For bear viewing trips, sitting quietly can help the bears feel comfortable in the open where we can see them. We are lucky that these bears have often seen people before, so we don’t need to hide or be totally silent. However, sitting still is an useful skill to cultivate.
Go to Bear Country
You need to be where the bears need to be. Wild bears prefer to avoid people, but places like Pack Creek or Waterfall Creek in Southeast Alaska offer a rare opportunity where we can see wild bears living their lives and not reacting to us.
Look at Stuff
Look at the edges, the transition from trees to meadow, brushy areas. Look for movement. Purposefully look at things, shadows, trees, rocks. Pick out details. Have a mental image of what you’re looking for.
One of my bad habits is that I tend to wander through my dusty thoughts. My eyes see the landscape and not details. This is how I miss things.
Good binoculars are also important. We provide binoculars and spotting scope.
Most animals have really good hearing. Follow the guide’s lead for appropriate volume.
Sitting quietly also means sitting still
Big or sudden movements will also give you away as much as making noise. Groups that move less seem to see better and closer bear activity than the groups that frequently move around. Even when bears know we are there, big movements seem to cause them to move off.
Know Which Way the Wind Blows
I find it hard to comprehend how much information other animals get through their noses. For mammals like bears, their noses are powerful and precise. I have seen a bear catch my scent from almost a half mile and turn to run. Too often I find myself choosing a spot to sit based on the view, even when the wind means than everyone will be able to smell me loud and clear. The more you face into the wind the better. The flip side of this is that when we watch bears, it may be more important to be in a place where they have seen people before. They often are comfortable with us as long as we are where they expect us to be.
Give it Time
We are very fortunate to travel to places with lots of bears. Our time waiting can be comparatively short to other kinds of wildlife. However, there can be time when there are no bears visible. Warm clothes are essential. Your get cold and your back starts to ache. Enduring this takes a sort of mindlessness.
If Nothing has happened, then Something might in the next potent moment. I sit in the knowledge that sitting is the only way to see It if It is going to happen.
“Have you seen the snow leopard?” “No, Isn’t that wonderful?” – Peter Matthiessen
Seeing an animal in the wild is better than seeing one in a zoo
This seems pretty obvious, but why is it so? It could be because we risk not seeing a bear in the wild, or that we perceive a personal risk. This makes the encounter more rewarding. We need to be prepared, but also fortunate. The sighting is not guaranteed. While we’ve never had a trip without bears during the peak season, I could never offer a guarantee out of respect for the wilderness, the bears and the very nature of the kind of adventure we want to offer. We want that adventure.
My friend Gareth Wishart introduced me to the art of sitting in a city park. He suggested that we just sit quietly at dusk to see what would come by. After the first five minutes, many little creatures returned to their evening activities. Gareth had cleared the leaves from his spot so he could adjust position silently. After 30 minutes, I was ready for something to happen. Nothing did.
In time we saw coyotes, foxes and battles between magnificent antlered deer. The thrill was enhanced by knowing that we would not have seen these simple wonders if we had not been sitting there long before anything interesting came along.