Bear Encounter: a Personal Account

October 3, 2011 By: Marshall Cutchin

As we reported last week, Richard Paini, an owner of Trouthunter Fly Shop on the Henry’s Fork, suffered deep forearm wounds, a fracture and a severely injured left hand in a bear attack last Saturday.  Below is a firsthand report we just received from Jon Stiehl, who was Paini’s hunting partner.

“Rich and I walked from his house at about 6am for a morning of chasing elk. We headed in to the woods behind his house with the intent of using the power line as a quite route from which we had hoped to hear a bugle or two.”

“The morning was generally uneventful other than the sight of a number of wolf tracks and a lone grouse that had managed to escape our efforts to make a meal out of him. It was about 8:30 when Rich and I sat down to have a shot of coffee on a nearby log. After the quiet morning we decided the elk hunt was over and to head home and get on with the day. We began heading north cross country in an effort to find elk on our way back to Richʼs house.

Jon Stiehl and Rich Paini after the encounter

We were about 10 yards apart on a small game/cattle trail when we heard what I had thought to be elk in some heavy timber to the west. In an effort to see what was going on I took a few steps in the direction of the commotion putting a small stand of aspen between Rich and myself. Almost immediately, I heard Rich yell “BEAR!” By the time I was able to get out my pepper spray, Rich and a very large dark bear with a buff face came flying into view. The bear was 3/4’s erect and Rich had managed to stick up his right arm for the bear to chew on as he pushed the bear away with his left hand both of them crashing to the ground about 30 feet away. It looked like a hit from an NFL Linebacker. I ran to the collision just in time to fire off a cloud of pepper spray at the bearʼs huge ass and watch it tear off into the woods. If the entire encounter was more than 15 second I would be shocked.

Rich was able to stand up and assess his injuries—a broken right arm and severely mangled left hand. Unsure if the bear intended to return, we immediately evacuated the scene in the direction opposite the fleeing bear, making our way to the power line. About 200 yards away, we felt we were a safe enough distance to make a call to 911 informing them Rich had been injured in a bear encounter, and we were headed to the power line. The next call was to Jodi Vincent, assistant manager at Harriman State Park. Luckily I was able to convince her this was not one of my prank calls and she rounded up the park response kit and Ranger Bob Hyrnick, an EMT, and began heading to the power line.

When we reached to power line, we again assessed Richʼs condition. His right arm was definitely broken but not bleeding, and his left hand was mangled and bloody. The bear had bitten the hand as Rich attempted to separate himself from the bear. While everything looked horrible there did not appear to be any extreme bleeding. Rich had good color and amazing composure. He felt the best option would be to walk out to proper medical attention and safety. 911 was called and instructed to meet at the Richʼs house, the Harriman team would continue up the power line.

At about 9 am, I saw a huge cloud of dust coming up the power line and a HSP vehicle came in to view. Jodi and I removed Richʼs pack and bugle allowing Bob to get a better look at the situation Rich was in. He and Jodi stabilized the arm and bandaged his hand, and we were in the vehicle heading north. TroutHunter Guide Jake Chutz called for an update on Richʼs condition, and told us there should be a gate a little further north that would get us back into Last Chance.

When we got to the gate it was pad locked. It was quickly determined we were locked out at which point Jodi insisted we would plow through the gate. Rich protested it might damage the vehicle, but Jodi would not budge. She slammed the vehicle into the gate. The gate stretched sending a dancer pole crashing through the window. “I told you so,” was Richʼs response to the broken windshield indicating he was going to be OK. The second attempt through the gate was successful and we were at the ambulance in a few minutes.

Rich stepped out of the vehicle and into the care of Fremont County Ambulance and Brenda Dye. Joined by Millie, they headed to Ashton and a LifeFlight helicopter to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

I returned to the scene with the WHART(Wildlife Human Attack Response Team)—Carnivore Wildlife Biologist Bryan Aber, Regional Conservation Officer Doug Peterson, and District Conservation Officer Josh Coontz loaded for bear. Quickly after we had arrived, Bryan discovered a day bed approximately 88 feet from the location of attack. It was determined Rich and I had walked in on a sleeping bear. Closer inspection discovered bear hair, which was bagged along with some fresh scat. Apparently we had scared the shit out of him. A few yards away, Bryan found a piece of glove and the bone which was missing from Richʼs left ring finger.

Wanting to delve deeper in the the bearʼs choice of location, Doug had us spread out a bit and recon the area. The day bed smelled of kill and the scat indicated fresh meat had been recently consumed by the bear, so it was assumed a carcass of some sort would be in the general vicinity. .26 miles away down a bear scat strewn path, the WHARTs suspicions were confirm. The carcass of a beef cow was strewn about, heavily feasted upon by a number of different animals.

Evidence gathered at the scene was indeterminate about the species of bear, that would be a job for the folks down at the lab.

Thanks to all who assisted in Richʼs recovery. Heʼs now at home with Millie and Ella expecting a full recovery, less a ring finger.” – Jon Stiehl