When photographer Jason Leo Bantle set out to follow the fresh tracks of a grizzly in the snow in Banff National Park, he wasn’t trying to find the bear they’d left—and he certainly wasn’t expecting to find the Bow Valley’s most productive brown to meet twice. in one day.
“You don’t go hunting for a grizzly bear when it’s fall time,” joked the award-winning, Canmore-based wildlife photographer.
Cautiously, Bantle followed the tracks back, finding a den where the bear had spent the night and a number of freshly dug holes where he was looking for one of his last meals before moving in to hibernate for the winter. With curiosity satisfied, Bantle got back into his car to leave, but noticed something outside his window “glittering” as he drove away.
“I’m like, ‘What?’ Was it a bear?’” he said. “I backed up and sure enough there was dirt flying in the air and he was digging under a log looking for another ground squirrel.”
About 100 meters from the grizzly, he pulled out his longest lens to capture the moment at a safe distance. On closer inspection, his suspicions were confirmed – it was The Boss.
“I knew it was him when I took the very first picture … you can see his right ear, he only has half an ear. I believe that’s where his ear tag number 122 was,” he said. “That’s his distinguishing feature, plus his sheer size. He’s just a massive being.”
Officially known as Bear No. 122, The Boss is considered the toughest and most dominant grizzly bear in the Bow Valley region. The estimated 300-kilogram grizzly is believed to be more than 20 years old.
“He’s kind of a guy who is really the leader of the grizzly bear population in Banff to a certain extent,” said Bantle, who has a background in biology. “He has managed to make a living in many places where grizzly bears are unfortunately being killed due to human disturbance. He is a bear that has traveled through the Banff Lake Louise area and lived a long life.”
The Boss is best known for a number of headline-grabbing incidents, including eating black bears, surviving being hit by a train and Bantle said the bear probably sired 70 percent of the cubs in the region.
Bantle said he felt honored to be in the presence of the valley’s most famous bear – which he had encountered only a handful of times before – and described the situation as “surreal”.
“The light faded as if it were sunset, the mountains were lit up behind them. I mean, it was just a beautiful natural scene. And with a legend; he’s legendary, this guy,” he said.
Bantle left for a bite to eat and returned later that day to try to capture the massive brown again on camera. Sitting on the edge of a meadow, he was lucky enough to catch The Boss trudging through the snow for a second brief photo opportunity.
“I’ve only experienced The Boss four or five times and each time it’s just – he’s such a massive being… In my experiences with him, I find him to be a gentle giant, but again, he’s ‘ a wild animal,” he said.
“He doesn’t pose for long; he’s kind of just doing his thing. He’s a cool guy.”
The life of grizzly bear No. 122: ‘His whole world revolves around food, and mating’
Photographer witnesses the battle of Banff’s two biggest grizzlies
Photographer captures elusive grizzly believed to be The Boss