What a tremendous understatement.
Because of Orr’s presence of mind, though, he lived to tell his tale.
“He did everything he was supposed to do,” Madison County Sheriff Roger Thompson told the Montana Standard.
It began in the black Saturday predawn, when he ventured into the untamed Montana wilderness to scout for elk.
He hiked three miles into Madison Valley, about 100 miles south of Bozeman. Every 30 seconds, he would stop and “holler out, ‘Hey bear,'” in an attempt to “not surprise any bears along the trail.”
Orr was no amateur, though, so he didn’t merely rely on audible warnings.
Hanging from his side was a holster, a pistol snug inside. More importantly, in his bag was a canister of bear spray, a pepper spray made to repel bears that Chuck Bartlebaugh, founder and director of the Center for Wildlife Information in Missoula, Mont., told National Geographic is “the single most important innovation to emerge for both hunters and hikers passing through grizzly country in the last 50 years, if not ever.” Studies have shown it can stop a bear charging at 35 miles per hour.
Orr was prepared for anything, or so he thought.
Despite his bear-warning cries, he came across a sow (female) grizzly bear with her cubs in the middle of a grassy meadow. It was just before the 7:26 a.m. sunrise flooded Montana’s mountains with light, but still he could see the bears from across the field.
He yelled the refrain, “Hey, bear!” and the sow seemed to take the hint. She began wandering away with her furry babies.
It must have been a relief — female grizzly bears, after all, can weigh up to 800 pounds and stand as tall as 8 feet. To make them better diggers, they have rounded humps on their backs because of an extra mass of muscles attached to their backbones, which makes them stronger, and longer claws on their front paws, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
The bear, Orr wrote, “charged straight my way. I yelled a number of times so she knew I was human and would hopefully turn back. No such luck.”
Still composed, the hiker whipped out the bear spray, that game-changing invention that proved useful for so many, and unloaded a “full charge” of coral spray at “about 25 feet.”
He might as well have used a water gun.
“Her momentum carried her right through the orange mist and on me,” he wrote.
As he tells it, he was thrown to the ground, the great beast mounting him, viciously attacking with her teeth the way a mother would to protect her cubs. Orr threw his arms around the back of his neck, praying she wouldn’t hit an artery as her teeth repeatedly punctured his unprotected skin.
“The force of each bite was like a sledgehammer with teeth,” Orr wrote. “She would stop for a few seconds and then bite again. Over and over.”
He just lay there, calm as possible.
Eventually, after “what seemed like an eternity,” the bear stopped, turned heel and “disappeared.”
He assessed the situation — blood poured out of “numerous bleeding puncture wounds on my arms and shoulders.” It wasn’t great, but “I knew I would survive.”
His truck was parked three miles downhill, so he summoned the strength he had left to half-hike, half-jog down the trail. Since he thought the bear might still be around, he didn’t want to stop and dress his wounds just yet.
Orr just needed to reach this truck. The nightmare was almost over.
“I knew I would survive and thanked God for getting me through this,” he wrote.
About 10 minutes later, though, he realized the nightmare had just begun.
The bear burst through the tree line. The sounds of tree branches cracking and breaking cut through the serene Montana morning, and Orr turned around to find “the Griz bearing down at 30 feet.”
He didn’t know if the bear followed him or accidentally happened back upon him. At the moment, he didn’t much care — Orr was convinced he was about to die.
In a ferocious flash of fur and teeth, the bear pinned him back down to the ground.
“I couldn’t believe this was happening a second time,” Orr wrote. “Why me?”
And so for a second time in 10 minutes, Orr threw his arms around the back of his neck, praying the bear wouldn’t hit an artery as her teeth repeatedly punctured his unprotected skin. Following the advice offered by the National Wildlife Federation, he tried to remain silent and still. “Playing dead” doesn’t work with black bears, but it signals to grizzly bears that you aren’t a threat.
His silence was quickly broken, though.
“One bite on my forearm went through to the bone and I heard a crunch,” Orr wrote. “My hand instantly went numb and wrist and fingers were limp and unusable.”
Against his own will, he flinched and gasped for breath.
“The sound triggered a frenzy of bites to my shoulder and upper back,” he wrote. “I knew I couldn’t move or make a sound again so I huddled motionless.”
The bites moved to his head. At one point the bear tore through the flesh above his ear, “nearly scalping me.”
Orr had learned, though, and he “didn’t move.”
“I thought this was the end,” he wrote.
“She suddenly stopped and just stood on top of me,” he wrote. “I will never forgot that brief moment. Dead silence except for the sound of her heavy breathing and sniffing. I could feel and hear breath on the back of my neck, just inches away. I could feel her front claws digging into my lower back below my backpack where she stood. I could smell the terrible pungent odor she emitted. For thirty seconds she stood there crushing me. My chest was smashed into the ground and forehead in the dirt. When would the next onslaught of biting begin? I didn’t move.
His vision was utterly obscured by blood. Knowing the bear could return at any second, he reached down for his pistol. It was gone.
“The bear’s ferocious bites and pulling had ripped the straps from the pack and the holster attached to it,” wrote Orr.
After wiping blood out of an eye, he looked around to discover no sign of the bear.
“Blood was still dripping off my head and both elbows and my shirt was soaked to the waist and into my pants,” but Orr was convinced he could reach the truck, which was still about 45 minute away.
Somehow, he found more strength, and began jogging toward the truck.
Once there, he recorded the video and began driving, hoping he wouldn’t bleed out before he had cell service and could call a hospital. Luckily, he came upon a rancher who called the hospital for him.
Then he drove 17 miles to Ennis hospital, where he underwent “eight hours of stitching to put me back together.”
Covered in blood, suffering from a broken arm, skin turning a deep purple in the places the bear’s attack didn’t puncture the skin — Orr was beat up and broken, but he would make it.
He closed his post with another understatement: “Not my best day, but I’m alive.”
And that he hoped to clean his truck out soon.
“My girlfriend says it looks like I had gutted an elk in the driver’s seat,” he wrote.
“She just seemed to lose interest because he was playing dead,” Sheriff Roger Thompson told the Montana Standard. “Then she just wandered off. Bears can be that way when they have their babies with them.”
Added Thompson, “It’s like being struck by lightning twice in the same day; you don’t get attacked by the same bear in one day. … I think he should go out and buy a lottery ticket now.”
Currently the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is determining if anything will happen to the bear.