Just Because It’s Legal Doesn’t Mean That It’s Right

They had a hunting license so it was legal. Marijuana is legal in the state of Colorado now too but it doesn’t mean you get as high as a kite and drive a vehicle. I believe drinking is also legal and we know how many people are killed by drunk drivers each year. Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean that it’s right; how you chose to use that legal right is what makes it ethical or unethical.

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I’m going to put my noted disclaimers here now because I know where this is going to go:

I’m against hunting; guess again. I believe in proper wildlife management and ethical hunting. We owned one of the largest sporting goods stores and sporting gun ranges in Southern California. My family hunts and hunted. My parents were expert marksmen and I’d be willing to bet I can out shoot most of you.

I was recently told I am against ranchers; nice try. I raise and have raised cattle (and sheep during temporary insanity) and horses. It’s been my whole life however it’s not where I intend to die.

I’ve been blessed to have photographed several bull moose and a few cows and calves in a recreational area close to home. When I found this place last year I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I never thought I’d be able to see so much wildlife nearly right in my backyard, I figured I’d still be missing Yellowstone and the Tetons constantly and wondered how long I’d last here. So when I found these moose I decided I would spend as much time as I possibly could with them. This area is a heavily trafficked area; full of hikers, fisherman, campers, walkers, bikers, dogs and kids! After dropping by two weekends in a row and finding out that the moose were smarter than I was I was about to give up. There were so many people there that during the day the moose stayed hidden. Obviously the photographers who had shared the information with me had been photoshopping images…………..and they were awesome at it!

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I finally went up during the week after work one evening and was rewarded for being persistent. I photographed an older bull with his younger buddy for a couple of hours and each time I came back I was blessed to photograph them or other moose I found in the area. I’ve hiked around this area and can’t believe how gorgeous it is and now know why it’s not a secret to all the people who live here. One evening I met a man from Louisiana and when I asked him what brought him to Colorado he said he had come to hike the back country of the Rocky Mountain National Park for two weeks and to photograph these moose; he had heard a lot about them and we shared moose stories for over two hours. I later learned he was a lead biologist in New Hampshire studying moose a few years earlier, these moose here have made a reputation for themselves.

Moose season opened this past weekend. I had no idea; this recreational park and campground are still open and on the many bulletin boards throughout the park that tell you that moose and other wildlife are here and tell you what you can and can’t do around them never made mention that hunting season was open here. Not to mention it’s a public park, hundreds visit each day, who would want to hunt there thinking it would be a good idea. I hope you’re sitting down because they do exist and they are armed.

I’ve been up to this area now over 10 times and during those times I have encountered one park ranger (there are numerous park volunteers and hosts all the time to help and assist the people there). Every time I’ve been up there the parking lots are completely full and cars are placed in lower parking areas, it’s a busy place. On the morning I talked with the park ranger he was not in good spirits. People had crowded one of the larger bulls giving him no way to escape and rather than charge and trample people the bull opted to jump a car; he did so so gracefully no damage was done to the car or the moose. The park ranger was obviously upset for a good reason and explained to me he was seriously considering closing the park down for the rest of the season, this wasn’t the first time and he was afraid things might get worse.

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I went up on Wednesday morning; spent some time with one of my favorite older bulls and a new one I hadn’t seen before. The rut is about to start and one of the bulls was losing velvet and was itchy and agitated. One person was constantly getting within 20 feet of this bull and regardless of being given the stink eye continued this behavior until the moose left the area; there was no aggression and it wasn’t in a hurry, he knew who was bigger and who had control and he had nothing to fear. These moose have become so accustomed to people, cameras, walking sticks, dogs and all the gear that follows that they have basically become accustomed to it all and since they own this forest they have accepted it all.

Saturday morning the normal groups of photographers, hikers and campers had gathered and the moose showed up on time. The only difference this time was a handful of Department of Wildlife (DOW) agents. Photographers took their photos while the other people observed and then a “hunter” lures one of the bulls a very short distance away and shoots him with an arrow, this does not kill an animal instantly and this wounded and scared bull turned and ran right back to the photographers and onlookers who are now in the middle of this whole incident unwillingly. Three other bull moose confused and scared are now running to their companion wondering what has happened and also into the people in the area. I’m wondering what sort of hunter’s safety course this person took because obviously just by looking around, knowing he was within limited feet of the road as well as people in a public area who were there to enjoy their weekend anyone could tell this wasn’t going to go well. Photographers and other onlookers were charged by the confused bull moose and children got to watch as this person gutted this moose in front of them. And those DOW agents – well, the guy had a license so it was legal.

