A Night In the Woods: Ruka Bear Watching

Ruka Bear Watching

Ruka bear watching organised by Karhu Kuusamo.

Just two kms from the Russian border, 30 minutes drive from Ruka, in an uninhabited area of Finnish wilderness, we followed our guide down a well worn forest trail to the bear hide, mosquitoes buzzing around us and excitement welling up in our stomachs. We were going on a Ruka bear watching trip in Lapland!

Where The Bears Roam

Inside The Ruka Bear Watching Hide

Inside the hide, a wooden structure standing on the edge of a swamp opposite the tree line, we settled down to wait for these kings of the forest, the Finnish brown bear. The hide was a long thin room with narrow windows at just the right height to see out of when sat down.

Below the windows were what looked like cloth, drawstring bags with the bottom end attached to the wall. You could open these and look through a hole in the hide wall. These are for poking your camera through, the drawstring on the inside to fasten them snuggly around your camera so as not to let the mosquitoes in.

Our eagle eyed guide inside the hide

Whilst we waited, our guide and the owner of Karhu Kuusamo, Tuomo Pirttimaa, talked in a hushed tones about the bears in the area.

There are approximately 10 bears in the area, with 4 or 5 coming to feed at this spot every night and Tuomo knows most of them by sight.

The Finnish brown bear is a very shy creature and rarely spotted in the wild, hence the reason we were waiting in a hide at a well known feeding spot where Tuomo regularly brings food for them.

The Only Way To See Wild Bears in Kuusamo

Bear watching in Kuusamo is really the only way to see these bears in their natural habitat.  So shy are the bears of this area that in the very unlikely event that you happened across one on the forest it would almost definitely turn and run away. The bears only attack when they feel threatened and only as a last resort.

During the day they spend their time on the Russian side of the border where the nearest dwelling is 60km away, and only cross over into Finland at night when the humans are all in bed.

We arrived on our Ruka bear watching trip at 7.30pm and Tuomo told us that we probably wouldn’t see any bears until after 9pm. Mosquito spray is not allowed on these trips as the bears can smell it from miles away, and neither is making any noise. So we sat in silence, quietly swatting at the mossies that had come through the door with us, the occasional hushed whisper of questions and answers between us and the guide and relaxed into the view over the swamp.

view of the swamp from the hide

It was a wonderfully peaceful way to pass the time and a gorgeous view to sit admiring. As the nights don’t get dark in Lapland during the summer, it was light all night, perfect for watching bears without any need for specialist equipment.

The First Bear of the Evening

At around 10.00pm we started to hear the Ravens calling. Tuomo told us they do this when they see a bear coming to alert the other Ravens. He thought probably they do it because they feed off the bears’ catch, and it could well be a call to dinner for the other ravens.

Forty minutes later the first bear appeared from the tree line. He was a big one. The guide was surprised as he didn’t recognise the bear, he’d never seen it eating here before but he had seen it’s paw prints in the forest and going from the size of the prints he knew it to be at least a 300kg. The bear stood at the edge of the forest for a few seconds, staring straight at us and then turned and slunk back into the trees, perfectly camouflaged with a couple of seconds.

First bear of the evening

Suspicious and not very hungry was Tuomos’ verdict as we scanned the edge of the forest looking for any more signs of him, probably nervous as he is new to the area. The wind had dropped, where as before it had been in our favour blowing our scent the other way, and the bear may well have smelled us and not wanted to risk it.

Another Bear Comes To Visit

At 11:55 the second bear appeared. Smaller than the first, around 100 – 120kg, about 2-3 years old. He was lighter than the first bear and nowhere near as timid. The older a bear gets, the more shy and wary he becomes, not surprising considering they still have a bear hunting season here in Finland.

He came out of the forest a distance from the feeding area and scanned around, then disappeared back into the forest only to pop out again a moment later, much closer. It is surprising how fast these animals can move. From there he made his way straight to the food and ate for a while before moving on to the next feeding spot a few meters away.

The 2nd bear crosses the swamp

It was amazing to watch the powerful young animal pulling and tearing at the meat, seeing his muscles work as he ripped the sinew away to get at the flesh. It was a rare thing for a human to see and I felt very grateful to be so privileged.

He didn’t stay long, a noise or smell from the forest startled him, perhaps that other bear, and he turned and loped back off to the forest.

the second bear of the evening

Sadly we didn’t see any more bears and called it a night at 1.30am, the conditions were against us for perfect bear watching with it being very hot with no wind, but I didn’t care, I’d seen two wild bears, as wild as they come, and that is something not many people get to do in Finland. I left a very happy woman.

Ruka Bear Watching

At just 120€ for an trip like this or 140€ to stay in the hide over night, Ruka bear watching should be on your ‘must do’ list.

KarhuKuusamo.com have 3 hides at the edge of the swamp near the Russian boarder, 30 minutes from Kuusamo city centre. They can take groups from 2 to 20 people and the season for bear watching in Ruka & Kuusamo runs from May to August 19th.

From May to the middle of July these bears come to feed alone, usually feed for 10 to fifteen minutes and then leave, the next one coming some time later. By the middle of July it wouldn’t be unusual to see 2 or 3 at the same time and in August it has been known for 5 or more to come to the same feeding area at the same time.

Tuomo, the guide, speaks excellent English and is very informed about the area and the bears.

Find out more about the Ruka bear watching season.

Book you Own Ruka Bear Watching Trip

This trip was arranged by the lovely people at Karhu Kuusamo

Contact:

Tuomo Pirttimaa +358 400 210 681 (speaks English)

Pekka Veteläinen +358 400 321 453

Email: karhu@karukuusmao.com (speaks English)

Website: www.karhukuuusamo.com

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  1. [...] can read all about my Ruka bear watching experience over on my travel blog.  There’s pictures and everything, so go on over and have [...]

  2. Wow-that looks really cool.

  3. Vegemitevix says:

    Wow that is amazing. Sooooo want to go..

  4. Suzy says:

    What a once in a lifetime experience. Great photos as well. You have captured a great deal of emotion behind these surprisingly shy creatures.

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