How I Shot A Charging Grizzly (With My Camera!)

The funny thing about life-defining moments is that you never know they’re coming – until they hit you square between the eyes. You can actually see my photograph of the charging grizzly on Red Bubble, at This Grizzly Charged Me.

THERE WAS no sound at all when the grizzly charged. No roar. No blood-curdling snarls. Most of all, there was no warning.

He just launched himself at us. I’d been told just how rapidly a grizzly can move, but I was astounded at how quickly he covered the 25-30m that separated us.

That, and how deathly silent it was.

The last place you’d expect to be charged is when you’re about five minutes away from your car, after a six-hour hike through Kluane National Park, a World Heritage Site in the Yukon.

Our guide, Brent Liddle of Kluane Ecotours, reassured us, his six rookies, that he had a can of bear spray in his backpack. “I’ve carried bear spray for 30 years and never had to use it,’’ he told us on the morning of 1 September 2008.

For most of the day, I had trailed the rest of the group by about 20 metres because I constantly stopped along the way to take photographs. There was no shortage of subjects, but we saw no bears.

All that changed quickly, and dramatically, as we approached the car park. I had just switched off both cameras and was down on my hands and knees, refilling my water bottle in a mountain stream, when I heard a summons. Grizzly up ahead.

Grizzly? Here? I was convinced they were kidding me just to gauge my reaction. There was no grizzly, not as far as I could see. And we were less than 40 metres from a paved pathway.

Highly skeptical, I moved to the front of the group. Not the smartest thing to do if threatened by a grizzly, but as far as I could see there was nothing there.

That’s when he appeared. What happened next took no more than five seconds, but I can still see it like a series of freeze frames.

He was close enough for me to notice his patchy brown hair. He was on all fours, which I guess indicated he was about to challenge us for sovereign rights over this patch of Canadian turf.

Instinct took over. I knew I’d never have a photo opportunity like this. How often in your life do you get to photograph a grizzly in the wild? More importantly, how often does someone photograph a grizzly charging in their direction?

I snatched for one of my cameras when the grizzly began his charge. I was standing between him and the other hikers. Things happened so quickly there was no time for anyone to reach for the bear spray.

In the split second while I trained my camera on the charging bear, I only had time for one thought. Incongruously, it was photography-related. There were vibrant splashes of autumn hues all round us, patches of orange, yellow and red, but the grizzly had chosen to launch himself at us in a zone that was devoid of colour.

I only had the time to hit the shutter once as he charged. Then he was gone. He veered left into the undergrowth. For three or four seconds, we could not see him. Then he reappeared on our right, looked at us briefly and wandered away.

I immediately asked each hiker if they had been scared. Each had the same answer: things had simply happened too quickly for anyone to be gripped by panic.

But that night, as I reviewed my photographs, the fear gripped me. For the first time in my life, I understood the true meaning of the phrase ``spine-chilling’’.

Why? Not just because of the amazing confrontation and the once-in-a-lifetime photograph. Not, not solely because of that. But also because the grizzly had chosen to retreat up the narrow pathway that I had just come down, entirely on my own.

David McMahon’s first novel, “Vegemite Vindaloo’’, was published by Penguin India in 2006. His second novel, Muskoka Maharani was published on 15 March 2010.

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How I Shot A Charging Grizzly (With My Camera!) by 


There was no time for fear. No time to feel ANYTHING.

Walkley Award-nominated journalist, novelist and wedding photographer at davidmcmahonweddings.com

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Comments

  • Brandie1
    Brandie1about 5 years ago

    Good story.
    I am so glad you & the others escaped unharmed.xx

  • Thanks very much, Brandie. Really appreciate your feedback. A fellow Red Bubbler, Nancy Polanski, put a comment on the photo that I really enjoyed. She said “ARE YOU INSANE?”

    – David McMahon

  • Terence Russell
    Terence Russellabout 5 years ago

    Made me think back on “Grizzly Man.” Glad it didn’t end up with you getting a great picture but not being around to see it. Nice story, though, and thankfully a HAPPY ending!

  • Thank you, Terence. Strangely enough, a childhood friend told me about Grizzly Man as soon as he heard this story. Yes, we were EXTREMELY lucky that day.

    – David McMahon

  • Brandie1
    Brandie1about 5 years ago

    Hi, David.
    Now I know some-one else asked that, I will be honest & tell you ,
    While reaing the story, I was thinking this guy is either totally mad or just had 1 scotch or 2 to many.lol.
    Again I am glad your still around.xx

  • I’m so glad you asked me the question, Brandie! I reckon others would have had the same thought cross their minds, perhaps. I don’t drink at all! And yes, I’m very relieved to be able to tell the tale!

    – David McMahon

  • Betty Mackey
    Betty Mackeyabout 5 years ago

    So he charged — and? Did he ever make noise? How close did he get? Why did he leave? Maybe your camera frightened him because he couldn’t figure out what you were doing (who could?). Not kidding.

  • No noise at all, Betty. You would not have know he was a) there and b) charging unless you actually witnessed it. Don’t think the camera frightened him. He veered off when he was only about 15 metres away. Maybe he’d just had a good feed, or maybe his (poor) vision showed him an unidentifiable mass of more than one human being and he just decided he couldn’t be bothered.

    – David McMahon

  • Linda Bianic
    Linda Bianicabout 5 years ago

    Wow!! Another grizzly encounter,, and yeah,, most Yukoners that I know woudl say that was reaaaally stupid!!! they are fast, quiet, and can be deadly,, so happy to hear he lsot interest in you…or we wuld not have the pleaure of hearing your tales…they ALL carry bear spray!!!
    . I have a grizz story as well,,,,,,so I can totally paint a picture with this one!!

  • I want to hear your grizzly story, Linda! Yes, he was unbelievably fast and (equally unbelievably) silent – like whispering death.

    – David McMahon

  • Linda Bianic
    Linda Bianicabout 5 years ago

    whisering death,, perfect desription……..I will write my story, but not tonite,, gotta goto bed…

  • Maybe I should change the title!

    – David McMahon

  • Linda Bianic
    Linda Bianicabout 5 years ago

    Bet itwuld get a lot more views …..

  • You’ve got a point there!

    – David McMahon

  • AnnGossen
    AnnGossenover 4 years ago

    incredible experience, happy everyone dodged injury, amazing photograph!!

  • There was only time for one shot, Ann. It was the experience of a lifetime. And yes, I had many guardian angels looking over me that day.

    – David McMahon

  • Charmiene Maxwell-batten
    Charmiene Maxw...over 4 years ago

    this is such an exciting story – adventure!!

  • Trust me, Charmiene – there was no time for fear. The fear came that evening, as I looked at the photographs.

    – David McMahon

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