There are a few things that should be pretty alarming here: hunting in a heavily populated, public area that was not closed or posted for hunting season, shooting and injuring an animal so close to a road knowing that crowds of people were yards away and the list can go on. I wonder why the park wasn’t closed during this “event” and the only answer so far is that it is a “multi use area” so technically that means photographers, hikers, bikers and more have every right to be there as well – only they aren’t armed with a deadly weapon. It’s obvious from the park ranger I spoke with weeks prior that the park could have been closed fairly easily. If a national park can be sued by a hiker’s family because a family member was killed in Glacier by an “introduced” mountain goat which was a horrible accident how many of these people who witnessed and were traumatized by this event can sue the agencies for allowing this to happen with visitors being so close by for an honest reason? I’m sure there is an attorney out there close by who would love this opportunity.

The hunter? In my opinion a lazy, unethical, cowardly trophy hunter. Now, now!! Remember my disclaimer above! I’m friends with a lot of hunters, handfuls of them live within 20 miles of me. They see and comment on my images and we talk about these gorgeous animals all the time. Some of them have dared to tell me they would love the chance to hunt one of them. What makes them different from this coward? I have offered to take these guys to show them these animals and they have declined; these animals are in a public area where too many things can go wrong, these animals are habituated to people so it’s like shooting the neighbors horse and they respect me and what I do like I respect them and what they do. There is a huge difference, these hunters are ethical and respectful. We may joke from time to time but there has never been a time that they have not been welcomed into my house and we can sit and respectfully talk to one another about wildlife, hunting and each other’s views without causing hard feelings. To be honest I think they may be afraid to go with me to see these animals because I might show them something they have never seen before and they may not want to hunt one after all. I can hope, this is my blog.

The moose…………………I find it ironic and horribly painful to think that they have become so trusting of people that even when he was shot, suffering and dying he ran to the only place he knew to run, a place he knew he had found trust before…………..to people. Away from the coward that mortally wounded him and to people. If you have any heart and any compassion at all, that should give you something to think about.

RIP handsome. Thank you for sharing your life with me. I am honored and blessed. If not for you and other wildlife like you bringing me through some really dark times of my life I wouldn’t be here now. You won’t be forgotten and I wish we would have done better by you and never allowed you to find trust in our kind.

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Fight for Wolves………….

2382I was really happy when I saw that another very active wolf supporting Facebook page shared my blog last week. It really helps keep me inspired and motivated and it lets me know that the work I want to do has not been for nothing. Due to last year’s wolf hunt and the loss of several of our valuable Yellowstone wolves in addition to wolves that we don’t know personally I made the decision last week not to share posts or images that give current locations of the Yellowstone or Grand Teton packs. I have to say that I believe that by the time we get that information and it is shared the wolves have moved on and are no longer there but it is just something that concerns me a bit. I also believe that the murderers who are after the Yellowstone wolves most likely know their location far better than we do and that the way they are choosing to hunt is not a sport; shooting an animal that has become habituated to people and lost fear of them is not a challenge and therefore not “hunting.”

Yesterday I received a message that a wolf hating Facebook group had gotten the support of the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) and that the PBR would be placing their stickers of hatred on the PBR trucks. I know many bull riders and rodeo people and I thought this was an odd thing for the PBR to be a part of. That’s a pretty large association for a small group of hateful people to claim to be a part of so I contacted PBR and asked. I was relieved to receive a quick response that confirmed what I thought and PBR is in the process of having that mis-informed statement made by that group removed. I have to say thank you to PBR. I can understand individuals having their own thoughts and opinions and that is their right but for an association like PBR to take that stance I was a bit concerned.

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Knowing that group has mis-informed the people that follow them makes me wonder what else that group has been mis-informing people about where wolves are concerned. I really believe if you are going to take a stand on an issue that you need to do your own research and seek your own knowledge and not be led by a group who is doing something based on hatred and spite. I do my best not to speak about something unless it’s a topic I know a lot about, something I’m passionate about and have done my own research to learn about; both the goods and the bads. If this group is willing to be dishonest about something like a large association supporting them what else have they mis-informed people about? That is really something important to think about.

