo didn't finish or complete the charge. I have heard they can outrun a horse and they can climb trees.

Still it must have been a heart-pounding experience you won't soon forget.

I only got one Grumpy Alien posted for "G." He is at Thunder Maker

gaz said...

that's just nuts!!!
plain and simple.

aims said...

btw David - just wanted to say - I look forward to my nightly reads right now with great delight because I can snuggle into bed and pick up Vegemite Vindaloo and be transported to India. And I am. I can hear it - smell it - see it! I can see the flower stalls in the market and hear the traffic as it pounds 24 hours a day. I can feel the rocking of the train as it sweeps towards Calcutta!

A fantastic read David! Excellent job! And very well done.

I am especially enjoying learning Indian words and (slang?)

Now - when does the book on the Muskoka's come out? And you better believe it - you ARE going to sign my books. Maybe some day you'll be getting a signed copy of my own.

Mojo said...

How much did he charge you?
(Damn now even the wildlife models are prima donnas!)

nonizamboni said...

Wow! I'm speechless, except to say you just lived through my biggest nightmare.
Great photo. Take.good.care!

Liz said...

Oh my! We're off to Canada in two weeks and really hope to see a bear - but not that close! Daughter is an even bigger worrier than I am so I will make sure she doesn't read this.

By the way, I only discovered today that you had made my story recently one of your PODs. Thank you so much! I put a new story up today and looked at the comments on the previous ones and found out that way.

Kim from Hiraeth said...

WHAT A STORY! How wonderful that you lived to tell it--and got those shots!

It all happened so fast, too!

leslie said...

Excuse me while I use the toilet.

The Mulligan Family said...

Fantastic photo - Fantastic story! Holy Moly... I don't think I would have been calm enough to get that shot. Wonderful!

Happy ABC Wednesday. My posting (although not nearly as exciting as yours) is up on my Gumbo YaYa blog. Cheers!

Columbo said...

Very exciting! Amazing shot, glad the G decided to leave without having you for a meal. I just got back from Glacier Nationa Park in Montana. Saw a black bear, but no Grizzlies. They are the scary ones.

Mushy said...

Did they tell you the same lame joke about the little bells in bear poop that smells like pepper?!

Corey~living and loving said...

oh my heavens David...you be careful...you hear me? teehee

CrazyCath said...

Oh.
My.
Goodness.
That is so scary, but so thrilling at the same time. One second? What a fantastic shot. Manual focus too - impressive. Although at the speed the bear was travelling, I guess manual focus would be the only way to go...

Brilliant G post. Mine's up too. Alas, no bears. :)

mrsnesbitt said...

David, you are indeed a master of words, a true author and craftsman when it comes to words. here you weave a fascinating, intriguing web of words and deep dialogue. In these circumstances i would only have managed 2 words...............the first being "OH" the second being "**it" and as for the lens on my camera & shutter speed? What camera?

Great stuff as ever!
Dxxx

Jules~ said...

Hi there David. OH my word what a story to read! Here I am wanting to catch up with you after being gone for a bit and I find that you are having some serious adventures. I don't know that I would have thought about my camera if a bear was running towards me. I think I would have just stood there watching the whole thing...transfixed in the moment. I have never been to Canada before. I sit here in Oregon and wave a big "hi" up north your way.

babooshka said...

I nearly had a little watery accident reading this. I know I go to some lenghts for a fantastic shot put even I'd draw the line at being chased by Mr Grizzly. Fabulous post.

womaninawindow said...

As it stands that was one lucky shot. And seven lucky people. Almost makes me think twice about going out alone here in the bush. Black bears aren't as viscious as grizzly bears. Um, hope those aren't my last words.

photowannabe said...

You are a master of words and probably master of your fate.
Great post...scary...exciting...and a story that ends well.

San said...

Close encounters of the dangerous kind. Did you see the film "Grizzly Man"?

nina said...

Ooo, please be careful. Bears are scary.

Amazing Gracie said...

