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‘These bears are not afraid’: After four recent grizzly encounters, officials looking at options; experts still recommend spray vs. firearm

 (Shutterstock)
(Shutterstock)

A Bozeman man who survived two attacks by a grizzly bear apparently protecting her cubs on Saturday has captured the attention of social media, hunters and wildlife managers alike, especially for calmly recording a bloody video before seeking medical help.

Todd Orr, 50, who’d been scouting for elk in the Madison Range, described the attacks in excruciating detail on his Facebook page. He also attached a short selfie video he recorded after hiking 3 miles back to his vehicle and being mauled by the sow a second time.

“Yeah, life sucks in bear country,” Orr said.

Madison County Sheriff Roger Thompson equated the ordeal to getting struck by lightning twice in a day.

In less than 24 hours online, Orr’s graphic video had racked up 27 million Facebook views – far more than the 9 million views of the Saturday Night Live comedy skit on the Clinton-Trump presidential debate.

“He survived, and that’s amazing,” said Ron Aasheim, Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department spokesman in Helena. “Anyone else would have been in shock, but he makes a call to his girlfriend and does a video.

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“When he’s had time to recover, we’ll want to talk to him to see what went wrong and right.”

The incident is the second grizzly attack on elk hunters in the Madison Range near Ennis this season and the fourth encounter this fall in southwestern Montana.

Gallatin-Beaverhead National Forest officials on Monday temporarily closed access to a 7-square-mile area where the most recent attack occurred.

State officials are hearing more complaints that grizzlies in southwestern Montana need to be occasionally hunted or managed to restore their natural wariness of humans, Aasheim said.

Orr said in his post that he surprised the sow and her cubs as he hiked even though he’d already been shouting, “Hey bear!” to alert any bears in the area of his presence.

He said he kept yelling as the bear charged 80 yards across a meadow. The sow ran through the bear spray he discharged when it was about 25 feet away, he wrote.

The bear swatted his head leaving a nasty gash and chomped on his arms and shoulders as Orr dropped to the ground and protected his neck with his hands and arms, he said.

“The force of each bite was like a sledgehammer with teeth,” he wrote. “She would stop for a few seconds and then bite again. Over and over.” He said his backpack offered some protection as he struggled to stay face-down in the dirt.

Sensing the bears had left, he started hiking the 3 miles back to his vehicle, but the grizzly came out of nowhere about 10 minutes later and bit him again on the upper body and head, Orr said.

He said he gasped and shivered when the bear crunched into bone and nerves, triggering the bear into a biting frenzy.

“She suddenly stopped and just stood on top of me,” he wrote. “I will never forgot that brief moment. Dead silence except for the sound of her heavy breathing and sniffing. I could feel … her breath on the back of my neck, just inches away. I could feel her front claws digging into my lower back below my backpack where she stood. I could smell the terrible pungent odor she emitted.

“For 30 seconds she stood there crushing me. My chest was smashed into the ground and forehead in the dirt. When would the next onslaught of biting begin. I didn’t move.

“And then she was gone.”

“Not my best day, but I’m alive,” Orr wrote after hiking out, one arm useless, bleeding, nearly scalped on one side of his head – and giving thanks that his legs were not injured.

Sheriff Thompson said Orr apparently did everything he was supposed to do and ultimately survived by playing dead until the bear was satisfied he no longer was a threat to her cubs.

The multiple grizzly attacks this season are magnifying attention on grizzly management.

In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed lifting threatened-species protections for hundreds of grizzlies in areas outside Yellowstone National Park. That action would open the door for limited grizzly hunting in that portion of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming for the first time in more than 40 years.

Since grizzlies in the Lower 48 were added to the endangered and threatened species list in 1975, the number in the Yellowstone region increased from 136 animals to an estimated 700 to 1,000 today, according to government researchers.

“Management is badly needed because the grizzlies have lost all fear of people, and that’s not a good situation,” said Bob Legasa, of Post Falls.

Legasa has been hunting elk for six years in areas where this season’s grizzly attacks have occurred. He said he’s seen the changes in bear activity.

“The first couple years, we had periodic sightings and we’d see grizzly sign,” he said.

“Then about four years ago, we started seeing more grizzly activity. The guides I hunt with are having more scary situations every year. Some grizzlies have learned that a rifle shot is a dinner bell.

“This year in particular was tense,” said Legasa, who was compelled to film a video on proper use of bear spray before he returned to Idaho this month. He posted it for the benefit of friends on Facebook.

On his last day of bowhunting this season, a grizzly sneaked in to within 30 yards below Legasa as his friend called nearby for elk.

“It didn’t see us, but it was going back and forth, moving quickly to our scents, leaving and coming back,” he said. “We got out of there with our bear spray ready for action.

“These bears are not afraid. They have no predators. That’s not good.”

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