Out of curiosity I visited their Facebook page and website; it is full of wolf hating products and comments which is what I expected. I was hoping to find a first and last name of the person behind it but it only had a first name so that I couldn’t find out any further information on them, that didn’t surprise me either. Of course the page goes on about elk hunting in Idaho and how the wolves are responsible for the population of elk declining since they were reintroduced; blah, blah and blah. I wonder if these same people believe that what the elk herds have done to the ecosystem in the Rocky Mountain National Park is okay and how much longer these herds will have food and will stay healthy when there are really no predators within the park to manage it? It isn’t a secret that there is already a serious problem and yet the park is hesitant to reintroduce wolves here and at the same time the public freaks out when the word “hunting” is tossed out. At the rate the elk population is growing it is obvious that something needs to be done it just depends on what makes more sense and sits better with the people. Keep in mind when the herds start to die of starvation or disease the blame will be placed on the ones who were not allowed to make a decision and no decision was acceptable.

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I visited Rocky Mountain National Park last week; I went moose hunting. I have to say I understand the adrenaline rush that hunters get and the excitement they feel when they find that big bull elk they are looking for. When I found the big bull moose I was looking for I was pretty excited, I took a few shots but sadly the willows were in the way and I missed the shot I was looking for. Then I realized I was surrounded by about 20 other people all trying to get that shot too and the excitement quickly ran out; this moose was habituated to people and really there was no challenge. I decided to leave and try to find a big bull who was more of a challenge. A little later while hiking I got the shot I’ve been wanting for awhile; my blood was racing, my heart pounding! I raised my arms for the shot! It was right there in a green open meadow, walking across, stopping occasionally on its way to a stream. It doesn’t get any better than this. It was so quiet and peaceful. Once it crossed the meadow I could barely stand still! This was going to be a winning shot. I quickly looked around and there was nobody there. This was perfect. When it jumped off the embankment and into the water my heart lept into my throat and I took the shot. Now it was a fair hunt; this moose was not habituated to people, wasn’t posing and was more of a challenge.

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What Makes You Happy?

Picking berries one by one while managing to avoid the thorns.

Picking berries one by one while managing to avoid the thorns.

Have you ever left somewhere you were visiting and felt like you were leaving home and it was the last time you would ever see it?  When I had to leave Yellowstone in May 2010 it was like I was moving to another country, saying good-bye to my friends nearly ripped my heart out.  During this trip I learned so much about myself and I couldn’t comprehend it all.  When I had left to come to Yellowstone I was asked a question, “What is it that makes YOU happy?”  Seems like an easy question to answer doesn’t it?  Can you answer it?  Every time I started to answer that question it was pointed out to me that my happiness was based on making somebody else happy.  I searched for weeks for what made me happy, where I was content; excited to be, wanted to be ~ I thought I was a happy person.  One night after dinner my photography friend who had convinced me to come back to Yellowstone said that I “had come back to heal.”

I can’t tell you how many times I nearly turned back around on the 1,600 mile long journey home.  The morning after the night I left Yellowstone the 3 bison carcasses that went untouched had 6 grizzlies and 12 of the Blacktail Plateau Pack wolves on them.  The action was shared with me blow by blow as I was driving.  I drove in tears a quarter of the way back.  If it weren’t for the horses waiting for me at home I’m pretty sure I would have turned around that day and gone back; I’d have left my gorgeous home and everything behind.  Before I had left the park my friends and I had already made plans to return in October; I had never been in October, they knew I loved fall and the colors and the Tetons was the place to be.  At the time it didn’t seem very comforting but I counted every day from the day I got home in May until the day I returned in October.  I still had a lot of soul searching to do and I wondered what it was about Yellowstone that was healing to me.

The first week after I returned home I felt paralyzed and lost.  I was really wondering why I came home.  I went through all my images from the trip more than once and it was the only thing that made me feel connected.  I continued to receive daily updates on the activity in the park until my friends returned home as well and with each report I wanted to be back in Yellowstone even more.  October seemed so far away at the time.