It wouldn't have mattered a lot to me because I would've had a major heart attack and died right on the spot! I guess I would've become the bear's din-din.
~~~Blessings~~~

quilly said...

I'm glad you didn't end up a chew toy. Note, I am not scolding you. I would have been right beside you sawing, "Scoot over!"

Jeni said...

Did you have a spare set of clothes with you too, I hope? I know if that happened to me, I sure would need at least a change of underwear! You are indeed one very lucky, lucky man! HOpe you realize and remember that for any jaunts in the future. No picture is worth getting mauled or worse yet, killed over ya know! So relieved that you are safe but no more frights like that as my old body can't stand that much of a shock to my system and I doubt your wife and children's could either, ya know!
And yes, it was a great picture.

Shrinky said...

My goodness David, you certainly have a guardian angel sitting on your shoulder (who should ocassionally give you a slap upside the head). What the hell were you thinking? Jeez, that's another life you've just used up, you do know that, don't you?

I trust you will frame this shot when you get home? I would!

kouji said...

exciting read. :) cool. glad to hear it turned out alright. would hate to have that bear charge me, that's for sure...

D Herrod said...

Amazing shot and story.

Tommy V said...

WOW... that must have been scary. When it come to bears always remember you only have to out run 1 person.

AphotoAday said...

Interesting story, and well, you got your bear shot...
Mission accomplished...
Good work...

Moannie said...

What next? How will you top that story, David? Lordamercyme! Great pic, so glad you didn't end up in the bears tum.

Suldog said...

Takes brass balls to stand your ground as a grizzly charges - even if that is the right thing to do. Glad you're still with us, David!

becky voyles said...

You always have the most amazing stories to tell. I would have been scared to death. My camera would have shook and the shot would not have been clear. You were very lucky. I had an exciting Labor Day weekend also. I wrote it all backwards on my blog but what the hay?

Mam said...

Yep, lucky, charmed or blessed, what a shot! I'm glad she decided not to continue her charge. Great story!
Nancy

Carrie and Troy Keiser said...

Wild encounter! So glad all were OK and that the bear changed his mind.

Hilary said...

Well luck sure was with you.. I mean what if the ABC Wednesday had been the letter F.. or H? ;)

(yeah I know Fear or Hair-raising)

Colleen said...

David- THat a crazy story!! And the picture gives me chills!! I'm glad you still in one piece, Sheesh!!!

Shammickite said...

Crikey!

Sharon Ishika said...

That is exactly what I told my mother when she insisted you were a "nice boy" ---he's stupid!

Forty years down the line you prove me right. Forget the attempts at being smart like working out the camera details.

Piu

i beati said...

I believe you had a magnificent trip sk

Cuckoo said...

David,
Do you want me to comment on this one ?

You are so damn lucky !!

Cheers !!

Cuckoo

p@tr!(k said...

remember the elephants taking a leak under the tree house at betla? ;)

jmb said...

Well it is a great shot but you are so lucky!!!

Rhea said...

Alright, damnit, you are truly an awesome photographer. I don't think I would have had the balls to stand and shoot...I would have screamed and run. I know, not supposed to, but I would have. If I hadn't pissed my pants first. Oy.

Neva said...

ok .....I read this once but then saw this and thought of you.....so go here ......and see what you think!

AVCR8TEUR said...

What an adventure! I think your bear encounter was much more exciting than mine. I took quite a few shots, but the andrenaline and running to follow the bear left me quite a few blurry mess. I was lucky to salvage at least one to prove I saw it. I guess the lesson here is to always be ready to take that unexpected shot even if it's a charging grizzly.

Craig Glenn said...

Wow, sounds like you bearly made it out of there alive!

Craig

Tranquility said...

Hahaaa... OMG! I am so glad you posted a link to this. I had tried to find it myself and wasn't having any luck.
What an "opportunity"! What a terrifying possibility~!
Whew! Glad it all turned out fine.
You are blessed with good fortune!!!

Country Girl said...

Wow! Your guide gave you good advice. You are lucky, too. My, you really get around!
I was this close to a bear several years when hiking in Shenandoah National Park, VA with my husband and our two sons. It wasn't a grizzly, though. Scary.