Interview with Coby Brock of Kiss A Moose
Here we go everyone! The first of the October Bear Box interviews! I had a blast chatting with Coby Brock of Kiss A Moose. Give it a read and then get your questions ready for the Q&A we're doing in the Facebook group on Friday the 19th.
Let’s just start with a quick introduction and telling us a bit about yourself?
COBY BROCK: My name’s Coby Brock, and I’m from Anchorage, Alaska. I’ve lived in Alaska on and off for about the last 13 years, and I’ve lived all over the state in Juneau, Fairbanks, Seward, Whittier, Denali, North Pole, Valdez. I’ve traveled all over the state taking photos as well.
Very cool. Was moving up here because of your photography then, and being closer to the wildlife?
COBY: I’ve always liked the wildlife. I’m from Kansas and grew up on a farm so we had lots of livestock, about every animal you could name as a pet, and I always liked taking photos and videos of wildlife while I was there so Alaska’s the place to be if you like to do stuff like that. I got up here as quickly as I could.
Oh yeah, I definitely find it hard to think of a better place as far as that’s concerned for sure. So we talked a little bit about your McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge trip earlier and the high concentration of bears that were there. Has that been one of the more unique trips that you’ve been on?
COBY: I’ve been to McNeil twice now and my fiancee’s also been twice. You go for four days at a time. You arrive a day early and leave a day late, but you’re on the ground watching bears for at least four days. It’s absolutely the best trip that you can do in the state of Alaska. When I was there the first time, I saw 63 bears at once, which we set the record for that season so that was pretty exciting. I love going there and I’m going to try again this year. The state of Alaska puts on a lottery, which they only allow maybe 180 per year that get to go so you feel really fortunate if you do win.
Yeah, the fact that you’ve been able to go twice is really cool and you’ve been able to share it with your fiancee and everything, that’s awesome.
COBY: My favorite place in the world!
For sure! When you shared it with me earlier, and I was checking out all of the photos, I can’t believe that I had never heard of it before. Just one of those things.
COBY: Yeah, just one of those things. Most of the tourists will go to Brooks Falls and you know, that’s great, but just having the intimate encounters with the bears without the viewing platform and everything like that is really awesome.
COBY: So that photo with the bear, salmon, and eagle that’s in The Bear Box on the coaster, that’s one of the photos I took on the first trip there. And then the second photo that I’ve got in there’s a local Anchorage moose called Hook the Moose that I photographed from 2013 to 2018. He was the biggest bull that year in town that everyone was trying to find, and he’d range all over town. I did my best to keep track of him.
So how does that go exactly? You found him initially and he was really popular with everyone else so how did you go about tracking him?
COBY: Well, I’d seen him and I’ve got photos of him from 2013, 2014 and he was just kind of your average moose and then in August of 2015, I went out and saw him with this giant crazy rack and was like “Where did this thing come from?” It was totally different than anything I’d ever seen and every year his antler’s kept getting crazier and crazier. Pretty interesting thing about the moose in Anchorage is people will say they live behind the airport, and yeah, they’ll live behind the airport for about three weeks but then it goes to a different part of town and then another different part of town. All throughout the year, they’re eating and foraging in different parts of Anchorage, making it very hard to keep track of them.
Oh yeah, I can imagine
COBY: You might see him one day and then the next day he might be four or six miles away. I just did a lot of hiking and driving around that year looking for him. The progressive years it got easier to find him because I kind of knew what he was up to.
Sure. That’s a lot of dedication.
COBY: Yeah. I concentrated mostly in 2015. That photo was featured in Outdoor Photographer magazine as photo of the day.
That’s super cool. Is it things like that that blew you up in particular?
COBY: A lot of the time, the things that make you really popular as a photographer is honestly the videos. We’ve had quite a few videos go viral and on some of the viral videos we’ve had, we’ve gained 12,000 Facebook followers in a week.
COBY: The videos travel a little bit further and quicker than the photos. The bear, salmon, eagle photo is probably one of the most popular photos in the state right now. I think we have nearly 38,000 Facebook followers now and gradually every fall that number keeps going up and up and up. People like seeing all the moose photos and videos that we post.
And I imagine it hasn’t just been people from Alaska.
COBY: Yeah, I’m followed by people from all over the world on Facebook. A couple from Germany came to my booth and said that they follow me on Facebook, and I’m going to take them out looking for moose. They’ve followed me since 2016 or something like that.
That’s cool. They’re following your journey these last couple years and now they’re getting to meet you and everything. That’s awesome.
COBY: Yeah. I sell photos down at the Saturday Market, and I’ll run into tourists that are all, “Oh, I know your business, I know Kiss A Moose” *laughs*
How did you come up with the name Kiss A Moose?
COBY: The reason why I named my business Kiss A Moose is because in the 1980s my grandparents came up here and they brought all the kids back a “Go kiss a moose” Alaska shirt that was a really popular tourist thing at the time. I was going to just use cobybrock.com and I found that no one could spell it. *laughs* No one could spell Coby, it’s spelled so many different ways and so that’s why I finally decided to go with kissamoose.com.
And did you come up with the logo?
COBY: I came up with the general idea of it and a guy off of Craigslist was looking for some college credit where he had to design a logo. He did it for me and he did an awesome job. I wanted a watermark for my photos and it works great, everybody recognizes it now.
For sure, it definitely stands out. You were saying you were taking that German couple out to see moose. Is that one of your photo tours like you talk about on your website?
COBY: Yeah, it’s basically a photo tour that I’m taking them out on. I do custom photo tours for people that are wanting to find moose and stuff like that. I’ve traveled all over the state. I’ve been to Denali maybe a hundred times. I’ve been on whale watching boats probably a couple hundred times and just been all over the state. So we’re a pretty good resource for people when they’re in a pinch to find a critter. *laughs*
Cool! One thing I was wondering too, and this is going back to McNeil River, you’re so close to the bears, and I’m sure you’d filmed bears prior to that, but was it kind of scary being so close to them initially?
