How close is too close when it comes to a brown bear? For myself, my wife Linda and our son Zach it is a question for which I now have the answer. Moreover, the answer is a memory that will last a lifetime for all of us.
It started back in 2012 with a chartered floatplane out of Anchorage that would take us to Redoubt Lake. Redoubt Lake is about an hour’s flight north west of Anchorage and is a beautiful lake at the base of a snowcapped mountain. If you are looking for a great place to charter a flight, please check out Rust’s Flying Service out of Anchorage http://www.flyrusts.com. Rust’s picked us up at our hotel and soon we were in the air flying to Redoubt Lake with high expectations of seeing some wild brown bears.
After arriving we met our guide, climbed into a pontoon and headed across the lake where a small stream flowed into a secluded cove. Our guide explained that the salmon were pooling in this small cove waiting for the right time to head up the stream to spawn. The brown bears also knew this schedule and would be coming down to feed -- and come down they did. One after another, brown bear after brown bear appeared and then went about fishing for salmon. Our guide nestled the pontoon next to the shore and I went about the task of photographing all the bears.
After a couple of hours of brown bears, and the ever-so-often black bear, we were settling into a routine. A bear would come down, do some fishing and then head back into the thick underbrush and trees. A short time later another bear would wonder down and do the same thing. All the while I am in heaven taking a lot of photos. Then I heard a gasp. A gasp you hear when someone is frightened. I turned to look and eight feet away, you see our guide anchored the pontoon eight feet from the shore, was a very, and I mean very, large brown bear.
My first instinct was being a dad and protecting Zach from a potentially dangerous situation. I placed a hand on his chest and quickly, and as smoothly as I could, moved him behind me. Linda had already moved across the boat to be further away from the bear. While all this was happening I was still taking pictures! Yes I know, stupid, but what a picture of a brown bear! I had a 70-200mm lens mounted and the camera was on my hip. As the bear walked by I kept pressing the shutter button taking photos! Way too cool for words. As you can see from the picture that introduced this blog entry, my focus was still pretty good even though my heart was racing at 200 beats per minute. It is hard to keep a camera steady in a boat, heart racing, and you are literally shooting from the hip - but it worked out.
The bear simply walked down the trail and never really paid us any attention. This was good because if the bear wanted to, it could have easily jumped into the boat and caused some real trouble.
Eight feet, even though it is extremely exciting, is a little too close. That is the answer to the question, “how close is too close?” Thirty to 40 feet away, which was how far the bears below were from us, is much more my style.
If you are looking for an adventure, be sure to check out the Redoubt Lake trip and I hope you have the luck we did. Just remember to look behind you if you are anchored close to shore.