I took this picture of a mother and cub bear while I was on vacation at Denali Park, Alaska.

While conducting one of our surveys, Dan (one of my esteemed co-workers) and I came in very close contact with a grizzly that was sitting on top of a moose kill.

While in the field, I kept a daily journal of the surveys events. The day of the bear encounter I wrote, "The dwarf birch were quite dense in areas and limited our visibility to about one and a half meters at times. Realizing that good moose habitat meant good grizzly habitat, we yelled out "Hey bear" a lot so that bears could hear us coming and hopefully get out of the way. As we entered a patch of dense shrub, I smelled a dank, pungent odor. The smell was like a dead animal, urine and old, wet, dirty rags all rolled into one. Dan (who was walking in front of me) turned and said "Something smells really bad here." Reaching down, I picked up a patch of moose hair and said "Look at this, Dan" knowing it was a bad sign. As I bent down to pick up the moose hair, Dan could see a large grizzly sitting on a moose kill just five feet away. Seeing Dan's jaw drop, I turned and saw the bear out of the corner of my eye. Knowing that bears consider direct eye contact a sign of aggression, I turned my head back to Dan and said "Just keep walking." Our hearts were absolutely pounding. According to experts, the bear should have attacked us already and probably would at any second. If we ran away, the bear would chase us down. If we stood still, the bear would have thought that we wanted the moose and would have torn us to pieces in defense of his kill. We kept walking. I pulled the pepper spray out of its holster wondering if the bear would even feel the spray before it was on top of me. I began to have minor hallucinations. Gray and black formless shapes appeared every few seconds out of the corners of my eyes. As we walked, I kept looking back to see when the bear would charge. At about 100 meters from the bear, we found another moose kill. This one was older and was mostly fur and bone. Was it enough to make the bear protective of it? "Oh, dear God!" I exclaimed. The dwarf birch was thick and we didn't know if the bear was hiding in the brush waiting to pounce. 50 meters later, we found another patch of moose hair possibly indicating a third moose-kill nearby. It was a nightmare with no end..."

In the end, the bear let us get away. I will be eternally grateful to that grizzly. I have read several accounts of people getting killed because they came within one or two hundred meters of a moose kill. I have never heard of anyone living to tell of an encounter like this with a grizzly on a moose kill.

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Text and all photographs Copyright © 1999 Matthew Gerbrandt
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Revised -- October 17th, 2001