Grizzly 399 May Be Old But She Still Knows How To Kill Elk

Although people have romanticized Grizzly 399 as a giant, cuddly teddy bear, she's a grizzly. Earlier this week, spectators saw what apex predators do as she ripped apart two elk calves so she and her cub Spirit could have some lunch.

Andrew Rossi

May 30, 20246 min read

399 closeup scaled
(Photo by Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven,

Grizzly 399 and her cub Spirit are making their rounds through Grand Teton National Park, followed by an ever-present flock of fans. But a recent incident observed by several enthusiasts reminded them that the celebrity bear isn't a giant, cuddly teddy bear -- she's an apex predator.

Kristen Hayes was driving through Grand Teton when 399 killed the elk calf near the road. She didn’t see the kill but heard “the squeal” that signified a successful hunt.

“As I was driving by, I could see her in the trees, eating something,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “I've never seen behavior like that, especially from her, so it was very exciting to see.”

399 is keeping her cub well-fed. Based on her observations, Hayes believes that was the second elk calf 399 had successfully taken that day.

“You want them to have as much protein as possible, and elk calves are their preference at this time of year,” she said. “It was really nice to see that they were getting lots of food.”

The crowd's reaction was mixed. Hayes thinks most people didn’t realize what they had witnessed until the grizzlies were gorging themselves.

“A couple of people were trying to come up on foot,” she said. “I don't think they realized that there was a bear on a kill. Everybody's always thrilled to see her, but you could still tell everybody there was especially excited. They just wanted to get a glimpse of her.”

With international press attention and a recently released documentary about her extraordinary story, Grizzly 399 is more famous than ever. But the predatory prowess Hayes and many others witnessed is a reminder that the famous grizzly is still a ferocious and potentially dangerous wild animal that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Still An Apex Predator

Kari Godfrey has been following Grizzly 399 since 2017. She didn’t witness the elk calf kill, but doesn’t need a reminder of the true nature of Grand Teton’s most famous resident.

“She's an apex predator, and she's a mama grizzly,” she said. “399 is going to defend her cub in any circumstance in which she feels that she or her yearling cub are threatened. We always say that the most predictable thing is that apex predators are unpredictable.”

Mother grizzlies with cubs are among the most dangerous animals in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Wyoming’s first recorded grizzly attack of 2024 occurred on Signal Mountain in Grand Teton when a man was seriously injured by an attacking mother grizzly.

There’s no record or indication that 399 has attacked anyone in her extraordinary 28-year life. Despite the throngs of tourists following her every move, Godfrey has never witnessed any aggressive behavior from 399.

“I've only ever heard of one incident where she might have bluff-charged a ranger several years ago,” she said. “But I've been coming here since 2017 and seen her every year, and I have never once witnessed any sort of dangerous behavior from her.”

Reverence And Respect

Dangerous encounters with grizzlies often stem from the decisions of visitors in their environment, whether it be a foolish decision to get too close or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the survivor of the May 19 attack on Signal Mountain attested to.

In Godfrey’s experience, visitors rarely give in to their bad behavior in the presence of 399. They’re usually better behaved with her than they might be elsewhere.

“People wait a long time and sometimes wait years to see her,” she said. “When they do, there’s elation, a collective feeling of joy. “They feel like they’re witnessing something special and truly are.”

Godfrey described the demeanor of “399’s paparazzi” as “eager, excited, and happy.” There’s always an unspoken reverence for the grizzly that might be absent when seeing any other animal in the same environment.

“I have never once in all my years witnessed anybody doing anything dumb or putting themselves or her in danger,” she said. “I think people respect her too much. They're too excited to see her.”

Hayes agreed that the sight of 399 inspires a more reserved reaction from visitors.

“I think there's a little bit more respect for bears in general because people know they're dangerous,” she said. “But when they know it's her, there's a little more respect.”

Smarter Than The Average Celebrity Bear

Respect is usually a two-way street, and 399’s behavior suggests she long ago figured out how to work a crowd. Godfrey has observed how 399 uses the traffic jams she creates to her advantage.

“She’s a very smart bear, and she does use humans in traffic,” she said. “It’s been documented for the past several years that she has roadside paths that she perpetually uses. She knows that by keeping her cubs near roads that are frequented by the people who want to see her, it’ll be safe for her. The cars keep her safe, and she knows that.”

Thankfully, 399 doesn’t have to do it alone. Godfrey and Hayes praised the Grand Teton Rangers for dutifully keeping traffic moving while ensuring everyone gets a safe sighting of the grizzly.

“The Rangers are doing a great job getting across that message that we need to give them space and keep them wild, and I think people are listening,” Hayes said.

See Today, Remember Forever

The already large crowds of tourists admiring 399 and Spirit are growing as the summer season kicks into high gear. With the release of Grizzly 399: Queen of the Tetons on PBS, she can add a starring role on the silver screen to her lengthy list of accolades.

“There's definitely another level of excitement since the documentary came out,” Hayes said. “Everybody knows who she is now.”

While her story and progeny are legendary, 399 won’t be “Queen of the Tetons” forever. Godfrey believes that’s another reason why 399 inspires more reverence in observers.

“She's changed my life,” she said. “She's a healer. (Grizzly 399) has been there for me after both my parents died. Someday, she's not going to be here. To be in her presence (now) is a great thing.”

That’s why Godfrey, Hayes, and so many others will make a sighting of Grizzly 399 one of the highlights of their Wyoming excursions. And it’s almost certain that most of them won’t leave disappointed.

“These are going to be great memories for everybody who's had a chance to encounter her,” Godfrey said. “They might feel like that is a blessing, because I definitely will.”

Andrew Rossi can be reached at

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Andrew Rossi

Features Reporter

Andrew Rossi is a features reporter for Cowboy State Daily based in northwest Wyoming. He covers everything from horrible weather and giant pumpkins to dinosaurs, astronomy, and the eccentricities of Yellowstone National Park.