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Lessons From A Hunter Twice Attacked By A Grizzly Bear

Holding No Ill Will Toward The Bruin, Todd Orr Said Bear Spray Works

The surival of grizzlies in Greater Yellowstone depends more on the behavior of bears rather than people. Photo by Thomas D. Mangelsen (mangelsen.com)
The surival of grizzlies in Greater Yellowstone depends more on the behavior of bears rather than people. Photo by Thomas D. Mangelsen (mangelsen.com)
It’s rifle season again in the northern Rockies. For some hunters, the pursuit of big game animals will put them on a collision course with grizzly bears.

A huge percentage of bruin deaths in Greater Yellowstone happen in the fall, with grizzlies now in the throes of hyperphagia.

Hyperphagia is the physiological phase condition they are  trying to consume as many calories as possible prior to five-month hibernation.

Science has shown that cubs and full-grown adult bears better nourished with protein and fat intake prior to denning are more likely to survive the winter, be healthier in the spring, and in the case of females, more apt to successfully carry through pregnancies and have higher litters of cubs.

Among the causes of grizzly deaths, “accidental shooting”, claims of self-defense by hunters, and poaching account each year for a significant percentage of bear mortality.

Now with the Greater Yellowstone grizzly population “delisted”, i.e. removed from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act and management handed over to the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, there is fear that law enforcement and courts will be more lenient in dealing with cases involving hunter-related bear killing.

Further, as Wyoming leads the pack in trying to re-start sport hunting of grizzlies following a 42-year span in which it was outlawed, conservationists are worried it could result in bears, which spend much of their lives in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, getting shot when they wander outside national park boundaries.

Fierce debate surrounds the question of how much added killing the Greater Yellowstone grizzly population can absorb, apart from the dozens of bears that already die, before it ripples at the population level.
ONE OF THE LAST-KNOWN PHOTOGRAPHS OF GRIZZLY 615, daughter of the legendary Jackson Hole Grizzly 399, and sister to Grizzly 610.  In 2009, a Wyoming hunter, Stephen Westmoreland, shot 615 when she rose from a moose carcass 40 yards away from where Westmoreland was walking out of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, in open terrain, carrying a deer head and cape. Westmoreland shot the bear even though she gave no indication that she was going to charge. If he had deployed bear spray instead of firing several times into 615 and claiming self-defense, she would likely still be alive today,  615 was even fitter than Grizzly 610 who has produced different litters of cubs, just like their mother.  (399 has yielded 17 bears in her own bloodline). It shows the profound effects of removing just a single female grizzly.  Westmoreland was found guilty and fined $500. Is that a sufficient sum to dissuade others from now killing grizzlies which are no longer a federally-protected species? Said Teton County Attorney Steve Weichmann who prosecuted the case: "“This case is about a guy who happens to be an extraordinary guy ... making an unreasonable decision with his rifle at 40 yards from a grizzly."  Photo by Thomas D. Mangelsen, featured in book "Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek" (mangelsen.com/grizzly)  Disclosure: Wilkinson is author of the book.
ONE OF THE LAST-KNOWN PHOTOGRAPHS OF GRIZZLY 615, daughter of the legendary Jackson Hole Grizzly 399, and sister to Grizzly 610. In 2009, a Wyoming hunter, Stephen Westmoreland, shot 615 when she rose from a moose carcass 40 yards away from where Westmoreland was walking out of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, in open terrain, carrying a deer head and cape. Westmoreland shot the bear even though she gave no indication that she was going to charge. If he had deployed bear spray instead of firing several times into 615 and claiming self-defense, she would likely still be alive today, 615 was even fitter than Grizzly 610 who has produced different litters of cubs, just like their mother. (399 has yielded 17 bears in her own bloodline). It shows the profound effects of removing just a single female grizzly. Westmoreland was found guilty and fined $500. Is that a sufficient sum to dissuade others from now killing grizzlies which are no longer a federally-protected species? Said Teton County Attorney Steve Weichmann who prosecuted the case: "“This case is about a guy who happens to be an extraordinary guy ... making an unreasonable decision with his rifle at 40 yards from a grizzly." Photo by Thomas D. Mangelsen, featured in book "Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek" (mangelsen.com/grizzly) Disclosure: Wilkinson is author of the book.
No tool has been more game changing in reducing deaths involve people and grizzlies than bear spray. Despite its impressive record, Yellowstone Park Superintendent Dan Wenk recently said the percentage of hikers carrying bear spray with them is far less than he wants to see.

