Bears In Alaska

Trip Report : Tour One

Overall this tour was just about perfect. Even though I managed to step on and break my Maui Jim sunglasses in half on the first day of the trip and later having my old faithful MacBook Pro suffering a RAM failure and logic board failure didn't seem to really matter to me since I was working with such a great group of people including my hard working co-leader Mark Comon from Paul's Photo. The Photographic opportunities were fantastic from the first few minutes and seemed to get better and better up until the last minutes of the final shoot of the trip.

Plus size mother blonde bear checking out our group. Sigma 24-105 Art  lens and Nikon D810, 1/1000s, f/5.6, 75mm, ISO 640, EV + .7, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, handheld.

The first few minutes after stepping off our floatplane I was faced with a tough decision, we had two bears (and later a wolf) fighting on top of a dead fin whale carcass, but the rest of our group was due to arrive in an hour or two. For the first couple of hours the harsh light made the dark bears on a white carcass unattractive so the decision was easy but after a 3 hour flight delay wait the light improved to the point where I decided to have the present half of the group suit up to take advantage of the scene in front of us. But before we could finish suiting up the rest of the group with Mark showed up, 3.5 hours late but just in time for the soft late afternoon light!

Lone bear morning walk at Hallo Bay. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810, 1/500s, f/7.1, 360mm, ISO 280, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, Uniqball UBH 45X on tripod.

The Weather

July in Alaska always seems to deliver with a great balance of long hours of good light and good weather and this year was no exception. We had a single rain delay due in the entire seven day tour!

The Locations

This tour, the first of a series of three, was aimed at bears, their behavior and interactions mostly in Hallo Bay. The second and third tours this year that are taking place in August are targeting bears hunting for salmon at a spot down the coast called Geographic Harbor.

Hallo had just started to show a limited salmon run when we were there and had good numbers of bear and cubs. Kuliak had tons of pinks getting ready to run (and the dead whale) but Kukak seemed pretty slow but it still provided a hugh number, almost unbelievable number of eagles and eaglets, one nest had three good looking young ones!

Taking a break from eating a whale lunch to size up our group. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810, 1/1250s, f/8, 500mm, ISO 450, EV -0.3, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, handheld.


This year I went with the same lenses that performed so well on my Japan tour, the Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 (+1.4X), Sigma 150-600 sports, and a Sigma 24-105 all in my F-stop backpack / roller system. The 120-300 f2/8 sports lens was my go to lens for low light conditions, the 150-600 was my main lens the rest of the time. For bodies I brought a two Nikon D810s. The ability to go into CX mode with 6 fps and a 1.2X crop and DX mode with 7 fps and 1.5X crop with the increase in buffer size was great.

This year I brought three sets of waders, a convertible chest wader from Orvis, wading pants from Patagonia and a convertible thigh wader from Chota, all the ultra light Patagonia boots. The Chotas are good for warm afternoons since they pull down to boot level to keep cool.

Mother bear enjoying a roll in the warm sun and fresh sedge. Moments later the cub ran over to join her. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810, 1/500s, f/7.1 600mm, ISO 3600, EV + 0.7, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, Uniqball UBH 45X on tripod.

The entire tour delivered lots of great opportunities up the final minutes of the tour when we had a surprise! I knew the area were scouting was great for red fox in years past but I was even surprised when Mark spotted a fox sunning on a patch of grass in perfect light. We motored closer and closer to what seemed like a few feet past the end of my legs that were hanging off the front of the skiff. Before our boat hit a rock and scared the fox away my lens EXIF reported a seven foot shooting distance.

Red fox taking a hunting break to enjoy the sun. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810, 1/1250s, f/8, 550mm, ISO 900, EV + 0.3, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, handheld.

If you are interested in joining a 2016, 2017, or 2018 tour email me to be placed on the interest list.  I should have solid dates by the end of August. Right now it looks like a tour at the end of June for bears and cubs and two August tours for bears fishing for salmon.

Sunday February 21st - Saturday March 5th, 2016, 14 Days: $8200. Deposit $3000.

Maximum 6 photographers + Leader Robert OToole and co-leader.

Any questions or comments? Leave a question below or send me an email.

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