Bears and Bear Spray

Okay, let me get this over with before my “friend” Richard Hartmier spills the beans. I sprayed myself with bear spray today. In my defense, it was a teensy spritz and it was done protecting Richard and a tourist… well, kinda. Sorta. Well that’s almost the truth.

Here’s what happened. We were photographing a mother with three cubs that had climbed up the embankment of the Chilkoot River and were now on the road, heading for a group of tourists. So absorbed were we in our work, we did not realize that another bear family was coming up behind us! Some alert tourists yelled toward us and we picked up our tripods and walked behind Richard’s vehicle. We didn’t even have time to get into the vehicle. The bears passed within five feet of us, so I got my bear spray ready and popped off the safety catch, just in case. They passed us with no incident, as we watched each other warily. In my rush to re-set my tripod and photograph them approaching the original family of bears in what could have been a dramatic encounter, my elbow hit the bear spray and psssst!

Bear spray is not a pleasant substance. It is the highest concentration of capsacin- hot pepper spray- imaginable. Loyal readers will remember that a similar incident happened to a friend of mine last week, only his spray was in his pants pocket and inflicted far more pain and suffering. Bear spray burns your lungs and skin, but luckily it only came in slight contact with my hands and came nowhere near my eyes. My consequences involved a ruined photo vest and a late night trip to the laundromat to wash my fleece jacket. Worst of all was the incessant jokes and ribbing I was forced to endure from Richard all day and night and probably for the rest of my life. Yukoners have very little else to entertain themselves, so I don’t mind being the grownup here and humoring the poor bloke. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Now, onto the bears. There were lots of them today and I managed to get some decent shots, although the ones I’m showing you here are quickies. Better images will be forthcoming on my gallery website, so stay tuned.The best thing about today was the chance to test out some techniques with my new Nikon 200-400mm VR lens and a 500mm piece of junk that Richard is trying to pawn off on me. We had loads of fun photographing these hulking animals, as they gorged themselves on high protein, high fat salmon in preparation for winter. The cubs you see in the photos are two years old and will stay with their mother for another year or so. You can see in some photos that some of them are tagged for research purposes.

We’ll continue photographing bears tomorrow in Haines. You can follow my tracks on an interactive map at: You’ll notice that we are spending concentrated time in one area and staying in one spot for extended periods of time.

Within the next two days I’ll describe this quaint seacoast town and its spectacular mountainous surroundings in some detail.

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