In First Video Of The Season, Grizzly 399 And Super-Sized Cub Look ‘Gorgeous’

Using a spotting scope from several hundred yards away, wildlife photographer Ryan Kempfer caught the first video of the year of Grizzly 399 and her gigantic cub on Tuesday. Both were looking "gorgeous," he said.

Mark Heinz

May 01, 20243 min read

A screen capture of a video taken late Tuesday of Wyoming’s Grizzly 399 and her gigantic cub, who appear to be doing well.
A screen capture of a video taken late Tuesday of Wyoming’s Grizzly 399 and her gigantic cub, who appear to be doing well. (Courtesy Elk Raven Photography)

Wyoming’s beloved Grizzly 399 and her super-sized yearling cub are looking good in some of this season’s earliest video footage of them.

“I would say mama’s looking gorgeous. And the cub is looking like he’s subadult sized instead of yearling sized,” wildlife photographer and tour guide Ryan Kempfer told Cowboy State Daily.

Using a spotting scope from several hundred yards away, Kempfer caught video of 399 and her cub, commonly called Spirit, foraging in brush and timber at about 5 p.m. Tuesday.

In a clip he shared with Cowboy State Daily, 399 at first appears alone in the frame scrounging for some springtime goodies. Then Spirit lumbers in from the right, looking to be nearly the same size as his famous mom.

Lucky Encounter

Kempfer said his sighting of 399 and Spirit on Tuesday was a matter of good luck and perfect timing.

He’s familiar with Grizzly 399. Over the past few years, he’s guided tourists to see her and other wildlife in and near Grand Teton National Park. And he’s also taken photos and video of the world’s most famous bear and her cubs for his wildlife photography business, Elk Raven Photography.

He and his wife, Kris Kassar, are in the middle of moving from Salida, Colorado, to Jackson.

“We got in yesterday afternoon and decided to drop the trailer and go see if we could find anything in the park,” he said.

They weren’t sure what to expect when they pulled over at the Teton Overlook.

“I’ve always got my binoculars to my eye,” Kempfer said.

And it didn’t take him long to spot a grizzly down near the tree line several hundred yards away.

Then a second grizzly appeared, and he started to wonder if he’d struck gold with his first sighting this season of 399 and Spirit.

The two world-famous grizzlies were first reported out of hibernation this year after a brief nighttime sighting April 21.

Spirit was born last year, and was soon noted for his exceptional size. It’s thought that he’s grown so quickly and so large because he doesn’t have any littermates to compete with. 399’s previous cubs were a set of quadruplets.

“When you watch a certain bear long enough, you start recognizing certain facial characteristics and mannerisms,” Kempfer said. “My wife and I were saying, ‘Oh my God, I think this is really it. I think that’s 399 and her cub.’”

Then 399, who at age 28 is one of the oldest known momma grizzlies, pulled a signature move.

“She did this move where she tilted her head, and lifted her claws, the full-on claw lift, and then there was not doubt that it was her,” he said.

‘What A Gift’

As other people showed up to admire the bear, Kempfer went into wildlife guide mode, letting folks take turns gazing through his spotting scope.

“It was great showing grandparents, showing kids, showing moms and dads Grizzly 399,” he said.

“It was just really, really incredible yesterday. We had no idea that we were going to get a chance to see her,” Kempfer said. “What a gift to be able to have that experience.”

Contact Mark Heinz at

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter