Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fly Fishing Couple Halt Grizzly Attack With Bear Spray and Live to Tell the Story

THIS IS A SCARY BEAR STORY WITH A HAPPY ENDING.  I've had more than my share of grizzly encounters over the years in Jackson Hole and the Bridger Teton Wilderness, but have never been charged.  The moral of the story is to take bear spray everywhere you go in the wild and have it ready at all times.  This could have had a very different ending otherwise. BTW, the photo above is one I took  of a sow grizzly with two cubs up near Togwotee Pass this past July....

This from the Jackson Hole News/Guide today:
Fly rod in hand, John Vandenbos was 45 minutes into a hike with his wife over this past weekend descending toward the Lamar River in steep, thick terrain when the brown blur came at him. It was a grizzly bear, unable to hear his approach, in the water munching on the remains of a pronghorn. Upon seeing John and Lisa Vandenbos, the bruin immediately started coming in hot....

“That bear came out of the river bank 30 feet below us so fast it was like an explosion,” the Bozeman, Montana, resident said. “It came up that hillside about 25 miles per hour.

Truly, he was at the end of my fly rod.” Vandenbos recalled only having time to think that he’d be a statistic, and that he ought to fall on his stomach so his pack could protect him. He didn’t have time for even that, but was able to raise his arms to protect his face from the impending strike. In doing so, he stopped the grizzly in its tracks at exactly 9 feet away. How’d he know the exact distance? His fly rod, recall, was in his hand.

“I touch his nose,” he said. “I put it on his snout and yell very loudly, ‘bear!’ and then I flicked it in his face." Time was bought. Vandenbos’ analysis: “The bear doesn’t quite know what to do with the tip of a Thomas & Thomas 5-weight 9-foot rod.”

“My brother bought it for me years ago and it’s falling apart,” he said, “but it’s now called my bear slayer.”

 His wife, Lisa, immediately behind him along the narrow trail, took advantage of the pause. Seconds into the encounter, she unholstered her bear spray and blasted an orange fiery stream that coursed by her husband’s cheek and at the bruin. The bear was alarmed by the noise and perhaps smelled the spray, but didn’t seem to be significantly affected.

 It ran off back toward the Lamar River, but then changed its mind and headed in for another charge.

 Vandenbos’ rod, in the meantime, shot out of his hand, and he reached for his belt to send out a second blast of bear spray. An expanded orange cloud lingered in the air as the grizzly rumbled back for the second charge. This time, the sting of the capsaicin hit the bear.

The grizzly, to Vandenbos’ eye about 550 pounds, took off at a full-blown gallop, passed its water-logged lunch, crossed the river, cleared a hillside and disappeared.

The whole encounter, the Bozeman man estimated, took 15 seconds. Rattled from having survived a life-threatening encounter, the couple gave up on the pursuit of cutthroat trout and hiked out about twice as fast as they made their way in.

They drove off, waved down a passing Yellowstone ranger and filed a report. Because the grizzly was exhibiting natural food-guarding behavior and caused no harm, no retributive action will be taken. John Vandenbos, 60, said that he’s undeterred about fishing in grizzly country after enduring the fist close encounter of his life.

The next day he was out testing his luck on Slough Creek.

 “I’ll go back anytime,” Vandenbos said. “I’ll just make sure I have my bear spray with me and my fishing rod, but I wouldn’t count on the fishing rod. “The bear spray did it,” he added. “Without the bear spray, we wouldn’t have made it.”

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