Chuck Bartlebaugh, who spearheads an initiative called Be Bear Aware, also notes that even among those who own bear spray a surprising number don’t know how to properly use it, or that it’s important to continuously buy new cans, or under what conditions it’s vital to actually be holding it in their hands.

"I've interviewed many hunters and it's amazing they don't even know the brand they are carrying," Bartlebaugh says. "And some think the spray in their cans lasts for 60 seconds or 30 seconds. Some don't realize that given the size of the can it will only actually spray for four seconds."

In 2017, a number of human-bear encounters have happened around the Greater Yellowstone region that confirm the importance of being “bear ready" and the necessity of being bear-spray competent.

 Perhaps no story better speaks to the issues raised above than the incident involving Todd Orr a year ago.

When the Montana hunter was attacked twice by a grizzly bear on October 1, 2016, the mauling, thanks to social media and the victim carrying a video camera, captured instant attention from around the world.

To date, tens of millions of views have been notched of the bloodied sportsman from Bozeman via Facebook and YouTube. Many people are astonished how a badly-wounded Orr, after walking three miles out of the backcountry, had the wherewithal and composure to do an interview with himself before seeking medical attention.

One of those who saw the video, Bartlebaugh, became gravely concerned about the message being communicated to the masses as news of the incident circulated virally, accompanied by media reports which were, in some cases, sensationalistic, if not horrendously misleading and demonizing of grizzlies.

Be Bear Aware, his campaign, specializes in educating the public about using bear spray, decided to turn gumshoe detective of sorts.  He interviewed the then- 50-year-old Orr seeking answers to a pair of key questions:  Did the bear spray Orr carried with him work?  And, secondly, why did the grizzly attack him twice?

After an investigation, Bartlebaugh released his findings and presented them a year ago to Gregg Losinski, chairman of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee at its annual year-end meeting in Missoula, Montana.

The basic facts are these: In early October prior to the start of rifle season, Orr had been out hiking solo, scouting for elk, in the North Fork of Bear Creek on the western face of the Madison mountains in southwest Montana. 

Figuring grizzlies were probably in the area, Orr told Bartlebaugh that he had shouted “Hey Bear!” to let his presence be known. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, an agitated sow grizzly about 80 yards away stood up and charged.


The mother with cubs disappeared momentarily in trees before the protective adult bruin re-emerged 50 yards away bearing down on Orr. The hunter was carrying two cans of bear spray. He clutched one and started blasting the spray in the direction of the mother bear.

“The grizzly bear ran right through the cloud of bear spray. Just moments before contact, Mr. Orr turned and dropped to a fetal position on the ground to protect his face, neck and vital organs,” Bartlebaugh writes. “Mr. Orr believes that he had less than 10 percent of the bear spray in his can after he had dispersed it.”

Bartlebaugh shared a few theories in his report on why the normally-effective non-lethal deterrent didn’t work: “Mr. Orr waited to spray the charging bear until it was 25 feet away. At this distance, the grizzly bear (traveling at approximately 30 miles per hour) met the bear spray cloud somewhere between 10 and 20 feet. This is only two tenths of a second away from contact. The grizzly bear would have had less than a half a second to feel the effects and divert its charge.”

Bartlebaugh continued: “[Orr] described aiming for the bear’s face. The National Rifle Association (NRA) states that ‘aiming’ takes just less than one second for an experienced person to do. Bear spray was designed to be dispersed in a powerful, well-atomized and expanding cloud to eliminate the need for aiming. In a charging situation, do not waste time trying to aim – it’s one second you may not have.”

For years, Bartlebaugh has been teaching proper use of bear spray to thousands of people, including employees of natural resource agencies and the general public. He tells people that it’s vitally important to emit a dense atomized cloud as soon as possible when a bear is charging forward and to angle it downward towards the front of the bear so the mist lifts up.

