Searching for brown bears in Gävleborg

Something approaches.

The brown bear is the largest land-dwelling carnivore in Sweden. It can weigh up to 350 kg and feeds on a mix of berries, ants and moose calves. On Monday 3 April, I traveled up north to Gävleborg to spot for this large amazing carnivore.

Sara Wennerqvist has a hideout for brown bears and this is where I went. Joining me is Emil Nilsson from Biotopia. We park the car on a dirt road next to a stream out in the forest. As the roads have just begun thawing we cannot go the ordinary way. Instead, we pack our equipment into rucksacks and begin walking along a trail. We pretty soon come across old tracks of brown bear in the little snow that still remains. The weather is typical for April, sunny and springlike with birds chirping in the ambience and ravens floating about high up in the air.

The small windows on the hut offer a 270 degree panoramic view of the surroundings.

After trekking for two and a half kilometers we see even more bear tracks. This time they are between one to two days old. And the good thing: The hideout is just nearby.

Emil and I go into the reconstructed little hut at around 16:00, and after installing ourselves, sitting in our sleeping bags with cameras ready to use, we begin what will become a silent night, whispering and being as still as we can in order not to scare animals away. We begin spotting intensively at the surroundings through the thin glass windows of the hut.

A big brown bear, probably weighing in excess of 200 kg.

An hour goes by and we are joined by even more ravens floating around. Several woodpeckers play on the branch of a tree to our left. Apart from this, we have not seen anything.

Another hour goes by. Now the sun is very low, its beautiful warm colors blanketing the pine trees around us. I am thinking that it is quite joyful sitting here spotting. Then suddenly, like out of nowhere, I see a big dark shadow approaching cautiously from the left! Like struck by a reality check I quickly poke Emil who is looking elsewhere, giving him a sharp look and a thumbs up. He can’t see the creature from where he is sitting. Cautiously I take out my smaller camera to get ready. It is a brown bear. A big brown bear.

The male with the bright head dashes off just before it gets too dark to take photographs.

25 meters. 20 meters. It approaches slowly and cautiously. I can see that it is worried about something. Is it us? Can it see us, hear us or smell us? It does not seem to react when I take pictures or whisper to Emil, so maybe it is not us it is worried about. The bear finds some of the food that Sara has hidden underneath a rock and runs away as soon as it got what it came for.

But it soon comes back. 25 meters. 20 meters. 15 meters. 10 meters. Now Emil can see it, too. Suddenly the big bear is right in front of us – only ten meters away. They are very powerful animals. I can see its muscular body as it sniffs and searches for something to eat. We can see this bear on and off for about 30 minutes before it vanishes into the dense forest.

The hideout, with Emil’s parabolic recorder fitted by one of the hatches. It allows us to hear everything that goes on even hundreds of meters away.

Then only half an hour later there is another dark shadow approaching from the left. This one does not seem as anxious as the first. It knows where to look to find its food. Its head is surprisingly bright and it has a dark body. This bear is probably the reason the first one was so cautious. The big brown creature accompanies us on and off for the rest of the night, sometimes approaching only up to ten meters. It does not seem bothered by our presence, and it might not even notice us.

Later on, as several hours have passed and just as I am about to go to bed, Emil whispers that he can hear something through his parabolic sound recorder. He can hear steps in the undergrowth. An animal is coming closer. It is the bear coming up one last time before we call it a night, and before it is too dark to see something. By this time, all I can see is a big dark shadow, lumbering around outside of the hut. And then just like that – it is gone.

If you are curious of trying this, please see for more information.