"Guerilla bear-viewing"

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 11:23:20 08/15/13

In Reply to: Bears?? posted by tomkat


Finding bears in mid to late August can be tough at best, but there are strategies that can enhance the odds.

First, for black bears, recognize that the Tower/Roosevelt area is black bear central. Cruise the roads along Antelope Creek from the Tower Store uphill through the forested area, the road from the Tower Store back toward Mammoth, at least as far as the Hellroaring trailhead, and the Northeast Entrance Road from Tower Junction to the Specimen Ridge trailhead. There are a few other areas up north that produce black bear sightings on occasion. One is the general Mammoth Hot Springs area, including the road uphill toward Swan Lake Flats. Another is the general Blacktail Plateau area, particularly where there is forest close to the road (like up where the Blacktail Plateau Drive begins). The viewing will be nothing like spring and early summer, when visible black bears abound. Stop at the Tower Store at a quiet time, early in the morning or the last hour before closing, when it's somewhat quiet, and the employees are not under seige. Chat them up about bears. They live right next to the Tower Campground, and often see bears on the way back and forth to work. They also see bears on their days off, AND they hear visitors talking about seeing bears, at the store. (Don't get overly reliant on rangers in visitor centers. Some know about bears, but a fair number don't get out much, and might not have a clue where scarce bears are being seen. How do I know this? I used to be one, and heard some of my peers dispensing bogus info or info that was way out of date.)

For grizzlies, you need to have luck on your side, but there are things you can do to help luck along. Pure dumb luck can and has produced a serendipity griz sighting along a road almost anywhere in Yellowstone, but they are sure rare this time of year. Most griz sightings I have experienced in mid or late August, from the road, have been in Hayden Valley or Lamar Valley. The bison rut will be in full swing, and the herds have gathered for the big event. As many as 2,000 bison will converge in Hayden Valley. Two behaviors result in bison carcasses littering the valley floor. One is the jousting that goes on between bulls, fighting for mating rights. Occasionally, a bull will get fatally gored. What I believe is an even more frequent source of bison mortality this time of year is the tendency for herds to cross the road, going back and forth between the river and the west side of the valley. When they do it at night, they are at risk for being mowed down by an inattentive driver. Quite often, the bison does not die instantly, but wanders off somewhere and eventually succumbs to its injuries. Those large carcasses draw quite a crowd, including grizzlies. If there is one in view of the road in Hayden Valley, you'll know it, because there will be plenty of visitors on hand to watch/photograph the comings and goings of coyotes, eagles, grizzlies, ravens, and wolves.

Over in Lamar Valley, things may appear to be quiet. Usually, the bison herds are out of the valley at this time of year, some further up the river, others clustered on the back side of Specimen Ridge. (You can see the clusters from the pullouts above Antelope Creek, if you have good binoculars or a spotting scope.) Once in a while, bison will wander down near the road, and you get the same result as in Hayden Valley. Sometimes, you find a sub-adult griz or a smaller than average adult hanging out on the valley floor, enjoying the break from all the bigger bears, who are off where the bison are hanging out. Some years, we have seen a particular small grizzly out for many hours every day for weeks and weeks in August/September in Lamar Valley.

When all else fails, check along the East Entrance Road between Fishing Bridge and Sylvan Pass. Some years, you'll find a particular bear that "adopts" part of the road as its range, and makes itself real visible. Back in the mid-2000s, we had the amazing "swimming grizzly", that loved taking dips along the west side of Mary Bay. That bear was out quite often, and would put on "shows". Another smallish grizzly hung out on the roadside between the Lake Butte Overlook road and where the old road to Turbid Lake used to intersect the East Entrance Road, back in the early 2000's. There have been females with cubs show up in the stretch between Mary Bay and Fishing Bridge at all sorts of oddball times, including midday; and that includes in recent years.

Good luck and good viewing!


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