"WHEN I WAS HIKING OUT, I KEPT SAYING TO MYSELF: 'DON'T PASS OUT. DON'T PASS OUT.'"
KAMLOOPS - Local hunter Ralph Smith planned to get the elk he was tagged for when he took his mid-September hunting trip in Sparwood, B.C. He’d seen grizzly bears before, but he wasn’t expecting the violent scenario he ended up in when he encountered a mother bear eating with her two cubs.
“It was an interesting day,” Smith says. “I was hiking on the edge of a meadow and I heard a sound. I though it might be an elk. She came around the corner."
The bear mauled Smith, cutting his face and throat in the process. With past bear-aware knowledge as a park ranger, he curled up into a ball instead of trying to fight the grizzly, but she continued her attack.
“It was so fast. You don’t have time to think; you just react,” Smith says. "You cannot run from bears; they run like a horse. You don’t climb a tree because they can and they’ll chew your feet off."
At one point, Smith yelled at the bear but all the words he used came out a garbled mess. Everything he said like “I’m going to shoot you” escaped his gashed trachea and never made it to his mouth.
Once the bear left Smith, he began the four-kilometre hike up the trail back to the road. Bleeding intensely, the first-aid instructor stuffed a piece of gauze into the wound in his throat and meandered to where he could get some help.
"When I was hiking out, I kept saying to myself: ‘Don’t pass out. Don’t pass out,” he says.
After encountering some people driving from a nearby mine, Smith made it to the Sparwood hospital where he was told a med-evac helicopter was on its way to take him to Kelowna General Hospital.
While doctors analyzed the injuries, Smith told them to refrain from taking off his hat unless they were prepared to immediately sew up the multiple cuts on his head.
“They did some stitching on me,” he says. "They said they were going to put me out and intubate me. They marked (an ‘x’) on my throat for a tracheotomy. Then I got scared. They were worried about me and thought I was going to die."
Along with the 50-plus staples in his face and head, doctors gave Smith a temporary drainage tube for his throat. After he’d healed, there were so many staples to remove, a doctor gave him a staple-remover and Smith’s wife diligently removed them at home.
He was back out hiking four days later and says while the event was scary, worrying about it won't do him much good.
Smith says the Conservation Officer Service did not destroy the bear. He notes she was doing what was natural; bears protect their food and their cubs and in this instance the grizzly was protecting both.
“I said (to them) 'don’t do anything to that grizzly bear.’ I was infringing on her area. She did what she thought was the best for her and her cubs. I was in her territory,” Smith says. "When you go out in the bush, you don’t expect that but you accept it. It’s something that’s going to happen."
Smith plans to return to Sparwood for another hunting trip next year and he'll visit the nurses at the hospital while he's there.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Glynn Brothen at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 250-319-7494. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
— This story was corrected at 9:27 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 to say Sparwood is in B.C., not Alta.