At a very young age, I spent every day possible outdoors with wildlife and my game warden father. I rode in his truck through the mountains and went with him on all hunting trips. Observing the birds and animals eventually made me realize they were individuals. None of them looked exactly alike, and they were each as different from one another in many ways as people are. By observing an animal, you can tell many things about it. Is it frightened, calm, good-natured, or perhaps, mean? Watching their eyes and movements helps me sense whether an animal is safe to be around. I think all creatures size us up, too. They check us out, and if they feel safe in our presence, there is a possibility that we will see and learn something that we didn’t know or that no one has ever seen before.
I once had a mother bring her cub to where I was working and leave it with me while she went off to hunt for several hours. She knew her cub was safe with me.
When I first see an animal, I watch closely to see how it reacts to me. This lets me know what kind of animal I’m working with. When an animal sees you that is exactly what they are doing—checking you out too. If they are not mean-spirited, they will be trying to find out if they will be safe in your presence, and if you are a threat to them. If they feel safe, you are in for a treat. You may experience things that no one has ever seen before.
Different Experiences with Animals
August 1989 brings back one of my favorite memories. I was filming king salmon off Baranoff Island in Southeast Alaska with my video camera. I had waded out into a deep hole as far as I could with my hip boots. I used my weight to push the plastic box with my camera inside down into the river to film the fish. A short time later, I looked up and a four-year-old grizzly sow we called Suzzie (We had filmed her several times before.) came up the far bank and into the deep swirling hole near me. I didn’t quit filming or do anything to frighten her. She went up the stream then turned and came back on the opposite bank. She wanted to get into the same hole I was in.
Slowly Suzzie worked her way into deeper water until only her head was sticking out. It was difficult to see her through my camera lens because there were too many bubbles between her and me. That was very disappointing. I decided that tomorrow I would get in the hole where I hoped to film the grizzly catching a salmon. I was so excited that night that it was hard to sleep.
The next day I waited at the hole. When I saw her coming, I waded into the deep water and waited. Keeping her eyes on me, she waded into the hole ten feet in front of me, dived under the water several times, and finally, she surfaced with a large salmon. I couldn’t believe my eyes!
With the salmon flopping, she crossed the river and disappeared into the forest to gorge on her catch.