Bear Photography At Cades Cove

Heading toward the truck

When I was in my mid-twenties, my family went to Cades Cove for a drive around the 11 mile loop to view the wildlife.  The area is known as the best place in Tennessee to see black bears in the wild.

As we were driving around the loop, we came to a place where suddenly the traffic stopped and people began jumping out of their cars with their cameras in hand running along the edge of the woods.  My husband informed me that they were chasing a bear.  At the moment he said this, I saw the bear and hopped out the door with my own little point and shoot camera.  It wasn’t the sort of camera like I have now.  This was just a run of the mill one that had probably cost me at the most $100.

The bear was a huge one.  He was in the woods ambling along not paying much attention to the pack of about fifteen people racing along the edge of the woods trying to get a photo.  Mind you, he’s moving, and I’m moving and clicking the button to take photos, too excited to check to see if any of them are even in focus.  Afterwards, I was disappointed to find that not one of those photos were.

My husband at the time was much more experienced with taking photos than me and I asked him why he didn’t pull over to try to take a picture of the bear.  His sensible answer was “because it was a Bear!”

Yeah, it was…and I had just tried to get a nice close up photo of him.  How smart was that?!!

Since that time, we’ve made many trips to Cades Cove, and I’ve had the opportunity to photograph these incredibly awesome bears with a much better camera and a big telephoto lens that does a much better job than what I had the first time I photographed a bear.

The joy of discovering a bear is an amazing feeling that doesn’t fade.  I still get that excitement when I see a bear, and it’s still hard to stop to make sure the camera settings are right before I get click happy.

I preset my camera now ahead of time and put some of the settings on automatic so the camera does most of the work, and the perfect shot isn’t too dependent on me remembering to change anything.  This is pretty much a necessity with wildlife photography, since most animals are leery of humans.  In the cove some do get used to traffic and people watching them.  We’ve been able to get some pretty nice photos of animals that have lost their fear of humans.

With creatures that are huge, like bears, it’s best for them not to get too comfortable with people.  Around Cades Cove are lots of signs warning against feeding the wildlife and especially the bears.  Sadly, a bear that isn’t afraid of people, is a danger and it usually leads to a dead bear since they put them down if they are approaching people.  The bears I’ve seen in the cove ignored us, with the exception of one.

There’s a road that leads out of the cove into Townsend.  It’s a long road and we’ve had good luck spotting bears when we travel that road from Cades Cove back to the campground we stay at in Townsend.  My best bear photograph was taken on this road.

My husband and I were both standing behind our pick-up truck taking photos of a bear that was grazing along the side of the road.  The curious bear was ignoring us and my husband felt a little braver and moved from his spot behind the truck to beside it more directly in line with the bear so that he could get better photos.

Suddenly the bear notices and begins walking towards us.  We’re clicking away like (well probably the word that fits best here is idiots) as the bear is getting closer and closer to us.

When you are looking through a lens the bear looks close to you, and as he was coming towards us, we kept adjusting our lens to account for position changes.  Neither of us was paying particular attention to just how close this bear was getting to us.  Then my husband glanced up from his lens and saw the bear was much too close.  My husband’s bolting for the truck and telling me to get inside because the bear has decided to come greet us.

Our dog, Toby at the time, is growling from his spot inside the truck at the bear.  My husband is leaping into the pickup and frantically trying to get the window up.  He’s pressing the button to roll up the open window as the bear is standing on his hind legs peering into the truck eye to eye with my husband whose heart’s now racing a mile a minute.

We drive a little way and stopped again to try to get some more photos of him from a safer distance.  This didn’t’ work out too well.  No sooner than we stopped and hopped out of the truck, then here comes the bear again, jaunting quickly our way.  We decided getting more photos was too risky and we should have enough.

Following the experience, we pondered what had caused the bear to lose its fear of humans.  Was someone feeding him when they shouldn’t be.  That was likely and sad because it would be a death sentence for this bear if so.

BABY BEARS are the cutest bears!

Everyone loves a baby bear.  Although I have several photos of them, I still don’t have enough photos of the babies.  They’re more difficult to get photos of than the larger adult bears.  When on the ground the grass often keeps the babies pretty well hidden from view.

We pulled over to photograph two baby bears that were playing in the trees next to the road going into the cove.  It was the perfect spot for a great photographing opportunity, and the bears were happily playing not minding the line of spectators below clicking away as they were climbing up the pine tree.    We were pointing and whispering to each other to show where to aim the cameras as other cars pulled over and more people came to get a picture.

A woman newcomer came over and asked what we were photographing.  Baby bears someone answered pointing to the spot in the tree where they were.  Suddenly this lady screams out to her husband, “look, look…baby bears!”

If looks could have killed, she would have been a goner.  The baby bears scrambled quickly down the trunk of the tree by the road and ran off with their mother into the wood.  “Thanks a lot!” I replied sarcastically to the woman that had yelled.  “I can’t believe you just did that and ruined the opportunity for everyone.”  She gave me a dirty look and walked back to her car.  Several agreeable nods my way by folks that probably wanted to react as I did, but were reserved enough not to.