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Wildlife Photography – I Don’t Have to Outrun the Bear…

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Bull Moose - Head On View

Not a view of a moose you'll normally want to see

You’ve probably heard the joke about the two hikers who are charged by a grizzly in the forest. One immediately starts removing his boots so he can run faster. The other says, “Are you crazy—you can’t outrun that bear!” The first replies, “I don’t have to outrun the bear… I only have to outrun you!”

I’ve been known to make the similar remarks about close-up wildlife photography (I don’t have to outrun the moose—just another photographer). But in truth, no photo is worth risking your life, and it’s not just the animals you should fear!

Wildlife, particularly in national parks, is often quite tolerant of humans—misleading some to act like they’re at a petting zoo! The apparent calm of bears, moose, bison, et al, can be quite misleading, as they all can suddenly charge. And outrunning them… forget it. Bull moose weigh from 1000-1800 pounds depending on region, and can reach speeds of 35 MPH. Bison can be 2000 pounts, and also hit 35 MPH and jump 6 feet vertically from a standing start! And pity the person who gets between mother and baby—it’s a recipe for disaster that will require great luck to escape. I know—I’ve literally “been there, done that!”

In fall of 2003 in the Grand Tetons, we were at the end of a dirt road near Oxbow Bend when we came across a cow moose and her calf. A few photographers from a photography workshop were also there. While I was keeping a reasonably safe distance from mother and child, they thought it made sense to approach the calf for an extreme close-up. Incredibly stupid, and proof that the bad decisions of other people can put you at risk!

The calf panicked, started running, and stopped 20 feet behind me while the cow moose shifted 60 feet in front–putting me right in the middle! All I could do was freeze (moose have relatively poor eyesight) and hope mom wouldn’t charge, and baby wouldn’t run into me (that calf was probably more than 150 lbs).

Fortunately for me, after perhaps 10 seconds (it seemed MUCH longer), the calf trotted away from the opening we were in toward the woods, and mom moved towards him. At that point, I had enough photography, and particularly those idiots who had panicked the calf.

Written by Craig de Fasselle

May 31st, 2010 at 10:56 am

Posted in Tails from the Trail

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