Editor’s note: We originally told this story in 2016 when Bob Eder told his horrific account of a feral bear attack on Tyler Friel, who had spent a lot of time hunting in grizzly country. The story is a sobering reminder that although we may think we have realized safety, the reality can be much different.
It seems that every spring here in Alaska, we encounter a stark reminder of how dangerous bears are. Especially in the spring, after a winter that we don’t really have to worry about, we can feel really good about ourselves. It’s been fairly early spring here this year, and there have already been at least two confirmed hits by bears or bears.
Although I frequently live in bear country, and have many close encounters, I feel pretty self-satisfied, knowing that the chances are slim that I will be attacked when I am unprepared. The unfortunate truth about bear attacks is that if we knew they were going to happen, they wouldn’t.
In this way, the bear’s attacks are a bit like lightning. We know when conditions are ripe for a strike, but we don’t always take precautions to avoid a strike. And just like lightning, by the time you realize you’re weak, things happen so fast that the consequences are hard to avoid.
This analogy was brought up during a conversation with Bob Eder, a friend of my uncle, who survived defeating a brown bear in 2012. His experience undermined the seriousness of what can happen when things go wrong.
Bob was going for a routine walk with his dog on a mountain trail above his home in Eagle River, Alaska, when he got into a perfect storm. He told me he had made a way down the road and realized he had forgotten the bear spray. Since the probability of encountering the bear was low, he decided to continue without him. Just as he capped a hike in a dense trail, he saw the heads of four brown bears (a pig and three semi-adult cubs) appear before him “less than 15 feet”. He was making noises, talking to his dog, and even the dog (which usually shot shells any time a bear approaches) failed to smell the bears as they approached.
Bob immediately turned around, but before he could make a move, the hare caught him by the back of his head with its claws, tore his scalp and heart. He said he remembered seeing the bear upside down and flipping it over, but that it was the last he saw of her. He said the attack lasted no more than 15 seconds, but when they went down the hill together, she bit his back and shoulders, cut through his chest with one pass, and opened his thigh, tearing part of his muscle. He told me the blow to the head really hurt, but he didn’t really feel any of the other wounds from the shock or the adrenaline.
After the bear left, Bob slid down the hill into the driveway. He didn’t have cell service and could put weight on his leg, so he knew he was going to have to get out. He said he took off his shirt and tied it around the wound on his leg, “not in the form of a tourniquet,” but merely to hold the wound in when he came out. Eventually he reached a private lane and phone service and was able to direct police officers to his location. He said it was over an hour after the attack until he was found, but he remembers the entire trip to the hospital. Arriving at the hospital, he woke up four days later to discover they had to give him more than 10 units of blood to make up for what he had lost, and his body temperature had dropped to nearly 90 degrees.
If you’d like to read the original press release to meet Bob, click here.
After 12 days in the hospital, Bob is out under his control. It took a month of doctor visits, 20 days of antibiotic treatment, and a lot of effort, but eight months after the attack, he completed a half marathon.
I asked Bob if he thought the bear spray would have prevented the attack, but he said there was no way he even had time to get to it, it all happened so quickly.
If you’ve watched “The Revenant,” you’ve seen the bear attack scene. Especially for Hollywood, I think it’s very realistic. When you see the bear’s head pop up, it charges, well, that speed is no exaggeration. Sometimes the bears are shipped very quickly. In an article I did last year talking about a grizzly pushed my friend Nick and I calculated that it covered 13 yards in less than a second. Bears, whether black or brown, are extremely fast and powerful animals, much more than we realize or give credit for.
Now that the bears are out, it’s time not only to carry some form of bear protection, be it bear spray or a firearm, but also to maintain a wary mindset and pay attention to your surroundings. The best thing you can do is try to prevent such a situation in the first place. Bob tells me he has no nightmares of attacking, and that doesn’t stop him from taking a walk and enjoying the outdoors, and while he won’t let bear spray anymore, the most important thing is that he is much more cautious and aware of his surroundings. I hope everyone is enjoying the spring outdoors, but always remember that a dangerous situation can wait during the next hike on the trail.