This outdoorsman encountered the worst nightmare the wild can conjure. But thanks to smarts, willpower, and a little luck, he survived, and the lesson learned that could save your life. With survival analysis by Keith McCafferty
THE MAULING (An older story but worthy of another publish)
On Sept. 26, Brent Prokulevich, 49, was bowhunting by himself for moose in Western Ontario when he was charged by a 300-pound black bear. As told to Colin Kearns.
I flew into the outpost camp on Saturday. My buddy Paul Patiuk and his son Kyle had been there for a few days already and would be guiding moose hunters for the next few days. The plan was for me to hunt on my own on Sunday and Monday in a spot Paul had scouted for me. Then on Tuesday, when their clients had left, we’d hunt together. One of the first things I asked Paul and Kyle when I reached camp was if there were bears in the area. They told me there weren’t any.
I saw no moose during my Sunday hunt, but I did get a cow to call back. I decided to leave my scent rag out overnight, hoping the scent would fill the area. The conditions when I returned in the boat Monday morning were perfect. A fog hung in the cool air, and the wind had died so my calls carried a long way.
In front of me was a dried-up beaver pond littered with dead poplars, leaving me with a clear shot if a moose wandered in. I got into position and readied my bow and arrows. I made my first cow call at 7 a.m. and followed up every 15 minutes until 8:30. That’s when I heard movement in the willows, 33 yards away. As soon as I saw the top of the animal’s back, I knew: S - - t. It’s a flipping bear.
He was big, about 300 pounds. He didn’t see me at first but when he did, our eyes connected immediately. “Get! Get! Get!” I yelled. But he never budged—until he came at me.
This isn’t happening. I grabbed my bow. This can’t be happening. I nocked the arrow. This is happening. I fired a prayer at 8 yards.
I raised my left arm and he locked onto it. We fell to the ground. He had me on my back, but when he let go of my arm I managed to get up to my knees. Then I heard this crunch on my neck. The bite to my arm I hadn’t really felt. This one to the neck, though, I felt. I kept yelling, and at one point I had a flash of my 17-year-old son, Brady. I’m a single dad and I’ve been raising him since day one. I wasn’t going to leave him to live by himself. Something in me snapped. I’m not dying like this!
I couldn’t reach my knife, so I grabbed the other arrow and began stabbing the bear in his head, over and over. He let go of my neck and clamped on the back of my shoulder. Then, somehow, I knocked him right on his ass.
There was blood everywhere. My first arrow had entered his chest and must’ve exited through the bottom of his belly because his guts were spilling out. The two of us just sat there for a moment, staring at each other. He swiped at my right arm, then he turned and walked 15 yards before he sat back down. I was going to put another shot in him, but my bow was busted. So I got the hell out of there.
I jumped in the boat and drove around looking for help. But after about 15 minutes with no luck, I turned back toward camp. That’s when I saw the plane landing at camp. When I reached the dock I told Kevin, the pilot, what had happened. He left a note for Paul and Kyle, then we took off. We arrived at the hospital 30 minutes later. I walked into the ER and said to a nurse, “I’ve been attacked by a bear.”
The shoulder bite was a half inch from puncturing a lung, and the neck bite almost hit my spinal cord. But no bones were broken, and the puncture wounds are healing well.
I’m looking forward to hunting again. I’ve taken a couple of walks in the bush recently, which has been nice, but I find I’m looking over my shoulder more often. Every time I hear a little snap.
In the matter of risking encounters with bears, bowhunters start with three strikes against them. First, they hunt in early fall, when bears undergo hyperphagia, a period of mad foraging before hibernation that increases the potential for crossed paths. Second, by donning camo, using cover scent, and sneaking quietly through brush and timber, archers spike the odds of chance encounters within the critical 50-yard range, at which bears are more likely to attack. And third, by using lure scents and calling like animals that bears regard as prey, hunters actually encourage unwanted attention.
Prokulevich did the right thing by fighting the black bear. Playing dead is only effective at discouraging grizzlies, and then only under certain circumstances. But he probably could have avoided the attack altogether if he’d had pepper spray on his belt. Under the best of circumstances, arrows offer meager defense—and bullets aren’t much better. In most documented bear attacks, only three seconds elapse between the start of the charge and contact with the person. Do you really think you can raise a rifle, flip the safety, aim, and fire in that window? But you can flick the safety tab and depress the trigger of pepper spray in an instant. Plus, it works. In a study conducted by bear researcher Thomas Smith of hundreds of bear attacks, pepper spray deterred a charge in 92 percent of cases. Bullets deterred a charge only 66 percent of the time, and it required an average of four bullets to stop the bear. (Be sure to check with local authorities on the legal uses of pepper spray in areas you intend to hunt)
Stay Safe and Hunt Safe on Your Next Outdoor Hunting Adventure!
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