I contacted the woman I had met at the reining horse show before I left.  It turned out she was the owner of the largest horse magazine in the state and she liked my images so much so that she felt I would do really well photographing equine events and she would help me.  There is something to be said for being in the right place at the right time however the saying that nothing worth having is ever easy is also something I hold near and dear to me.  I have stood for many days in a row in 108 degree heat, in the freezing cold with the wind blowing and anywhere in between.  Anywhere that is but when and where it is perfectly comfortable.  I believe in order to get unique and special shots you have to work for them and you’re not going to find them sitting in a chair on the rail; I am always on my feet, moving around looking for better angles.  Some weekends I fought with myself over letting go of the “traditional” horse show images and not being afraid to try new angles and ideas.  I have lost hundreds of hours of sleep editing photos after working a more than full time job, riding two horses, doing chores and running almost every night.  When I felt like saying forget it another door would open.

October finally rolled around and with my bear spray packed I flew into Jackson Hole, why waste 2 good days on the road when I could be in the parks within a few hours if I flew?  When my flight landed and I got my rental car I still had 3 good hours of daylight left in the Tetons, no time to waste.  I quickly found a black bear, a gorgeous bull moose, a cow and a calf and burned up what little light I had left.  The next morning I planned to head to Yellowstone after hiking a couple of trails in the Tetons.  It would be a couple of days before some of my friends arrived and I was really looking forward to some nice quiet hikes and practicing some of the photography techniques my friends had taught me.

Fall in the Tetons

Fall in the Tetons

The morning light was gorgeous so I spent some time photographing the fall colors, aspen trees are my favorite ~ they were right, the Tetons is the place to be in October.  My first hike wasn’t a disappointment; I no sooner closed my car door and saw a black bear on the hillside searching for goodies.  A reminder not to forget my bear spray and once I had my camera I went the opposite direction and up the hill to some waterfalls and a lake.  When your alone you have a lot of time to think about things and see things you might miss otherwise.  The next hike was full of fall colors, lakes and more wildlife.  I started to wonder if I should wait to head into Yellowstone so soon and decided to take another road before I left the Tetons, it was the right choice as here I found a cow moose in a pond enjoying the late afternoon.  You tend to lose track of time when you have a great animal to photograph and before I realized it the sun was heading down, the moose had made my choice for me and I would be spending another night in Jackson Hole.

Black bear an a golden hillside

Black bear an a golden hillside

That night a friend who had already been in Yellowstone for a few days called and was really disappointed, so far he hadn’t seen much as far as wildlife and had been doing mostly landscape photography.  I was torn between staying another day in the Tetons and heading into Yellowstone; I decided the next morning I would just see where I ended up.  It was quiet that morning and after a nice two hour hike I decided I needed to head home, home to Yellowstone.  I spotted deer and elk along the way but I really wanted to get into Lamar Valley by late afternoon so I continued on.

Black bear cub watching from a log

Black bear cub watching from a log

I took a short hike out of the campground in Slough Creek looking for otters and that evening on the way back to Gardiner when there was nearly no light left I found another black bear.  I watched it eat berries until I could barely see it in the darkness, it was peaceful.  I watched from my car as it carefully selected which berries it wanted and used its tongue avoiding the thorns and would pull off each one.  These berries are tiny and I thought of how many berries it would take to fill this bear before winter came and how many hours it had to spend each day doing this.  The bear’s eyes were dark black and brown, large and protected which allows for more light to enter them and enables them to travel in the dark.  I wondered if it would continue eating throughout the night.  I sat there in my car for a couple hours that night and nobody else ever came by.  Photos were out of the question by then and when I finally decided to head to town I didn’t really want to leave.

