Bear Attack

Rich and I walked from his house at about 6am for a morning of chasing elk. We headed in to the woods behind his house with the intent of using the power line as a quiet route from which we had hoped to hear a bugle or two. The morning was generally uneventful other than the sight of a number of wolf tracks and a lone grouse that had managed to escape our efforts to make a meal out of it. It was about 8:30 when Rich and I sat down to have a shot of coffee on a nearby log. After the quiet morning we decided the elk hunt was over and to head home and get on with the day. We began heading north cross country in an effort to find elk on our way back to Rich’s house.

We were about 10 yards apart on a small game/cattle trail when we heard what I had thought to be elk crashing out of some heavy timber to the west. In an effort to see what was going on I took a few steps in the direction of the commotion putting a small stand of aspen between Rich and myself. Almost immediately, I heard Rich yell “BEAR!”  By the time I was able to get out my pepper spray, Rich and a very large dark bear with a buff face came flying into view. The bear was 3/4’s erect and Rich had managed to stick up his right arm to protect his face. The bear clamped down on it and threw Rich to the ground, completely breaking his right arm below the elbow.  It looked like a hit from an NFL Linebacker. Rich thrust his left arm and recurve bow towards the bear’s face in an attempt to free himself.  The bear chomped that hand splintering the arrows in the bow quiver in the process. I ran to the collision just in time to fire off a cloud of pepper spray at the bear’s huge ass and watch it tear off into the woods. If the entire encounter was more than 15 second I would be shocked.

Rich was able to stand up and assess his injuries – a broken right arm and severely mangled left hand. Unsure if the bear intended to return, we immediately evacuated the scene in the direction opposite the fleeing bear, making our way in the direction of the power line road. About 200 yards away, we felt we were a safe enough distance to make a call to 911 informing them Rich had been injured in a bear encounter, and we were headed to the power line. The next call was to Jodi Vincent, assistant manager at Harriman State Park. Luckily I was able to convince her this was not one of my prank calls and she rounded up the park response kit and Ranger Bob Hyrnick, an EMT, and began heading to the power line.

When we reached to power line, we again assessed Rich’s condition. His right arm was defnitely broken but not bleeding, and his left hand was mangled and bloody. The bear had bitten the hand as Rich attempted to separate himself from the bear. While everything looked horrible there did not appear to be any extreme bleeding. Rich had good color and amazing composure. He felt the best option would be to walk out to proper medical attention and safety. 911 was called and instructed to meet at the Rich’s house, the Harriman team would continue up the power line as back-up.

At about 9 am, I saw a huge cloud of dust coming up the power line and a HSP vehicle came in to view. Jodi and I removed Rich’s pack allowing Bob to get a better look at the situation Rich was in. He and Jodi stabilized the arm and bandaged his hand, and we were in the vehicle heading north. TroutHunter Guide Jake Chutz called for an update on Rich’s condition, and told us there should be a gate a little further north
that would get us back into Last Chance.

When we got to the gate it was pad locked. It was quickly determined we were locked out at which point Jodi insisted we would plow through the gate. Rich protested it might damage the vehicle, but Jodi would not budge. She slammed the vehicle into the gate. The gate stretched sending a dancer pole crashing through the window. “I told you so,” was Rich’s response to the broken windshield indicating he was still himself and likely to be OK. The second attempt through the gate was successful and we were at the Paini house and waiting ambulance in a few minutes.

Rich stepped out of the vehicle and into the care of Fremont County Ambulance and Brenda Dye. Joined by Millie, they headed to Ashton and a LifeFlight helicopter to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

I returned to the scene with the WHART(Wildlife Human Attack Response Team) – Carnivore Wildlife Biologist Bryan Aber, Regional Conservation Of?cer Doug Peterson, and District Conservation Of?cer Josh Coontz loaded for bear. Quickly after we had arrived, Bryan discovered a day bed approximately 88 feet from the location of attack. It was determined Rich and I had walked in on a sleeping bear. Closer inspection discovered bear hair, which was bagged along with some fresh scat. Apparently we had literally scared the shit out of him. A few yards away, Bryan found a piece of glove and the bone which was missing from Rich’s left ring finger.

Wanting to delve deeper in the the bear’s choice of location, Doug had us spread out a bit and recon the area. The day bed smelled of kill and the scat indicated fresh meat had been recently consumed by the bear, so it was assumed a carcass of some sort would be in the general vicinity. .26 miles away down a bear scat strewn path, the WHARTs suspicions were confirmed. The carcass of a beef cow was strewn about, heavily feasted upon by a number of different animals.

Evidence gathered at the scene was indeterminate about the species of bear, that would be a job for the folks down at the lab.

Thanks to all who assisted in Rich’s recovery. He’s now at home with Millie and Ella expecting a full recovery, less one ring finger.

– Jon Stiehl


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