Dean M. Chriss
Subadult male grizzly bear

"Fluffy", Subadult Male Grizzly Bear

(Click image to enlarge)

This male bear, who we named "Fluffy", had enough fur for two grizzlies with some left over. At the time he was a subadult male. That means he had already left his mother and was on his own, but was still not quite fully grown. Fluffy was about 4 years old when this photograph was captured and I'd guess he weighed around 250 or 300 pounds. In human terms Fluffy was an angry young man. He would go on rampages, running wildly down the river, catching one 40 pound salmon after another in his mouth. He would fling each one back and forth so hard that the salmon would literally come apart, and then do it all over again without eating anything. Fluffy also got into trouble with humans. He loved chasing them away and destroying everything they left behind.

One morning I was standing beside the river with another photographer, trying to photograph a different bear in the water. Hearing a noise behind me I looked back to see what it was, and unfortunately it was Fluffy. The other photographer either did not hear the noise or was concentrating so intensely on his camera's viewfinder that he didn't bother looking. I tapped him pretty hard on his shoulder and pointed behind us. Fluffy was coming out of the brush and was then perhaps twenty feet away. His eyes fixed on us and he was walking directly toward us.

We moved to the side, trying to avoid the bear in the river and Fluffy too. We ended up backing into a space not wide enough for two people to pass one another. It was was not more than another twenty feet from our tripods, but there was nowhere else to go. I was in back and the other photographer was in front. When we moved Fluffy's gaze and direction remained fixed on our tripods, both with very expensive cameras and 600mm F/4 lenses attached. I felt glad that we were going to be alright and sick that my camera gear was going to be destroyed. When Fluffy's nose was on a leg of my tripod the other photographer clapped his hands loudly and exclaimed "HA!". Fluffy was startled, instantly looked directly at us, and approached. I wanted to tell the guy who did this that he was an idiot, but why bother now? I truly thought that one or both of us was going to die or be seriously injured. As Fluffy approached, the other photographer got out his bear spray and got it ready by shaking it as you're supposed to. Upon seeing the bear spray Fluffy ran full tilt into the river, leaving us and our cameras intact. He obviously wanted nothing to do with bear spray, having experienced it many times before. Perhaps the other guy knew the bear better than I, but turning the bear's attention to us was still an incredibly dumb thing to do.

Copyright 2020 Dean M. Chriss