Curious black bear cub

Curious black bear cub

Early the next morning I headed back to the spot where I had seen the black bear the night before not sure what the chances were that it would still be in the area and when I didn’t see it I went about another half a mile and parked my car.  It was so quiet here, I had a view overlooking a huge valley below and you could see for miles.  A few low clouds were moving in and out of the trees below and made for some interesting landscape images.  As I was standing by my car photographing the clouds I heard a noise in the brush on the other side of my car but I couldn’t see anything.   These are the moments when you wonder if you really heard something.   Even though it sounded like an elephant was running through the brush it will turn out to be a small bird.  About the time I figured it was just a bird I heard the noise again and a second later out bounces a black bear cub.  I know that the next noise I hear is definitely not going to be a bird because behind every little adorable black bear cub is one protective black bear mom.  I had the perfect spot where I was as I could rest my camera on the top of my car and take photos of them up on the hill and just when I didn’t think it could get any better out bounces another cub!  The sow and the first cub had already traveled further up the hill and didn’t seem concerned that this little one was taking its time investigating the berries and fallen trees along the way.  I sat in my car’s door jamb over two hours that morning, eventually forgot about taking photos and watched as the cubs climbed over logs, dug into them, imitated they’re mom, rolled and chased each other and I smiled and laughed quietly the whole time.

I wonder if she can see me if I hide here?

I wonder if she can see me if I hide here?

I started to wonder if it were safe for them to be so close to the bear I had seen last night, was it possible that they were related?  Would there be a problem if they crossed paths?  Had they already seen each other?  My list of questions for myself grew and grew as I watched them.  I felt so blessed to be able to see them and spend so much time enjoying them, there was nobody else around, no bear paparazzi and no distractions; I got to see bears being bears.  When the sow finally took the cubs and disappeared over the hill I whispered a quiet thank you for allowing me to observe her life for a short time.  And I wondered if I would ever see them again.

This whole trip turned out to be about black bears.  Yes, of course there are still bison and elk in Yellowstone but when I finally got on a plane to return home again I had counted 21 black bears in less than two weeks.  I took a few more hikes and did some landscape photography.  I spent time with great friends and met many new ones.  Flying home was worse than driving home in May.  I felt like I was once again leaving a part of me behind.  I thought about all the bears I had seen and the other wildlife like the lone young big horn sheep and wondered if they would make it through winter.  Mostly I wondered if I would see the two cubs again.

When I got home and looked through my images over the next week I became sick with ‘lensitis,’ it attacks most wildlife photographers out of nowhere.  One day your perfectly fine and the next  you start spending hours on researching it online and you go from drooling to foaming at the mouth.  Some start looking around for things to sale and even consider auctioning off the children.  We have all been there and we will be there again the following year.  I needed a bigger lens!!  My 300mm was just not getting me close enough.  When I returned to Yellowstone next May I wanted a 500mm lens.

Once again I heard the question “what makes you happy?”  I love my horses more than life itself.  When I’m with them even if it’s cleaning pens I feel great and I’m happy.  I can spend hours sitting and just watching them run and play or grazing.  I feel peace when I’m with them.  I am also happy when I’m in Yellowstone spending time with the different animals I encounter and learning all I can about them.  There is peace there, serenity.  The animals do not judge you, they do not care what size you wear or what you do for a living, and they simply wish to be allowed to live in peace as well, like us.  Being able to enjoy wildlife peacefully doing what they do every day makes me happy.  It was good to finally know the answer to the question but now what was I suppose to do with it?

Bump on a log

Bump on a log

Wildlife Lesson #5 – Bring Your Sense of Humor

Smile like this?

Smile like this?

There has been a bald eagle sitting in a tree in front of my place for a few days now.  I had seen him around Christmas time but was too busy to slow down to try and get some images.  Now he’s been back almost every night this week.  Day 1 ~ I wasn’t even allowed to get my camera before he knew I was coming and soared away.  Day 2 ~ He waited for me to be about 30 yards out of what I consider a good range, watched me, fluffed up, stretched out, then he tilted his head sideways to look at me and soared away.   Day 3 ~ Not even risking walking, jumped in the truck, drove up in front of the tree, rested the camera on the window of the door and took 3 dozen shots in bad lighting before he soared away.

Just kidding!!  You mean smile like this!!

Just kidding!! You mean smile like this!!

I’ve had a few friends who are entertaining the idea of getting into photography and they have been asking me lately how I get those great shots!  Tonight reminded me and I had to laugh.  The gorgeous bull moose above I nicknamed Bruiser.  I had tried several days to find moose on my hikes without much luck.  Then one late morning walking through a deserted camp ground I walked right up on him and 3 cows bedded down in some tall brush.  Sounds easy enough.  Took an hour for one of the cows to finally get up and when she did, she got up on the wrong side of the bed.  I was far enough away to know it wasn’t me she was mad at and after she stuck her foot in her ear several times she went over and bedded down with the other cows.  An hour after that is when Bruiser finally got up.  I have images of him on two knees, one knee, stretching, stretching more, shaking his head, stretching some more, smelling the flowers and eating willow; close to 700 images to be exact.  Out of them there are about 40 that I’m happy with.  A total of 8 hours, 8 miles or more over 3 days ~ 40 good images.  Not bad!!

