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'A lot of excitement': Montana bear biologist captures video of grizzly chasing moose in Cooke City

Posted at 5:30 PM, Jun 19, 2024

COOKE CITY —  As a bear biologist, not much surprises Missoula native Wes Larson, but after witnessing a grizzly bear chasing a moose in Cooke City last week, it's a story that'll be hard for him to top.

Larson's seen a lot in his career as a wildlife professional, working in places like Alaska and Utah before returning to the Lolo area.

"I’d seen bears chase after a lot of stuff. I’ve hazed bears. I had to chase a whole grizzly bear family on foot in Jackson with a paintball gun,” Larson said over Zoom Tuesday.

Wes Larson studies a bear in a den.

What happened last week was a first for him.

“All I felt was a lot of excitement. I was very excited to see that unfold right in front of my eyes,” said Larson.

He captured a grizzly bear in pursuit of a bull moose just a few feet from his car at Soda Butte Campground in Cooke City.

“Had I been out of the vehicle, close to those two, I wouldn’t doubt that the bear could have switched to me as another option,” Larson said.

A fatal bear attack in the same campground from 2010 had brought Larson to the area after a day of guiding.

“We had done a story on 'Tooth and Claw' about a fatality that happened in that campground,” said Larson.

"Tooth and Claw" is a podcast he produces with his brother and friend, focused on animal attacks and how to learn from them.

From left to right: Mike Smith, Jeff Larson, and Wes Larson, hosts of Tooth and Claw

“It happened in 2010. It was this guy, Kevin Kammer, who was pulled from his tent and eaten by a grizzly bear. She had three cubs,” Larson said.

He didn't expect to experience his own wildlife sighting on not one, but two animals on most people's wildlife bucket list. He first saw the bull moose and noticed it looked distressed.

“My music was quite loud in my car and I thought, oh this moose is upset ‘cuz it hears my music,” said Larson.

The moose turned and that's when Larson saw it was being chased by the grizzly.

Bear attack victim, Kevin Kammer

“And then I turned the camera off, and I threw it into reverse, backed up as quickly as possibly as I could. I was hoping the bear had gotten the moose and I’d get to see this fight,” Larson added.

To his disappointment, the moose had gotten away and the bear moved to a nearby meadow to graze.

“The thing that did kind of give me goosebumps afterward was this guy had died in campsite 26 and that’s the site that the moose was in and the site that the bear ran out on,” said Larson.

The grizzly bear Wes captured on camera grazes in a meadow after failing to catch the moose.

He's just relieved he was in his car, in the right place at the right time and most importantly, safe.

“It’s so amazing that we share the world with animals like a moose and grizzly bear. If we can appreciate them instead of fear them, it just makes that experience so much better,” Larson said.