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Jeff Dyche had been dreaming about this Alaskan hunt for a long time. Alaska native Mark Rutledge saw it as a chance to repay his old friend Jeff, who had taken him hunting and fishing when he had visited Colorado. The trip was set for early September and the two rendezvoused at the Anchorage airport. “I was like a kid at Christmas,” says Jeff. “Thank heaven Mark had almost everything packed, so it wasn’t long before we were heading down the Denali Highway.”

At the trailhead the two men loaded a 10-day supply of food and gear into a trailer, which they hitched behind an Argo, a six-wheeled ATV. It was late afternoon when their journey into the marsh and bog of the Monahan Flats began. A well-marked trail provided easy going for two miles-the farthest point most hunters make. Mark’s hunting site was 12 miles farther on. Drizzling rain and low-hanging clouds gave the area an ominous feel. Lightning closed in around them and delayed their progress.

About six miles in, the two men finally called it a night. “This wasn’t like camping in Colorado,” says Jeff. “I felt alive. I knew there were bears and wolves around. All my senses were working.”

Jeff awoke before Mark the next morning and was amazed by the surrounding beauty. A mist hung over the ponds scattered throughout the area. A loon broke the early-morning silence. Mark finally stirred, and it wasn’t long before the two pulled on their hip boots and headed toward the West Fork Glacier.

The terrain became increasingly challenging for the Argo, with swamp, mud bogs and water everywhere. They bogged down often and had to use alder bushes and trees to wrench the Argo and trailer out of the muck. One bog held them hostage for an hour and a half. Finally, they unhitched the trailer, got the Argo out and winched the trailer across. “It was like no country I’ve ever been in,” says Jeff. “Colorado was a desert compared to this.”

About four that afternoon, as they were heading out of the bogs up a hillside, Mark turned off the ignition and announced that this would be home for the next eight or nine days. The two quickly set up their tent and unloaded the backpacks, sleeping bags, propane heater and rifles. The rest of the gear could wait until after supper. Hamburger Helper prepared on the cookstove never tasted better. With an hour of daylight left, they decided to grab their guns and take a short walk to scout for moose.

About 600 yards from camp, they overlooked the Big Susitina River headwaters and spotted five cow moose…a good sign. With a dollar bet on who would see the first bull moose, they were both intent on scanning the area. A nearby knoll would provide a better view. The terrain was changing into thick brush, and Jeff, a seasoned hunter, turned his riflescope from 9X to 3X. As they reached the hilltop, a grizzly suddenly came charging over the top of the knoll.

“The bear made three strides and was on top of us. There was no time to get off a shot,” says Jeff. “We were standing only a few feet apart so I didn’t know if it was heading for me or Mark.

“It’s amazing how your adrenaline rush slows things down. In my mind I saw things as snapshots. The first frame I can remember is how big and round the bear’s head was. It was huge. The second snapshot I recall is his large right paw raised in the air.”

The grizzly never stood up but bore straight down on them like a semi-truck on a superhighway. Jeff dove backward into the brush. He fell to the ground, covering his neck with his hands, expecting to feel the hot breath of the grizzly at any moment. “Chills went up and down my spine and the hair on my neck stood up,” he says. “At first I thought he had overrun me and was coming back. But the grizzly had zeroed in on Mark. “

The bear tried grabbing Mark’s leg with its paw but missed. It then grabbed hold of his leg with s teeth, knocking him to the ground. The bear shredded Mark’s backpack with its claws while going for his head. Mark looked and saw the nose of the grizzly against the side of his face. To avoid having his face ripped off, he turned his head quickly away as the bear grabbed hold of the back of his head. Mark could hear bone crunching and feel the bear’s breath. He also heard gurgling as blood ran into his ear. When Jeff heard Mark scream, he immediately jumped up. The first thing he saw was Mark’s head totally engulfed in the bear’s mouth. “It was like watching a snake trying to swallow its prey,” Jeff says. “The grizzly was growling ‘grrrr’ and shaking Mark…flopping him around like a rag doll. The strength of a bear to be able to lift a grown man with just its head didn’t seem real.”

