Chris Morgan as a nervous 24-year-old with the first grizzly bear he ever captured while working on a research study in Canadian Rockies in 1994. Morgan named the bear Dawson.
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Chris Morgan as a nervous 24-year-old with the first grizzly bear he ever captured while working on a research study in Canadian Rockies in 1994. Morgan named the bear Dawson.
Credit: Courtesy of Chris Morgan

The first time I caught a grizzly bear

Chris Morgan was going to be graphic designer. It was August 23, 1987, he was 18 and he had college plans.

That was the day he caught his first bear – a black bear in a New Hampshire garbage dump. “That bear changed something inside me and totally shifted my whole perspective on what I was here to do,” he said.

Chris Morgan showing off a grizzly bear paw.
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Chris Morgan showing off a grizzly bear paw.
Credit: Courtesy of Chris Morgan

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A few years later a nervous Morgan, now 24, headed to the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies and met up with Ian Ross, a wildlife biologist legendary for his almost innate ability to catch grizzly bears for scientific research.

The work was a cutting edge effort to understand how grizzlies can survive in what was quickly becoming a human-dominated region.

“I was a bit wet behind the ears, “ Morgan said. “I think Ian felt like he’d got the short straw.”

Ian Ross and Chris Morgan with cowpie headwear in 1995.
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Ian Ross and Chris Morgan with cowpie headwear in 1995.
Credit: Courtesy of Chris Morgan


Ross described what was in store: weeks of tedium interspersed with moments of absolute terror. He looked at the young Brit and asked, “Are you ready for this, Chris?”

The rest of this story is told best by Morgan himself as he describes the profound impact a mentor and a bear named Dawson had on his life. If you can find a quiet spot in the woods, all the better.

And to get you in the mood for your next campfire, here’s a recording of Johnny Cash performing “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” as Morgan describes Ross doing one night out in the wilderness.

Past episode of The Wild:

The Wild is a production of KUOW in Seattle in partnership with Chris Morgan Wildlife. It is produced by Matt Martin and edited by Jim Gates. Fact checking by Apryle Craig. Our theme music is by Michael Parker. Produced for the web by Kara McDermott.

Chris Morgan holds up a picture of himself with Dawson, the grizzly bear he helped catch in the Canadian Rockies while he was in his early twenties.
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Chris Morgan holds up a picture of himself with Dawson, the grizzly bear he helped catch in the Canadian Rockies while he was in his early twenties.
Credit: Courtesy of Chris Morgan