It wasn't just the final day, but the final hours of the season. The June rains were pouring down when my wife got home from work and I managed to convince her to come out for one final spring hunt. We started up a forest service road, with a game plan to see where the snowline was, look for tracks and if the rain stopped, to wander and glass for black bears. Our freezer of venison had dwindled to just a few meals and I was on one last mission to top it up. The spring had been a long one with a fair bit of hunting, there had been opportunities that due to different factors led to me passing up shots; too small, too young, not a great shot. Ethical conundrums that kept my finger off the trigger.
To make what could be a long story short for the second consecutive spring I didn’t get my bear. Though I do want the food not killing a bear didn’t bring me down, there were many days spent outdoors and lots of adventure was had which leaves me a happy hunter. One of the experiences that stands out came to be on that final day of the spring hunt. The rain never let up, Rachael and I pushed up several kilometers on the forest service road, busting through some snow patches until we were not comfortable carrying on any further since we hadn’t notified anyone as to where we were and didn’t want to get stuck in the deepening snowpack. Turning the XTERRA around we made our way back to the paved road. Disengaging the four wheel drive, relaxing my foot from the brake pedal and turning right I almost immediately saw a chocolate bear mowing down the grass in the opposite ditch. As the vehicle crept slower it dawned on me that there was something different about this one.
The body shape wasn’t as ponchy as most of the black bears I’ve watched and the head, the head was massive, much blockier. My first reaction was to loudly ask Rachael to grab the camera, luckily it was loaded with the 70-200mm telephoto lens and was ready to shoot. Window down I crept up and started blasting from the driver’s seat. This bear was nervous, not your typical reaction from the hundreds of black bears I’d seen in this area, it was constantly watching us and moving away. Finally when a second vehicle approached it had had enough and spun up the slope into the trees. As it ran away I was struck by the strength and power it exuded, like watching all four tires of a four wheel drive spin up mud this bear’s paws were churning up clods of soil as it ran away.
A two minute encounter that I had been waiting twenty years for. In two decades of B.C. living I had yet to see a grizzly bear, there had been close encounters, like when we followed fresh tracks down a snow covered road that could have only been made minutes before us, the edges still crisp under a hot mid-day sun. To make the experience more exciting this all happened less than twenty kilometres from our house. It’s a rarity to see a grizzly in the Whistler area, but we did, with the falling light, clouds and heavy rain only a couple of the images came out crisp. The photos of that grizzly bear have left me more stoked than I would have been killing a black bear, hunting isn't just about killing, like photography isn't always about the perfect image, both are about experiencing life.
See you on the water or the mountains.