BACKCOUNTRY GRIZZLY ATTACK
Ron Leming Jr. and his Dad survived a harrowing bowhunt for elk. Instead of a trophy bull, the duo encountered a huge boar grizzly bear. We went bowhunting for elk outside of Cody and took the horses about 15 miles back in to setup camp. It had been four days and Dad had missed two bulls during the last two days. The plan was to ride about two miles from camp on horseback and then hike in to spot about a quarter-mile further in. When we left camp that morning Dad held out an arrow and said "God, guide my arrow today and let it find its mark." It was a small prayer meant for an elk but little did we know that the arrow would find a very different mark- and more than likely save my life. Outdoor Life Online Editor
When we got to the spot I set up about 30 or 40 yards on a hillside above Dad and started calling. A nice bull came right in and started thrashing around and raking a tree, but it didn’t offer him a shot. I sat above the action watching and calling when needed when I thought I heard something behind me and turned around- nothing but green forest waved in the light breeze. It must have been my imagination, I thought. Slowing turning back to my Dad, I could only watch as the elk we were working took off down the mountain. I couldn’t figure out why; the wind was right and it couldn’t have seen us- I was baffled as to why it bugged out for no reason. Then I heard it. A noise that definitely wasn’t a figment of my imagination. Outdoor Life Online Editor
Turning around I saw a grizzly staring back at me from only 15 feet away. Now here in the West, we encounter bears quite often and most of the time it’s no big deal, but I was pretty sure something bad was going to happen this time. I stood up, waved my arms and yelled at him. All that bear did was lay his ears back and charge. He covered the distance between us in about a second and a half. In that moment my brain raced, conjuring up escape plans. At one point I thought I might be able to raise my bow and get a shot off, but then realized I didn’t even have an arrow nocked. Scrapping that idea with the bear nearly on top of me, I followed the most basic response to danger- flight. I took off running straight downhill toward my Dad. Outdoor Life Online Editor
As I was running toward my Dad with the huge grizzly right behind me, I saw a yellow streak fly right past my leg. Two steps later I was on the ground. I don’t know if I fell or the bear took me down, but I found myself wrestling the bruin. A voice screamed in my head, KEEP IT OFF YOUR HEAD! DON’T LET IT GET A HOLD OF YOUR NECK! Outdoor Life Online Editor
Fighting to keep my throat from the grizzly’s jaws, I felt him clamp down on my forearm. The force was amazing; it felt like my arm was being crushed. It wasn’t the pain you’d expect; the teeth didn’t hurt, it was more of a crushing pressure that I’ll never forget. As I fought to free my arm, flashes of dark brown fur, blue sky filtered through treetops and scarlet blood screamed past my eyes like a slideshow on fast-forward. Blood was flowing as if sprayed from a garden hose. I didn’t know if it was the bear’s or mine. A moment later I was somehow on my feet, I honestly don’t know how it happened but I was standing upright, covered in blood… and face to face with a grizzly that wanted to kill me. Outdoor Life Online Editor
Looking into the eyes of the bloodied grizzly, I turned and ran for two trees that formed a fork about 10 feet from me. Jumping as high into the forked trunks as I could, I tried a vertical escape but my nightmare continued. The grizz wouldn’t let me go that easy. He grabbed me from behind, pinning me to the tree before trying to pull me back down. I clung to the tree, hoping to stave off another mauling. That’s when I heard it. My Dad. He was yelling at the bear and hitting it across the back and shoulders with his bow. Outdoor Life Online Editor
That’s when the physical and mental pressure lifted for the first time and I thought that I might actually survive this encounter. The respite lasted less than a heartbeat as I realized that the grizzly turned his attention to Dad. Covered in blood, the grizzly glared at Dad and took a couple of steps toward him. “KILL IT! KILL IT! KILL IT!” I screamed. And then just as quickly as the grizzly released me and focused his rage on Dad, he changed course again and started downhill, leaving us as if nothing had happened. Outdoor Life Online Editor
“I shot him and I think he’s dying,” said Dad as we watched the bear lumber down the forested hillside. The yellow streak that whizzed past my leg as I initially ran from bear was my Dad’s arrow and it had apparently found its mark because now the grizzly took its last steps, stumbling about 80 yards before stopping and toppling to the ground dead. Outdoor Life Online Editor
After watching the bear drop dead, I went into shock. My vision began to blur, I felt nauseous and went cold. My Dad built a fire and as I laid by it he check my injuries and watched me trying to figure out how badly I was hurt. After 45 minutes or so I began to feel better. Dad hiked back to the horses and led them back to the site. Because of my injuries- my right arm that the bear chewed on was torn to the bone just below the elbow and my left hand had been bitten completely through, leaving the main nerve which controls all the fingers completely exposed- I was unable to climb on the horse, so we walked them more than the two miles back to camp. Once there I was able to climb on top of, ironically enough, the bear-proof food-storage locker and get in the saddle. After the 15-mile ride to the trailhead, we loaded the horses and drove to the hospital in Cody. I spent the night there, where they cleaned my wounds, stitched me up and pumped antibiotics into me.
The next day, Sept. 13, Dad headed back to our camp with local Game and Fish officers and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent. They investigated the scene and discovered that Dad’s arrow had hit the grizzly at the base of the neck and the expandable broadhead cut a major artery and then slid down into its chest cavity. Nearly all the blood covering me had belonged to the bear. Outdoor Life Online Editor
The agents said the bruin was an 11-year-old male that was 500 to 600 pounds and was undoubtedly the king of the area. The boar had been trapped as a nuisance bear near South Fork Road in 2003 for getting into area outbuildings. It was relocated to Grand Teton Park and hadn’t been a problem since. Considering that we were 15 miles in the backcountry and elk were in the area and we were actively calling, he probably though he was stalking an elk when we first met. Outdoor Life Online Editor
More than the actual attack, the thing that sticks in my mind most about the incident is my Dad and that instantaneous decision he made. He had missed two elk in the days leading up to the attack but when it mattered most, he launched an arrow within a couple of feet of his son and made an impossible shot. When I asked him what was going through his head, what he said was: “All I could think of was that bear getting a hold of you and possibly killing you, my son.” Outdoor Life Online Editor
On September 12, Ron Leming Jr. and his Dad survived a harrowing bowhunt for elk in Wyoming’s backcountry. Instead of a trophy bull, the duo encountered a huge boar grizzly bear. What follows is the story and photos of that experience as told to OL Senior Editor Brian Lynn.