A day of cross-country skiing in western Montana led Zack Clothier to being named the 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
The Natural History Museum of London has awarded the title to the Corinth native, who is a full-time nature photographer specializing in landscapes and wildlife in the American West. Clothier, 38, lives in Montana with his wife Cortney, who is also from Corinth, and their husky Mya.
Clothier photographed a grizzly bear looking straight into his camera with an elk carcass in the background.
“I found the elk carcass when I was out skiing one day over the winter, and I knew it’d be the perfect place to set up a camera trap,” he explained.
Clothier builds high-end trail cameras that use motion sensors and are housed in a waterproof case so they can be left out in the wild for extended periods of time.
Off-camera flashes help lighten images, especially at night time. When an animal walks by, sensors trigger the camera to take a photo.
Clothier set the camera trap up on the elk to see what might come by to eat it. He was expecting the camera to capture pictures of wolves.
“Originally when I found the carcass, there were wolf prints in the snow and it looks like the wolf took down the elk originally,” Clothier said. “But there wasn’t much left to it. The bones were pretty picked clean when I found it. But I knew the scent would still draw in other animals.”
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The wolf never came back to the scene, but the scent did draw in other animals, including snowshoe hares, foxes, martens and other smaller animals.
Two months later, Clothier skied back to the scene in the spring to change out batteries in the camera trap. He had to pass a small creek, which had turned into a raging river during a week of warmer spring temperatures.
He spent a couple of hours building a make-shift bridge of downed trees so he could cross the creek, then snowshoed back to the carcass.
“I found grizzly tracks immediately when I got back in that area so I knew the bear had been there, possibly still even there,” Clothier said. “The tracks were fresh.”
The elk carcass had been dragged away from the camera.
He admits he was nervous being alone in the woods with a grizzly bear nearby. Grizzlies, a subspecies of brown bears, spend up to seven months in torpor — a light form of hibernation. They are hungry when they emerge in spring.
“Not the thing you want to run into,” he laughed.
A huge grizzly walked past the camera, which snapped a picture just a couple of hours before Clothier returned to the scene.
“My camera was knocked all around, the bear had slobbered all over the lens, the camera was pointed up at the sky,” he said. “I knew the bear attacked it. He came in from the side. I think he heard the shutter clicking inside the camera case and he didn’t like that sound and it was too close to his breakfast.”
This photo was the last picture on his camera.
“I got that one shot of him looking,” he said. “He kind of came in, heard the camera, looked at the camera and took out the camera.”
Clothier submitted the photo to the annual competition through the Natural History Museum of London, considered the longest-running and most prestigious nature and wildlife photography competition.
There were more than 50,000 submissions from 95 different countries. The title comes with prize money as well as lots of free press.
Prints of his work can be purchased at www.ZackClothierPhotography.com.
Clothier, who admits he is more of a landscape photographer, started taking photos when he was 12 years old. He was home-schooled in Corinth.
He read a lot of books as a kid and spent a lot of time out in the woods of Corinth taking pictures.
“I just enjoy being outside in nature,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to have a job that you love doing. I just enjoy being out there and photography is a way to get me out there.”
Gretta Hochsprung can be reached at 518-742-3206 or [email protected]