COBY: Yeah, McNeil’s crazy. I mean, it’s one of the longest bear viewing programs in the world, and so the bears that are going there have been seeing people sitting in the same chairs for their whole lives. For example, a sow named Simba has been coming to the sanctuary since she was a cub twenty years ago.. A lot of the bears don’t pay you any attention and that might mean them taking a nap 15 feet away from you. The day that I saw the 63 bears, when we first got there, I was like “Oh my gosh, this is crazy” It’s pretty trippy.
I can imagine. It’s one of those things where you were telling me about it and I was all, “I’d love to do that,” but I bet it’d take me a bit to get used to it.
COBY: This last time Jennie went, when the bears were in the bay behind the campsite, she said the whole night she could hear them from her tent and that she didn’t sleep very well. *laughs*
I bet! So in all the years that you’ve been doing this, have you ever had any close calls or anything like that?
COBY: My closest call I’ve ever had, I was camping at the Bird Creek Campground about 20 miles south of Anchorage, and I woke up in a rainstorm with a bear pressing down on my tent with his paw on my forehead, breathing into my ear from three inches away. I was car camping and had my car right next to me and got myself out of that one by hitting my panic button on my car alarm and it scared it off or I might not be here. *laughs* Needless to say, I don’t like camping anymore.
Yeah, all it takes is one experience like that to shift your thinking a little.
COBY: I don’t think I’ve got my tent out this year. *laughs*
I don’t doubt it! So you said you grew up in Kansas. Was it when you were younger living there when you caught the photography bug and started to figure out that it might be what you wanted to do for a living?
COBY: Well, on the farm, my dad kind of let me have any animal I wanted to as a pet and so we had chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, sheep. We had a pet raccoon, had a buffalo, had peacocks. Just about every animal you could think of. But at the time when I was a kid, photography was so expensive because you had to get it developed and when you’re living in the country, you know, way out in the boonies, it’s not the most successful thing. We had a camcorder, a big over-the-shoulder camcorder, and I’d go and make little wildlife movies in my backyard and stuff like that. That kind of got me started but once I moved up here, I finally broke down and got some nice camera gear and been doing it ever since.
I like those initial stories of, “I had this and this is what I had to work with and this is how I got started,” and then hearing about the transition from that to something more. When it comes to how you go about taking your photos and filming certain animals, is it more of a planned “I’m going on a tour” kind of thing or is it more spontaneous?
COBY: Now that I’ve lived in Alaska for as long as I have, I’ve built up almost this calendar in my brain of if the weather’s nice, what should I be looking for and so in January it might be Bohemian Waxwing birds, in mid-July it might be bears, orcas a different time of year, humpbacks a different time of year. Moose don’t shed their velvet until about September 3rd and that’s when you really need to start focusing on them. I really do have a calendar of, “If it’s nice out, what should I be doing.”
That’s cool. Do you have a specific animal that you like to photograph or film the most?
COBY: To be honest, my favorite animal to photograph is weasels. I’ve come across weasels about five different times and they’re just a lot of fun to watch. There’s nothing that I could tell you that would help you find one, they’re just something that kind of finds you. They’re my favorite thing to photograph.
Yeah, I saw a picture of a white one on your website.
COBY: Yeah, that was in Alaska Magazine at one time. That was down by Bird area.
Very cool. Do you have any specific advice for aspiring and up and coming photographers?
COBY: Buy your expensive gear first. I wasted a lot of years with subpar camera gear and I wish that I had bought nicer gear earlier in life.
Gotcha. It sounds like in the long run that’s it’s better to save up and get something that you know is going to get the job done.
COBY: Yeah. There’s just a lot of crisper lenses than the cheaper stuff but sometimes you just have to go ahead and get it or you’re just never going to get the quality level that you want.
COBY: I’ve always said that if you don’t spend over 2000 dollars on a lens, you should throw it away.
Yeah. And that comes back to you probably shouldn’t try and do it on a budget. It sounds like it’s better to come to the decision that you’re invested in this and make a plan to save money so you can get the good stuff.
COBY. Yeah, absolutely.
When we first talked to you about The Bear Box, what was it that made you want to be a part of it?
COBY: Just people supporting local Alaskan artists. You need someone to do it and a chance to get your passion in front of new people is always a great idea.
That’s how we feel too. It’s exciting growing up here and having an opportunity to connect with all these different local artists, creators, and business owners. That was a big driving force for us. We really enjoyed the pictures that you shared with us for the box and it’s been pretty cool and a lot of fun.
COBY: Yeah, it’s always been frustrating in Alaska having such a short amount of tourist time that you’re in front of people to try to make your living and there’s so much stuff for sale here that isn’t necessarily made in America, let alone in Alaska, so it’s good to see that.
True. Bringing it back!
Any final thoughts or anything else that you’d like to mention either about yourself or your business?
COBY: We’ll be at several craft fairs this fall and winter including the Make It Alaskan Festival in Anchorage (Oct. 5-7), Raven Hall in Palmer (Oct. 20-21), JBER (Nov. 3), and Centennial Hall in Juneau (Nov. 23-25). You can find me and other artists at Anchorage Market & Festival during the summer, or look for us online at www.kissamoose.com.
I just want to thank Coby for his awesome coasters and the time that he took to do this interview. Make sure to check out his website with the link right above. Also make sure to check out his Youtube and Facebook.
I'll be doing a post in the Facebook group tomorrow detailing a bit more of what he has to offer on his website and then we'll be doing the Q&A with Coby on Friday, so make sure to check that out.