Ppppffftttttssstttttt!!  My daddy can kick your daddy's butt!!

Ppppffftttttssstttttt!! My daddy can kick your daddy’s butt!!

Another hoofed cow who tends to wake up on the wrong side of the bed.  Bison are gorgeous in their own right however to get that “perfect” image it is pure luck!  I spend 10 plus days in Yellowstone and the Tetons and when I see bison in good lighting, I will stop and wait and hope for that perfect moment.  I’ll end up with 2 images I am proud of; the rest are every day bison, I’m so bored with tourists and photographers, behavior.  A total of 10 days in God’s country, I managed not to be treed by a bison, I get 2 nice images and I’m excited.

She wanted me in the picture!!!No, she wanted me!! I'm going to tell mom!! MMMOOOOOMMM!!

She wanted me in the picture!!!
No, she wanted me!!
I’m going to tell mom!!
MMMOOOOOMMM!!

One very uneventful wildlife day I decided I would not call it quits until I managed to photograph some sort of critter.  I had never seen many marmots before and had never photographed them.  I drag out the camera and get everything prepared in a nice area with decent lighting and a background where you could at least see what type of critter I was photographing.  I had been watching them for over an hour so I knew I was in a decent spot.  My problem ~ I did not notify the marmots of my intentions and explain the importance for lighting and background.  Instead of hanging out where I wanted them to be, they insisted on playing in front of the grey rocks where they blend perfectly.  A wasted afternoon?  Ohhhh heavens no!!  If anyone ever needs 300 images of marmot camouflage be sure to contact me, I know I can help you!

What do you mean this angle makes my butt look big?

What do you mean this angle makes my butt look big?

Those amazing mustang images, those are easy to get.  The nearest HMA is 4.5 hours from me……………………….one way.  On any given day the horses will be right next to the road but not on the days I normally visit.  I love to hike and the horses know that and just for me they normally position themselves about 2 miles up on a hill where I can see them so I know which way to hike!  Most of the time they will stay in that spot at least until I manage to get within good camera range, set up and manage to get several nice images.  If they don’t feel I’ve had enough of a work out, not just one or two, but the whole herd will start walking away from me in order to assist the calorie burning a little more.  I find it interesting that they know how important it is to walk farther uphill and away from my car, not downhill toward my car.  I have even skirted and nearly missed rattlesnakes while out photographing wild burros, this adds the high jump into the daily workout routine.  Later that evening when I’m reviewing images I come across maybe 60 out of 1,500 that I find exceptional or emotional.

Ohh no!!  My hairs a mess!!  No pictures!!  No pictures!!

Ohh no!! My hairs a mess!! No pictures!! No pictures!!

To get this wonderful image I was standing with a couple dozen other photographers in the cold for a few hours one May day.  We played several rounds of “100+ yard rule weave,” the park rangers were our referees making sure that when she moved away we stayed far enough behind and when she turned to come towards us, we moved far enough the other direction.  At one point we watched her from the inside of our cars when she wanted to break the rules of the game.  Out of 600 images I think I found 60 with her head actually up.  It is obvious to me she is camera-shy and we made her nervous.

So now when somebody approaches me and is interested in photography I smile!  I tell them it’s very rewarding actually and has many benefits.  You will be forced to become healthier and you won’t even realize it.  You learn about patience and with each encounter you get better at it.  You learn to be creative and look for amazing moments.  You will learn who your worst enemy is ~ yourself.  Most importantly if your are lucky like me, you will find happiness beyond belief.

Yeah!!  I'm walking away from this conversation!

Yeah!! I’m walking away from this conversation!

The End!  Literally!  This is a bear butt!

Although this little story was told in a humorous manner, please be cautious when photographing wildlife.  Please be careful photographing close to roads as the animal could move into the road.  Be sure to give them enough space that they don’t feel threatened or alter their normal behavior.