This past summer, I had a great bear encounter with a small group of guests. The bear was relaxed and walked by, maybe 10 or 12 yards away. Brown bears, or coastal grizzlies, are dangerous animals. While we can never say that bears are “safe,” we can manage the risk and have really outstanding viewing.
We purposefully go looking for bear encounters. At Pack Creek Bear Tours, we have years of experience reading brown bear behavior and body language. We’ve learned subtle ways of moving through bear country that increase the safety of every trip. A good encounter with a coastal grizzly might sound like a contradiction, but here’s what it looks like to me.
A good bear encounter starts with happy, wild bears surrounded by vast wilderness. A bear paradise, vast oceans with healthy oceans and abundant wild salmon. These are well-fed bears, with room to roam. We have to go to them, so it starts with a float plane flight away from town. Good encounters happen when the bear is relaxed and not anxious. So we move slowly, in a tight group. We keep our voices low. Your guide might have you sit down, keep the bear comfortable. If we talk loudly or move around, the bears might not run away, but they won’t come close. Likewise, we might sit quietly for a few hours before a bear feels comfortable enough to wander by.
The bear we saw was a young bear. I’d watched this bear grow up and now he was on his own. His sister was the more adventurous of the two. He had never strayed far from his mother until she chased him off. Even after that, he would hang around and stand on his hind legs to watch her over the grass. I saw this young bear coming up the beach. We sat down as he made his way up the beach. The little guy could see us the whole time, knew we were there. When he got close, he stopped and looked at us, averted his eyes (perhaps so we wouldn’t think he was being threatening), dropped his nose and walked a circle around us and continued to meander down the beach. Nothing scary or tense. Calm and collected, but close enough to see the wetness of his nose, the shine of his eye.
If you want to see a bear up close, the best way to do it is at a place like Pack Creek or Waterfall Creek. We were sitting on the same gravel beach. We could hear the gravel under his paws, the clack of his long claws on the rocks. The same wind moved his fur that was in our hair. These are special places. While close encounters like this don’t happen every day, you’d be coming to the right place!