Susan C. Anthony

Peter and the grizzly bearCharged by a Bear

August 19, 1994

One weekend I was in Anchorage checking proofs from the printer. Dennis and a friend were at the homestead. They spotted a big grizzly at the salmon cove on the other side of the lake, so they took a boat across and silently drifted around a bend quite near the bear, taking pictures. This bear didn't like being on candid camera. He swung his head from side to side, stood up on his hind legs to get a better look, then suddenly charged. Dennis got most of it on video (see below, but was so startled that he didn't keep a steady hand on the camera. It was a fake charge, thank goodness, and the irritated bear wandered on back into the woods to put some distance between himself and his unwelcome watchers.

In 2011, our friend Peter, originally from Germany, came to visit us in Alaska. He wanted to see moose and bear, but they aren't always easy to find when you're looking for them. Eventually, though, we got the following photo of him which he circulated to his friends and family back in Europe. "Why would he run?" they must have wondered. "He has a gun!"

His friends were alarmed, but not fooled for long. Between 1994 and 2011, Susan learned to use Photoshop. The photo above was her first masterpiece, and a fun gift for our guest. Peter himself took the photo of the bear at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

Our pal Al lives in the Bush year-round. He keeps track of all the animals in his area. In 2007, he told us an amazing story. A cow moose that spent a lot of time near his cabin lost her only calf that year to a hungry grizzly. In early summer, nearly 80% of moose calves become prey.

Some weeks later, the bear showed up in the yard of a woman a mile or so down the road, menacing. She shot it, wounding but not killing it. It left her yard and lay down on the side of the main road. The cow, whose calf that very bear had devoured, saw him there and charged, stomping the grizzly to death.

A few interesting facts about grizzly bears:

  • An adult male bear is called a boar, an adult female is a sow, an immature bear is a cub and a group of bears is called a sloth. Grizzly bears live up to 32 years in the wild.
  • Grizzlies differ from black bears in that they are larger, have prominent shoulder humps, and have dish-shaped faces. 
  • Grizzly bears are endangered in the continental United States, but there are more bears than people in Alaska. Between 34,000 and 45,000 of Alaska's bears are grizzlies. Grizzlies that live on the coast and feed primarily on salmon are called Brown Bears.
  • Bears can run up to 30 miles per hour. It is not possible to outrun a bear. Don't believe what you see in the movies.
  • Bears are omnivores. They will eat anything they can find and don't mind stinky, rotten meat. They bury food and will defend their caches.
  • Grizzlies weigh 500 - 900 pounds, up to 1,400 pounds by fall. The largest are about nine feet tall standing on their hind feet.
  • The eyesight of bears is no better than humans, but they have an excellent sense of hearing and an incredible sense of smell. They can detect odors from a mile away. It's been said you can't bury anything deep enough that a bear can't smell it.
  • Bears gain up to seven pounds a day in the summer to fatten up for winter. They have to eat a year's worth of food in just six months.
  • Grizzly bear bodies are not well-suited to travel on snow. They are too heavy (compared to wolverines), have legs that are too short (compared to moose) and feet that are too small (compared to polar bears).
  • Grizzlies mate between May and July, but the fertilized eggs don't implant until late fall. If a sow is not adequately nourished, no embryo develops.
  • Dens are usually above tree line. In winter in the den, a grizzly's heartbeat drops to 10 beats a minute (compared to 40 beats a minute when sleeping in the summer). Body temperature falls several degrees. Everything s-l-o-w-s down to conserve energy so they can survive through the cold months.
  • Sows give birth to 1 - 3 cubs (rarely 4) in the den around the end of January. Cubs weigh less than a pound at birth. They are weaned when they are 2 - 3 years old.
  • Bears are rarely in groups (sloths) unless they are sows with cubs or gathered at salmon streams. Boars will attack and eat cubs, even their own cubs, so sows avoid them.
  • Between 1900 and 1985, 20 people died from bear attacks. Statistically speaking, a person is much more likely to be killed by a dog than by a bear. Since 1985, there have been proportionately more bear attacks. Anyone in the wilderness should stay alert and give bears a wide margin. Normally, they hear or smell you first and move away. But just like there are a few aggressive, outlaw human beings, there are occasionally aggressive, outlaw bears.

Go on to read Waltzing with Moose
Source:, ©Susan C. Anthony