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  • Daisy Luther

How an Army Veteran Survived a Grizzly Bear Attack

Sometimes doing everything right isn’t quite enough. You also need some luck.

That’s exactly what happened when Shayne Patrick Burke, a disabled Army veteran, was hiking on Signal Mountain, which is in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park.

Here’s the story of the attack.

He shared his experience on Instagram.

I’ve thought long and hard about how I would share my story about my encounter with a female grizzly and her cub.Let me preface this with how much I love and respect wildlife. Anyone who knows me, knows this about me.In fact, the second thing I said to the park rangers was please don’t kill the bear, she was defending her cub.What happened up on signal mountain was a case of wrong place wrong time. Sunday afternoon I was attacked by a mother Grizzly protecting her cub.It was the most violent thing I have ever experienced.I’ve experienced being shot at, mortared and IED explosions.I am a disabled Veteran in the Army reserve.I was walking through the woods on signal mountain looking to photograph a Great Grey Owl. My wife and I had learned that this was a hot spot for the species and I was hopeful id see one. I told my wife I would be back at the parking lot in one hour.At the time of the attack about 1.25 hours had passed.At this point I knew she would be getting worried so I decided to B-line it back to the car using my GPS in my phone. Due to poor service I could only see the parked identification on the gps and my current location.I started to walk fast to that location.I had a really uncomfortable feeling.I was breaking branches, singing and talking to myself aloud. These are something’s that can help prevent a “surprise encounter” with a brown bear.I was walking through a thick wooded area in a valley. I over came a feature in the slope to my right and I noticed a brown bear cub running up a hill about 50-70 yards in front of me.I knew this wasn’t good,I unholstered my bear spray and saw the mother bear charging.I stood my ground, shouted and attempted to deploy the bear spray but as I did she already closed the gap. When she pounced I opted to turn and give her my back and I laid down in the prone position on my belly and braced for the ride,interlocking my hands behind my neck to protect my vitals.The first bite and slash was on my back / right shoulder.I screamed. She then turned, stepping on my back. She bit one of my legs, picking me up and slamming me on the ground multiple times.she bit each leg from my buttocks to my inner knee about three times each. The final time I screamed again. this unfortunately but fortunately turned her attention to my head. I believe she went in for a kill bite on my neck. I still had my hands interlocked and my arms protecting my carotid arteries. I never let go of the bear spray can. As she bit my hands in the back of my neck she simultaneously bit the bear spray can and it exploded in her mouth. This is what saved my life from the initial attack. I heard her run away, I looked up and instantly ran in the opposite direction up a hill.Once I put some distance between me and the bear, I attempted to call my wife. It didn’t go through, so I texted “attacked”. she called me back and I told her what happened as I applied improvised tourniquets to my legs. At this point I knew that I didn’t have any arterial bleeds and I just needed to slow the bleeding in my legs. I laid alone in the woods gripping my knife with my back to a tree just hoping the bear wasn’t to return. Through the phone call with 911 the helicopter was able to triangulate my location since the spotty service wasn’t giving us an accurate location. At this point my legs were not really working.

It took hours for the helicopter to locate him. He began to think that he wasn’t going to make it.

In this moment, I accepted on that small hilltop that I very well could die. I recorded a short video telling my people that I loved them.

Be sure to check out his photos on Instagram – this guy is so lucky to be alive. The one photo I want to share here is how he improvised tourniquets to slow down the bleeding in his legs.

What to do in the event of a bear attack

Burke credits UDAP bear spray with saving his life.

According to the guidelines issued by the National Park Service, Burke did everything right.

Here are the things to know when you encounter a bear, as per the NPS

Identify yourself by talking calmly so the bear knows you are a human and not a prey animal. Remain still; stand your ground but slowly wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you as a human. It may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.
Stay calm and remember that most bears do not want to attack you; they usually just want to be left alone. Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second. Bears may also react defensively by woofing, yawning, salivating, growling, snapping their jaws, and laying their ears back. Continue to talk to the bear in low tones; this will help you stay calmer, and it won’t be threatening to the bear. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal.
Pick up small children immediately. Do not make any loud noises or screams—the bear may think it’s the sound of a prey animal. Slowly wave your arms above your head and tell the bear to back off. Do NOT run or make any sudden movements. Do not make any loud noises or screams—the bear may think it’s the sound of a prey animal.
Hike and travel in groups. Groups of people are usually noisier and smellier than a single person. Therefore, bears often become aware of groups of people at greater distances, and because of their cumulative size, groups are also intimidating to bears.
Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example, move to higher ground).
Do NOT allow the bear access to your food. Getting your food will only encourage the bear and make the problem worse for others.
Do NOT drop your pack as it can provide protection for your back and prevent a bear from accessing your food.
If the bear is stationary, move away slowly and sideways; this allows you to keep an eye on the bear and avoid tripping. Moving sideways is also non-threatening to bears.
Do NOT run, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. Bears can run as fast as a racehorse both uphill and down. Like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals.
Do NOT climb a tree. Both grizzlies and black bears can climb trees.
Leave the area or take a detour. If this is impossible, wait until the bear moves away. Always leave the bear an escape route.
Be especially cautious if you see a female with cubs; never place yourself between a mother and her cub, and never attempt to approach them. The chances of an attack escalate greatly if she perceives you as a danger to her cubs.

Grizzly bears are more aggressive and dangerous than black bears. The NPS says:

Brown/Grizzly Bears: If you are attacked by a brown/grizzly bear, leave your pack on and PLAY DEAD. Lay flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over. Remain still until the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks. However, if the attack persists, fight back vigorously. Use whatever you have at hand to hit the bear in the face.
Black Bears: If you are attacked by a black bear, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. Try to escape to a secure place such as a car or building. If escape is not possible, try to fight back using any object available. Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear’s face and muzzle.

They continue to warn that if you are attacked in your tent by any bear, do not play dead. That’s a sign they see you as prey and you must fight back.

A happy ending

The mother bear was NOT euthanized.

After investigating the incident, the National Park Service (NPS) said it would not attempt to capture or kill the grizzly, as the animals are typically only aggressive when threatened, especially when it comes to their young. (source)

Burke said that nobody supported that decision more than him, and that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Burke was seriously injured but is expected to make a full recovery.


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