Foxes, musk oxen, and bears – oh why

I see that Beth has alluded to the fact that I have a story about bears. Oh, do I. A couple days ago, Peter and I were dropped off at a plot. It was the usual—hot and buggy day on a beautiful Alaskan hillside. Shortly after dropping us off, Patrik swung the helicopter around and flew back to us. This was something new. He informed us of a bear down the way and assured us that he had deterred him to travel in a different direction but to be hyper aware. Patrik left us with his pistol.

We continued working on our plot with a set timer to do a bear check every 5 minutes. All was going swimmingly—we were cruising through our work and making our “funny” jokes. After some time, we felt somewhat confident that the bear had moved on. The binoculars around Peter’s neck were getting in his way. As he expressed his annoyance of the magnifiers—I did a quick scan with my regular old eyes—and sure enough there was the grizzly bear, about 250 m away. I exclaimed a phrase that was definitely not for our grandmas’ ears.

We have been adamant about having an air horn and bear spray on each of us. We stopped what we were working on—and convened for our next moves. Peter watched through the binoculars to have eye on him the whole time, he was in and out of the shorter willows—we loaded the gun and had our air horns ready. Normally, a bear is uninterested in pursuing louder noises, unless it’s a younger bear—younger bears can become curious. Of course, we had encountered a younger bear. We estimated that he was around 2 years old, he must have been ticked off that his mom kicked him out of the den. We blew our air horns. We could see his beautiful, dark face pop up through the willows. He was curious and was slowly make his way up the hill toward us. Noise wasn’t working—so it was time to start backing up the hill. I was quickly gathering the most important things and we started to back up and all of a sudden we heard the whirling of the helicopter. Cue the music…A TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY. We pointed to where the bear was and Patrik flew to chase him off. He later told us that the bear was running ~35 mph and we found out that we were close to and backing up toward his food cache. We were too close to his refrigerator. Upon hearing that—I had a blank stare and an awkward, fake smile. Patrik also mentioned, “…if you shot him in the shoulder, I mean, he still would have mauled you.” Thanks, Patrik, your blunt Swedish “advice” is noted.

Needless to say, helicopters are rad.

I have seen grizzlies, arctic foxes, musk oxen and caribou in my first week of being here. I have become somewhat of an expert of spotting bears from the helicopter. I’ve got an eye for those furry friends. If I go rogue, you can probably find me working with wildlife in the Arctic.

I have had a few very exciting last few days—an equally exciting soil post soon to come.



Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One Reply to “Foxes, musk oxen, and bears – oh why”

  1. Oh my! I can’t even imagine what I would do. I once got into a not so fun battle with some wild pigs mapping soils and discovered how unfriendly wildlife can be sometimes. You will have to write an Alaska field adventures book when you get done! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *