It was a muddy, gory grizzly bear’s paradise recently along the Chief Joseph Highway, and Wyoming wildlife photographer Dave Bell was lucky enough to be there.
“This was the biggest darned bear I had ever seen, muzzle-deep in a dead cow,” Bell, who lives in Pinedale, told Cowboy State Daily as he described one of the bears.
He stared the evening watching a mama grizzly chase a boar (male grizzly) away from her cub near the highway about 16 miles north of Cody. But the real action began when he spied another, super-sized bear gorging on a cattle carcass in a mud bog.
End Of A Long Day
Bell photographs wildlife and landscapes all over Wyoming. He set off on a long trip last week, from Pinedale to Cody via Yellowstone National Park.
“It had been a long day. I had left Pinedale at 4 that morning,” he said.
He took his time, heading out of the park through Cooke City and up over Dead Indian Pass along the Chief Joseph Highway. It was getting toward dusk, and Bell was looking forward to pulling into Cody, where he planned to stay with his friend, Tim O’Leary.
“The sun was just about setting, and I spotted a grizzly bear, initially just one bear, about 100 yards off the side of the road,” he said.
He soon realized there wasn’t just one bear. There were three.
The first bear was a mamma, and there was a yearling cub with her. And she wasn’t too fond of a male grizzly that was also nearby.
Male grizzlies will sometimes try to kill cubs that aren’t theirs.
“She, the mother, was obviously trying to run him, the boar, off because they had that cub,” Bell said. “She was barking and growling and yipping at him. I’m convinced she was never aware of my presence.”
Eventually, mama bear succeeded, and the male grizzly ran off, Bell said.
He thought the show was over, but it was just getting started.
‘Into The Gore’
He watched the mother grizzly and her cub saunter in to a gully. That’s when spotted a monster-sized grizzly feasting on a cattle carcass.
The carcass was in a nasty mud bog, a perfect setting for grizzly dining.
“The big bear never hardly moved, it was in its sweet spot,” Bell said.
Apparently, there was enough to go around. The huge bear didn’t seem to mind as the mother and cub approached and joined in on the rancid buffet.
As big as the first bear feasting on the carcass was, Bell said he wondered if it wasn’t another female. The mama bear didn’t perceive any threat from it, as she had with the male that she’d just chased off.
“I don’t know if it was a boar or if it was another sow (female bear). My bet is that it was another sow, because the mother just didn’t seem to see it as a threat to her cub,” Bell said.
Using a 400-millimeter telephoto lens, Bell never got more than a few steps away from his truck about 100 yards from the scene as he spent roughly 45 minutes taking photos of the gorging grizzlies.
He later posted an array of the photos on Facebook under the title “Into the Gore.”
“I did get some criticism (in the Facebook comments section) for supposedly getting too close to the bears, but I was shooting through a telephoto lens, and because of the lay of the land and direction of the wind, I don’t think they were aware of me,” Bell said.
He added that as night fell, he was more concerned about other bears coming in to get a piece of beef.
“I wasn’t worried about being attacked by the bears I was photographing. I was more worried about another bear coming up behind me in the dark,” he said.
After it got too dark to see, he got back into his truck and drove away.
‘They Had Been Eating All Night’
Bell and O’Leary left Cody at 6 a.m. the next day, and were back at the carcass site about a half-hour later.
“The three bears were still there. They had been eating all night,” Bell said. “As soon as we pulled up, they backed off the carcass and headed up the hillside.”
He added that a ranch inspector later came along and told them that remains of the carcass would have to be inspected to determine if the cow had been killed by a grizzly.
“I couldn’t tell if the cow died from natural causes or if the bears had killed the cow,” Bell said. “A guy is going to have to get right down into that mud bog to skin the remains to inspect them.”
That’s not a task Bell envies.
Grizzlies are sometimes killed by wildlife agents for preying on cattle. So far this year, several bears have been killed for that reason in Wyoming and Montana.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.