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Gramma's Grizzly Story

So, here is the story of the gramma who chased the grizzly off the elk carcass.

A few years ago in late May we were leaving camp just before sunrise. We saw a cow elk with her newborn calf on a ridge above us. It was not light enough to get a good picture, so we thought we would go get a few shots of alpenglow on the Tetons from Oxbow Bend on the Snake, a favorite of tourists and professional photographers alike. We hoped to return to look for the calf later.

We watched the sun rise, casting its brilliant light on the still snowcapped peaks and still waters of the Snake for the better part of an hour, an outdoor photographer’s dream. Of course, throughout that time, I could not stop thinking about the calf elk and what good picture that would be.

We returned to the area where we had last seen the cow and calf, knowing they would have moved, probably back into the trees on the back side of the ridge we had seen them on. We found a place to park in the Sacred Heart Chapel parking lot a little farther down the same ridge. We walked up a hill and found the approximate spot where we had seen the cow and calf and began to look for them in earnest.

The sincerity of our conviction soon waned, not so much from the lack of fruitfulness in our search, but from distraction by the sheer beauty around us with each step offering a new and unique view of Jackson Lake and the Grand Tetons bracketed by trees under an azure sky. Still, we persisted.

I had been a hunter for many years, raising both my children on game meat. I had trained my eyes to focus on an animal’s vitals until I purchased a long lens for my camera. Then, I looked into the eyes of an animal and saw its soul. With apologies to Dylan, I proclaimed: “I can’t shoot them anymore.” I sold all my guns, but I had learned a think or two about tracking animals. I suggested we split up with about fifty yards between us further down the backside of the ridge that fell away to the lake shore. I took the high side.

I had always had a sort of sixth sense with wildlife where I would of “feel” them before I saw them. After one hundred yards or so of walking along the hillside I began to have that feeling, so I made a hard right turn up hill. After quietly moving uphill for ten to fifteen steps I looked up just as I glanced a bear looking at me not twenty-five yards away.

Now what do you think I did? I might have slowly backed away. I might have curled up into a ball, although the bear showed no signs of charging, but simply looked from side-to-side as if uncertain of itself. No, I did neither. I simply lifted my camera and began shooting. The bear turned and ran away.

In a stifled yell, I told friend there was a bear, and he scurried up the hill to join me. We guessed it was a young bear, probably a two-year-old recently estranged from its mama, perhaps a three-year-old. My friend went off in the direction the bear went to try and get a shot. I looked around a bit wondering if the bear hadn’t gotten the little elk calf. Sure enough, I found what was left of the elk calf, and I am the only gramma you will ever meet who has chased a grizzly off an elk carcass.

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