Photographer Says It Was OK For Him To Leave Truck With Grizzly Present Because He’s Experienced

An outdoors photographer was heavily criticized for leaving his truck while a grizzly was present in Yellowstone. He defended himself saying that he knew the bear and didn't take any unnecessary risks.

MH
Mark Heinz

June 13, 20234 min read

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A Jackson man who stepped outside of his truck to photograph Teton Park’s famed Grizzly 610 said he knew what he was doing, but was flamed on social media for the act.

The incident took place during a “bear jam” caused by 610 and her cubs, and National Park Service authorities were present, Geoffrey Tipton stated in a Facebook message to Cowboy State Daily.

He also sent photos from different angles that show numerous vehicles, as well as several other people outside their cars near the bears.

His post that set off the social media buzz was of only his truck, with 610 next to it.

‘You Potentially Could Be F****d’

Tipton’s photo of Grizzly 610 next to his pickup was included with a May 30 post in the Facebook group “Toyota Tundra Nation.”

“So, this happened!” the post text states. “That’s my SR5. That’s a grizzly. Yes … I got out of my truck next to a grizzly to take a pic of a grizzly next to my truck. She wandered off peacefully. Beautiful animal and truck. For those familiar with Grand Teton National Park, this is Grizzly 610.”

Along with her mother, the world-renowned Grizzly 399, Grizzly 610 is one of Wyoming’s most famous bears.

The post and following comment threads were shared with Cowboy State Daily by Jen Mignard, who runs the Facebook group “Yellowstone National Park: Invasion of the Idiots.”

Tipton’s post set off a string of flame comments, accusing him of being foolish and disrespectful of wildlife and Teton Park rules.

“… and you can tell what kind of mood she’s in?” commented a user going by Nathan Shaggy Gawor, who lives north of Yellowstone Park in Montana.

“Until you thought wrong,” he added. “You could have photographed her safely from your truck. Is taking a pic of your truck with a bear worth it? If her mood changed, you could potentially be f****d.”

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610 Only ‘Bluff Charges’

Tipton stood by his assertions in the comment thread, stating that he knows Grizzly 610 well, and didn’t take an unnecessary risk.

“I have a lot of experience with grizzlies,” he posted. “Been photographing them a long time and recognize signs of aggression. Also carry bear spray. This bear is somewhat habituated to people and has a tendency to bluff charge but has never followed through with a human.”

In is message to Cowboy State Daily, Tipton added that, “There were a hundred photographers on scene along with wildlife management and a park ranger.”

‘100-Yard’ Rule Is Hard And Fast

Park Service spokeswoman Vaerie Gohlke told Cowboy State Daily that her agency doesn’t condone people getting out of their vehicles anywhere near grizzlies in Teton Park

“We definitely stand by our wildlife viewing distances, 100 yards for wolves and bears and 25 yards for all other wildlife,” she said.

‘This Is Why We Have A Wildlife Brigade’

It’s never a good idea to get too close to bears, professional wildlife photographer Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven told Cowboy State Daily.

He’s followed the Teton grizzlies for years and captured some of the first images of Grizzly 399 when she emerged from hibernation with a new cub this spring.

“This is why the wildlife brigade was formed in Grand Teton. They are volunteers whose task it is to keep the bears and people safe,” he said.

“Since the roads in the national park are so busy (especially the through road to Yellowstone), a ‘bear jam' quickly forms when a bear is spotted,” he said. “Most visitors have the common sense to follow park rules, but people like in your picture do exist, unfortunately. Typically the wildlife brigade arrives on scene very quickly. They direct people and traffic to keep everything safe.”

A large telephoto lens is a wildlife photographer’s most important tool," Vangoidtsenhoven added.

“As a photographer, you always put the animal first. If the animal reacts to your presence, you're too close. Hence the need for large telephoto lenses which allow you to keep your distance,” he said.

“In this age of everyone carrying cellphones and iPads, which aren't great for wildlife photography and 'require' you to get close to the animal, I'm honestly surprised no more accidents happen in our national parks with careless visitors."

Geoffrey Tipton of Jackson said that a controversial photo of Teton Park’s Grizzly 610 next to his pickup was taken during a “bear jam” caused by 610 and her cubs, and numerous other people also got out of their vehicles.
Geoffrey Tipton of Jackson said that a controversial photo of Teton Park’s Grizzly 610 next to his pickup was taken during a “bear jam” caused by 610 and her cubs, and numerous other people also got out of their vehicles. (Photos Courtesy Geoffrey Tipton)

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.

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MH

Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter