This Man Survived a Worst-Case Bear Attack — Here’s How

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Bozeman, Montana native Todd Orr, a former trail engineer at Gallatin National Forest and owner of Skyblade Knives was on an early morning hike on Sunday on a familiar trail in the Madison Valley to scout for elk when he first saw the grizzly. The experienced outdoorsman had taken his ordinary bear country precautions — carrying bear spray and yelling out “Hey, bear” every 30 seconds to alert any unsuspecting bears of his presence. 

But when a mother bear accompanied by two cubs spotted Orr from about 80 yards, she charged. According to a post he made on his Facebook page immediately following the attack, Orr attempted to spray the bear with his pepper spray but the grizzly was not deterred. “I yelled a number of times so she knew I was human and would hopefully turn back,” he wrote. “No such luck. Within a couple seconds, she was nearly on me. I gave her a full charge of bear spray at about 25 feet. Her momentum carried her right through the orange mist and on me.”

The sow proceeded to thrash Orr, biting his arms and clawing his face, scalp, and back. He wrapped his arms around the back of his neck for protection and lay motionless and silent while the attack continued. “The force of each bite was like a sledge hammer with teeth.” Orr wrote. “She would stop for a few seconds and then bite again. Over and over. After a couple minutes, but what seemed an eternity, she disappeared.”

Orr, counting himself lucky, started back down the trail with bleeding wounds and his senses to make the three-mile trek back to his truck to get himself to the hospital. But the bear had other plans. “About five or ten minutes down the trail, I heard a sound and turned to find the griz bearing down at 30 feet,” he recounts. “She either followed me back down the trail or cut through the trees and randomly came out on the trail right behind me. Whatever the case, she was instantly on me again.”

The second round proved to be more ferocious than the first. At one point Orr heard the bones in his arm crunch as the sow bit down. He gasped, and that sound unleashed a new fury from the bear. She attacked his head, clawing a gash into his skull that wrapped around his right ear. “I knew that moving would trigger more bites so I laid motionless hoping it would end.” That was enough for the bear. She stopped her second assault and stood atop Orr’s back (crushing his chest) before heading back off into the wilderness.

Orr had packed a pistol in a waist holster on the trail that morning, but the bear had ripped it off and it laid five feet out of his reach during the second attack. Luckily, he was able to keep his backpack on during the entirety of the mauling. The pack may have saved Orr from life-ending bites to his spine.

After a self-assessment and ensuring himself that the bear was truly gone this time, Orr made it back to his vehicle. Before driving himself to the hospital, he took a few photos of his injury and made a quick video (below) documenting the reality of what had just happened. As he made his way back to town, he stopped a rancher on the road and asked him to call the hospital and warn them of his upcoming arrival. He also called his girlfriend to let her know what happened and to ask her to bring a fresh change of clothes to the hospital before calling 911 and giving the operator a run down of his injuries.

Posted by Todd Orr on Sunday, October 2, 2016

At the hospital, Orr was treated for his multiple gashes and a bone chip in his forearm. All of his lacerations took eight hours to stitch up before he was released. Other than his cuts, many bruises, and a sore body, Orr is in pretty good shape and is expected to make a full recovery.

The Lessons We Can All Take from this Attack

Orr’s story proves that even the most prepared and experienced outdoorsman can run into unexpected — and life-threatening — situations in the backcountry. However, his quick action and level headedness saved his life.

“Grizzlies differ in their psychology from other bears,” says Dr. Lynn Rogers, biologist and founder of the North American Bear Center. “When you put the numbers together, a grizzly is 26 times more dangerous than a black bear.” Rogers says that enough grizzlies will carry out an attack (as opposed to a bluff charge) that you always want to carry a bear canister that is very powerful and shoots a fog as opposed to a stream, of pepper spray. A gun doesn’t hurt to have, either. “Seventy percent of human killings by grizzlies are mothers defending cubs,” Rogers explains. “That’s why attacks end when a person lays still. The bear is treating to neutralize a threat.”

Orr was a textbook example of what to do right when things go wrong with a bear. You should always alert the bear that you are a human by speaking, use your bear spray, keep your backpack on, and lay motionless and silent during the attack. “Not my best day,” concluded Orr, “but I’m alive. So thankful I’m here to share with all of you.”