Jeff instantly shouldered his .30/06 rifle, steadily zeroed the crosshairs of the scope on the bear’s heart, and squeezed the trigger. “I could clearly see the bear’s shoulder in my scope,” says Jeff. “But had the scope still been on 9X, I wouldn’t have been able to get a clean shot and the bear probably would have killed us both.”

At the shot, the bear released Mark, who was on his feet before the bear hit the ground. “My first thought was, thank God he’s alive,” Jeff says.

The bear was off its feet but still growling.

“Shoot him again, shoot him again,” Mark yelled. Stepping around the back of the bear, Jeff shot the grizzly at the base of its skull. The bear’s eyes rolled back and it finally lay silent and still.

“Though everything appeared to be moving in slow motion, it happened fast. From the time we first saw the bear to when I pulled the trigger was less than 15 seconds,” says Jeff.

Now the gravity of the situation sank in. Blood was oozing out of Mark’s head. Jeff knew that Mark needed immediate attention. He picked up Mark’s rifle along with shells and other items scattered from his torn backpack. As they began walking back to camp, Jeff could see a tear where Mark’s hair was tucked up underneath his skull, exposing a large section of his skull. Jeff also realized Mark’s left ear was hanging by a small piece of skin near his neck.

Mark was bleeding badly and so they ran the 600 yards back to camp. Halfway back they heard a loud noise. Again, an adrenaline rush sent everything into slow motion. Jeff says his heart just dropped. “Now what? Here I am with all this stuff in my arms,” Jeff thought, “and I can’t even shoot whatever this is.” Suddenly, a dozen ptarmigan erupted at their feet. After the initial shock, both were relieved, and they regained their quick pace back to camp.

Jeff told Mark to sit down and hold still as soon as they reached camp. Mark wasn’t saying anything. “I think he was in denial, like it was a dream,” says Jeff. Thankfully for Mark, Jeff was a trained emergency medical technician. He didn’t panic. Jeff knew he had to stop the bleeding and work to keep Mark from going into shock, but he couldn’t find the first-aid kit. “I tore the camp apart looking for that kit,” Jeff says. Finally, he couldn’t look any longer. He had to use what he could access quickly or he was going to lose Mark.

“I grabbed a roll of electrical tape from my backpack and a roll of paper towels. I fixed his ear first, pulling it to where it should be, covering it with paper towels and asking Mark to hold the towels against his ear with pressure. Next, I stuck my finger between his skull and his scalp and pulled the scalp out so it would sit as it should. Then I covered it with paper towels and electrical tape.” Mark had another gash about eight inches long on the top of his head. It ran almost ear-to-ear and was cut clear to his skull. Jeff wrapped paper towels tightly over the gash.

It was starting to get dark. Jeff knew that Mark needed immediate medical attention and feared he wouldn’t make it for 24 hours. Yet they were 12 to 14 hours from the nearest hospital, with no means to call or radio for help. Fourteen miles of rough, marshy terrain separated them from their truck. The trail was hard enough to decipher in the daylight. Now they would have to try to get out in the dark.

They unhitched the trailer and gathered up warm clothes, two sleeping bags, a can of gas, food, a flashlight with extra batteries and the spotlight that plugged into the Argo.

To keep Mark from going into shock, Jeff kept up a barrage of questions. “What’s your name? What happened? Where are you from?” he asked. Mark usually responded with one word-Mark, bear, Anchorage-but as long as it was the right word, Jeff knew he was okay. A wrong answer would have meant Mark was becoming disoriented and going into shock.

With Mark stabilized, a more serious threat now loomed. Jeff had never learned to drive the Argo, which has a difficult lever steering mechanism. He knew it would take valuable time to learn so he put Mark in charge of driving, hoping the task would keep him focused on something besides his injuries. Mark grabbed the controls and put the Argo in high gear.

