After I finished up with my responsibilities at WNC Fotofest in Montreat North Carolina this weekend, I just could not help but notice how close I was to the Smoky Mountains. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of my absolute favorite places in the country to photograph. Biologically speaking, its the most biodiverse location in North America. There are more species of trees in this national park than the entire continent of Europe! From wildflowers to wildlife this place is very much unlike any other place we have in North America.
Now, with all of this said, Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not give up its really good wildlife opportunities easily – especially with the bears.
The black bear photography in the Smokies is incredible. However, you do have to work to get these photographs. The bears are not quite as keen on standing around out in the open in places like Cades Cove as the deer are and so a little hunting is necessary on your part. Not to fret though, as a solid understanding of habitat and food sources will significantly improve your odds.
If you know me personally or have been following my work for some time now, you know that I am a firm believer in the notion that the better naturalist you are the better wildlife photographer you will be as well. Photographing black bears in the Smokies is no exception to this rule. Basically what this means is that if you do your homework first in order to understand the ecology of these bears, you will significantly improve your likelihood of coming away successful.
Two things on Earth drive all animals: Food and Sex. Understand this, and you will understand EXACTLY how your target species are behaving, traveling, and spending their days at any given time of the year.
I do loads of research on wildlife. I am absolutely obsessed with knowing more and understanding everything I can about their lives. This gives me the edge that I need when photographing. Do you want that same edge when it comes to understanding black bears in the Smoky Mountains? Below is a link to a PDF file of the results of a study on the food and seasonal feeding ecology of black bears in these mountains. Sure, this might not compete with on the ground local knowledge of individual bears, their personalities, and behaviors . . . but, if you don’t live there and don’t have the opportunity to be out following these bears on an almost daily basis, this is a great place to start! Note that I say start. This is not the end all be all of understanding where and how to find bears to photograph in this park. But it is a really good starting point.