Bartlebaugh insists it's vital that a can hold enough spray to project and maintain an expanding cloud to ensure a bear encounters it before it is mere feet away. Essential is that there be enough left in the can to thwart a potential additional advance of a bruin or bruins.

As Orr dropped and curled into the fetal position, the grizzly bit into his scalp, ear, shoulder and arms, then left the scene.

“Mr. Orr did not lie flat, which has been the recommended procedure for the past twenty years, but instead curled up into a ball giving the bear more of a target to maul,” Bartlebaugh writes. “This is another scenario demonstrating how the public is not properly informed in regards to knowing what to do if being mauled or attacked by a bear.”

Rather than curling into the fetal position, the latest suggestions from the National Park Service and others is to lay flat, belly down, with backpack still on your back, and cover one’s head with hands.

The fact that the bear left the scene suggests it was dealing with the effects of bear spray in its eyes, mouth, nose and lungs. As Orr got up, he told Bartlebaugh, he saw the sow and cubs running away up a mountain slope.

Orr headed in the other direction but five to ten minutes later as he was hiking down a trail, the sow reappeared, probably having turned around because the terrain was too steep to climb. The bears decided to descend, too. It put the sow on a collision course with Orr. “Because the bear appeared behind him,” Bartlebaugh notes, “Mr. Orr did not have time to retrieve his second can of bear spray he needed to defend himself.”

This time the grizzly was just 30 feet away and on him in a split second. “The bear began to maul him for the second time. Mr. Orr responded to the pain by flinching and gasping for breath, which brought on even more aggressive biting and clawing from the grizzly,” Bartlebaugh reports. “He determined his best bet was to remain as still as possible and stay quiet. The grizzly then stopped, stood up on top of him, and then just like she did the first time, she was suddenly gone.”

The bear could have killed him if she had wanted. Bartlebaugh shares two thoughts, one praising of Orr. “It’s one thing to say ‘remain still and quiet’ but it’s a whole different story when it comes to actually doing it. Mr. Orr did a remarkable job of this, and it couldn’t have been an easy thing to do.”

He adds, “It should be noted that at this point, Mr. Orr’s first bear spray was nearly empty. This is a good example of why bear spray quantity and duration is essential.”
With the bear gone, Orr, lacerated with severe bites, hiked another 45 minutes to his truck to drove to seek medical attention in Ennis, Montana.

Over the last year Orr has made numerous public appearances to share what he learned and his explanation of events differ in places from Bartlebaugh's interpretation, namely that he didn't have much time to fully comprehend a strategy. If you have an opportunity to hear Orr speak, it is well worth the effort. He is most thoughtful. He holds no ill will toward grizzlies and is a firm believer, based on real life experience, that bear spray is a better alternative than bullets.

“The best time to use bear spray and avoid contact is to spray when the charging bear enters within 60 feet (20 yards). Direct the spray downward and point it at approximately 30 feet in front of you,” Bartlebaugh says.

“The bear will then have time to feel the effects of the spray and divert its charge at around 15 to 20 feet.”

On his website in the wake of the attack, Orr stated: “First and foremost, I am a strong advocate of bear spray! Statistics from recorded bear attacks show that bear spray is more effective than a gun at stopping a bear charge. I used bear spray on a black bear twelve years ago at about 15 feet, and it turned him around in a heartbeat. It works.”

At the same meeting where Bartlebaugh delivered his findings to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, federal and state officials voted to suspend the so-called “six-second rule” pertaining to the recommended duration a can of pepper spray should project a mist. We’ll look next at how and why that action took place and what it means potentially for people traveling through grizzly country.

Orr's incident stands in contrast to one in which a bear died and it didn't even charge. Reach the caption for Thomas D. Mangelsen's photograph of Grizzly 615, the late daughter of famous Grizzly 399 and the sister of Grizzly 610. She was shot and killed based on the mere possibility that she might charge. She didn't. But had the hunter, who was found guilty and fined, instead resorted to bear spray, the female griz very likely would still be alive. 



Todd Wilkinson
About Todd Wilkinson

Todd Wilkinson is an American author and journalist proudly trained in the old school tradition of asking hard questions and pressing for honest answers. For more on his career, click below.
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