“Mark was driving really fast,” says Jeff. “I kept saying ‘slow down. ‘ At one point we hit a tree straight on and it almost tipped us over. I said, ‘If this thing breaks, we’re definitely going to have to walk out of here.” But Mark never slowed down.

As they did on the way in, the two continually got stuck. “The first couple of times my adrenaline was so high I just picked up the back of the Argo and got us going again,” Jeff says, but adrenaline didn’t always help. It took them 20 minutes to get out of one hole. In the darkness, the two lost the trail a couple of times and had to backtrack.

About halfway back to the truck Mark’s leg started to become more painful. In their rush to return they had never taken a look at it in camp. When they removed Mark’s waders and shined a light on his leg, they saw a puncture wound down to the bone on one side of the leg and tears on the other side. Mark wasn’t bleeding badly, Jeff noted, so they pulled the tight-fitting waders back on to give his leg support.

The temperature was falling and both men were soaking wet. Mark was getting cold. Jeff dug out a jacket from their supplies and gave it to Mark. If Mark went into shock, Jeff would be unable to get the Argo unstuck by himself. If the Argo got stuck, Jeff would have to carry Mark out and probably wouldn’t be able to get him out in time.

Mark never let up on the throttle and Jeff never stopped asking questions. “What’s your name? Where are you from?” The temperature continued to drop to just above freezing. Mark now had five jackets wrapped around him and he was still cold. Jeff gave Mark the jouldn’t make it for 24 hours. Yet they were 12 to 14 hours from the nearest hospital, with no means to call or radio for help. Fourteen miles of rough, marshy terrain separated them from their truck. The trail was hard enough to decipher in the daylight. Now they would have to try to get out in the dark.

They unhitched the trailer and gathered up warm clothes, two sleeping bags, a can of gas, food, a flashlight with extra batteries and the spotlight that plugged into the Argo.

To keep Mark from going into shock, Jeff kept up a barrage of questions. “What’s your name? What happened? Where are you from?” he asked. Mark usually responded with one word-Mark, bear, Anchorage-but as long as it was the right word, Jeff knew he was okay. A wrong answer would have meant Mark was becoming disoriented and going into shock.

With Mark stabilized, a more serious threat now loomed. Jeff had never learned to drive the Argo, which has a difficult lever steering mechanism. He knew it would take valuable time to learn so he put Mark in charge of driving, hoping the task would keep him focused on something besides his injuries. Mark grabbed the controls and put the Argo in high gear.

“Mark was driving really fast,” says Jeff. “I kept saying ‘slow down. ‘ At one point we hit a tree straight on and it almost tipped us over. I said, ‘If this thing breaks, we’re definitely going to have to walk out of here.” But Mark never slowed down.

As they did on the way in, the two continually got stuck. “The first couple of times my adrenaline was so high I just picked up the back of the Argo and got us going again,” Jeff says, but adrenaline didn’t always help. It took them 20 minutes to get out of one hole. In the darkness, the two lost the trail a couple of times and had to backtrack.

About halfway back to the truck Mark’s leg started to become more painful. In their rush to return they had never taken a look at it in camp. When they removed Mark’s waders and shined a light on his leg, they saw a puncture wound down to the bone on one side of the leg and tears on the other side. Mark wasn’t bleeding badly, Jeff noted, so they pulled the tight-fitting waders back on to give his leg support.

The temperature was falling and both men were soaking wet. Mark was getting cold. Jeff dug out a jacket from their supplies and gave it to Mark. If Mark went into shock, Jeff would be unable to get the Argo unstuck by himself. If the Argo got stuck, Jeff would have to carry Mark out and probably wouldn’t be able to get him out in time.

Mark never let up on the throttle and Jeff never stopped asking questions. “What’s your name? Where are you from?” The temperature continued to drop to just above freezing. Mark now had five jackets wrapped around him and he was still cold. Jeff gave Mark the j

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