Veteran calls grizzly bear attack ‘most violent’ experience he’s ever had

Shayne Patrick Burke was on a short hike to photograph owls in the backcountry of Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park this month when he spotted a bear cub about 50 to 70 yards in front of him.

Mr Burke immediately knew the cub’s presence was a sign of trouble, he wrote on Instagram.

Moments later, Mr Burke, 35, was attacked by the cub’s mother.

He said he turned on his back, lay on his stomach and clasped his hands behind his neck, following advice he had read about grizzly bear attacks.

During the attack on May 19, the bear repeatedly bit Mr. Burke and picked him up and slammed him to the ground, before, he wrote, a scream from him “unfortunately, but fortunately, drew its attention to my head.”

It was a terrifying moment, but it ultimately saved her life.

The bear bit Mr Burke on the neck, but his hands and arms were still clasped together behind the neck and, crucially, he was holding a can of bear spray when he spotted the cub.

“I never let go of the bear spray can,” he wrote. “When he bit my hands on the back of my neck, he also bit the bear spray can and it exploded in his mouth.”

The bear was frightened by the explosion and ran away.

Mr. Burke, a disabled veteran of the Army Reserve, said the attack was the “most violent” incident he had ever experienced, adding, “I have experienced gunshot wounds, mortar attacks and IED blasts.”

Grand Teton National Park said Mr. Burke, from Massachusetts, was released from the hospital on Monday and is expected to make a full recovery.

The park said the attack appeared to be a defensive action by the bear, which was responding to a “surprise encounter.” The bear has not been identified, and Grand Teton said no further “management action” is needed, which could include killing the bear.

On Instagram, Mr Burke wrote that he had asked park rangers not to kill the bear because he believed she was protecting her cub.

He said the attack was a “wrong place, wrong time” situation. He had planned to take an hour-long walk in the hope of spotting a great brown owl to photograph.

He said the attack happened about 90 minutes after he left the parking spot. He was trying to get back as quickly as possible because he knew his wife was expecting him to be there.

He said he felt “uncomfortable” as he was passing through a densely forested valley. He followed safety instructions for the situation and made noise.

“I was breaking branches, singing and talking out loud to myself,” he said.

He had pulled out his bear spray after spotting the cubs, but the mother was already attacking them. Mr Burke said he heard the bear run away after chewing on the spray can.

After Mr. Burke distanced himself from the bear, he called his wife. She helped him figure out how to use the items he had with him, including straps from his backpack and camera bag, to make a tourniquet around his legs.

He could tell he had avoided a ruptured artery, the most dangerous and urgent type of bleeding.

“I was lying alone in the woods with my back against a tree and holding a knife, just hoping the bear wouldn’t come back,” Mr Burke wrote.

He also called 911, which helped pinpoint his location for a helicopter rescue.

Mr Burke said he thought he was going to die and had recorded a video telling those close to him that they loved him.

The first park rangers to reach Mr Burke provided him with emergency medical care, after which he was taken to an ambulance. Mr Burke said he underwent surgery to clean and staple his wounds.

He said that he was not fully prepared for a medical emergency as he had to walk a short distance in the forest along the road. He said that he usually carries a first aid kit with him.

Mr. Burke said the main things that kept him alive were that he had already read up on what to do in case of a bear attack, and he had bear spray, which he knew how to use.

People are advised to pretend to be dead and tie their hands behind their neck, as Mr. Burke did, in the event of a grizzly bear attack. If a black bear attacks, do not pretend to be dead.