The Last Shot

Every photographic adventure comes with its last shot.

Most are unremarkable. Some are worth keeping.

But last summer, my last shot in Jasper was also my best.

Jill and I – along with my family and our friends, Claire and Sue – had been tracking and documenting a black bear sow with three cubs of the year for about 10 days along Jasper’s Maligne Lake Road.

black bear sow and cubs in jasper national park

You could count on seeing them every night as much as you could count on them to move around frenetically. The lighting – often poor on the road to Maligne Lake – didn’t help efforts to capture an image of the cubs as they darted between trees, around bushes and – frustratingly quickly – through brief open meadows.

black bear sow and cubs in jasper national park

Thousands of images captured. Maybe a few dozen shots that provided a memory. No shots to write home about.

Then, mysteriously, the bears disappeared.

With berry season slowly coming to a close, we assumed they had moved on.

But on our last night, on a flip of a coin, Jill and I made elected to do one last pass of Maligne Lake Road in search of the bears over exploring other wildlife hotspots.

Thank goodness we did.

black bear sow and cubs in jasper national park

When we found the bears in their usual spot, we felt like we had won the lottery. What an ending.

But our joy was quickly killed by the realization that the sow now had only two cubs.

Black Bear Sow and Cubs in Jasper National Park 2014

We watched for an hour as they darted about, but the bear cubs were clearly distressed and confused by their missing sibling.

All of a sudden, the sow made noises like I’ve never heard from a bear before.

She wailed.

And wailed.

black bear sow and cubs in jasper national park

She stood.

She sniffed.

And, without warning, she ran across the road and found what she was looking for. Her missing cub.

black bear sow and cubs in jasper national park

The two cubs, now realizing what was transpiring, dashed to join the reunion. Though far away and through pouring rain, you couldn’t help but be brought to tears watching the pure joy of a family re-united.

The now reunited missing cub, still clearly shaken by the ordeal, went to each bear and nosed them.

black bear sow and cubs in jasper national park

It was like a bear thank-you.

With our trip made, we prepared to leave when all four bruins – led by mom – came back across the road.

It was dark and it happened fast.

But my camera had a high ISO, fast shutter speed and wide-open aperture all set and, with my window rolled down and the rain coming in, I raised my camera.

It was really the first close, clean look I had all trip of the cubs.

And they walked down a hill and right towards the car and my lens.

I managed three shots.

The first was out of focus.

black bear sow and cubs in jasper national park

The second was poorly cropped, as I struggled to hand hold the big lens.

black bear sow and cubs in jasper national park

The third shot?

It was my last photo from Jasper, my last animal shot of the year: the one shot I worked two weeks to get.

black bear sow and cubs in jasper national park

It was perfect, just like that unforgettable evening on Maligne Lake Road.

– D. Simon Jackson | GhostBearPhotography.com

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7 thoughts on “The Last Shot

  1. Wonderful and moving story and photos. Good job…glad you made that last trip to find them!

  2. An absolutely great story and photos Simon. What a beautiful family! That last shot of the little wet cub is wonderful. Something you will never forget.

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