By Patrick Filbin / Gillette News Record / Via Wyoming News Exchange
GILLETTE — The scariest moment for Weston Scott was after the 600-pound grizzly bear had chewed off part of his jaw, clawed at his face and punctured his rib cage.
He was tucked underneath a downed tree in the Moccasin Basin just west of Dubois and losing a lot of blood. The shock from being charged by a full-grown bear from 10 yards away had dulled most of the pain.
He remembers lying there for a few seconds in the quiet wilderness not sure if he was still alone with the bear or alone with the trees.
“The attack happened so fast that I didn’t have that initial fear,” Scott, 46, said Wednesday, 14 years after the incident. “When I came to, the scariest part was wondering if he was still around.”
He checked his rifle. The bear must have mangled it while he was clawing at Scott because when he tried to put a shell in the chamber the gun jammed.
He got the bear spray out of his pack and moved to his feet still not sure if the bear was beyond the timber ready to attack again.
There have been at least 10 human injuries caused by bears in the Teton area in the last couple of years, Dan Thompson, the Wyoming Game and Fish’s large carnivore chief, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.
The most recent was when 37-year-old hunting guide and Jackson business owner Mark Uptain was killed by a female grizzly bear after he and his client were hunting last week.
Uptain’s client, Corey Chubon of Florida, had shot and killed an elk while bow hunting the day before and was looking for the elk when the bear attacked.
Chubon escaped and called for emergency assistance with leg, chest and arm injuries but has been released from a hospital.
The fatal bear attack of Uptain was the first of its kind in the Teton area since 2015 and comes at a peculiar time. Wyoming is on the verge of opening the state’s first hunting season for grizzly bears since 1974, but a U.S. District judge has postponed the hunt.
The recent attacks have brought back bad memories for two Gillette men.
Scott’s attack was in October 2004 while he was on an annual hunting trip with family and friends. It was the second day of the trip but the first day of hunting.
That morning, the group had noticed some bear tracks near a kill someone else had made.
“Our senses were heightened at that point,” Scott said.
Scott and two other hunters rode on horseback on the high side of a ridge that was 2 to 3 miles long.
He said he wandered off on his own about 9 a.m. and was walking around for about 45 minutes when he heard crashing in the timber. He got excited and his heart started pounding. He thought it was a bull elk.
About 15 minutes later, the bear came out from behind thick timber.
Scott only had a second to turn and fire off a shot with his rifle from his hip. He thinks the round went high and missed. The bruin was on him instantly and knocked him over.
After the bear went for his jaw, Scott noticed a downed tree and crawled underneath it.
“One thing I contribute to saving my life was that downed tree there,” Scott said. “I was able to tuck up underneath that and between the ground.”
That’s when the bear bit at Scott’s side and punctured his rib cage as it tried to drag him from underneath the tree.
Then the claw came down on Scott’s face.
“It was like a car wreck: quick, fierce and fast,” Scott said. “Then he got up and took off. Lasted 10, maybe 15 seconds.”
Scott stayed on the ground for a few minutes, thinking the bear could be anywhere, waiting for him to get up and attack again.
But it didn’t. The bear was nowhere to be found and Scott slowly started to make his way to a clearing on the ridge to get the attention of the rest of his group about a half-mile away.
It was the early days of cellphone use, but luckily one of Scott’s friends had a cellphone that somehow had service for the group to call for a medical helicopter response from Idaho Falls.
It took nearly three years for Scott’s jaw to work properly. He still has a metal plate in his jaw and “lived without teeth for a while.”
He said he doesn’t think about the incident much, but when he reads about bear attacks in the news, it all starts to come back to him like a wave.
Two weeks before Scott was attacked, Wally Cash, then 66, was 30 miles north of Jackson near Moran. It was a spot he had hunted for more than 40 years.
On Sept. 21, 2004, he was walking instead of riding horseback. He said it was because he was wearing a coat.
He thought he saw a young elk and when he tried to get a closer look at it, he took a step and heard a crack.
There she was, a 600-pound grizzly bear lying peacefully on the ground right at Cash’s feet.
“She flew around, wider than my body with fiery eyes and she leapt right into my belly and knocked me down the hill,” Cash said.
Cash tumbled down a steep hill, clawing at the grass in a desperate effort to slow himself down.
At the bottom of the hill, the bear was on him immediately.
That’s when Cash felt the crack.
The bear put Cash’s head in her mouth and cracked the quarter-sized bone on his head underneath his ear.
“I tell people I played dead, but really I was passed out,” Cash said.
After the bear took a claw to Cash’s hand that was protecting the rest of his head, the bear moved on.
He laid there for a while, then wiped the blood from his face only to hear her coming back. He got in the fetal position and the bear beat up on him some more, picking him up and dropping him, which caused life-altering back injuries.
Like Scott, Cash wasn’t in pain during the attack, just in shock. When the bear was gone for good, he walked back up the hill, shot a round from his rifle, called for help and waited for the rest of his party to find him.
“Problem was that ‘Help!’ sounds a lot like ‘Elk!’,” Cash said.
He also said he knew better than to fire one shot but to fire three if he was in danger.
Luckily, his friends found him quickly and told Cash that he was in a lot worse shape than he felt.
His ear was falling off, parts of his head were torn off and when he really looked out of the side of his eye, he could see blood spurting from the veins.
A helicopter bound for Idaho Falls was there in about 45 minutes. At the hospital, his hand was put back together, 200 stitches went into his head as well as a metal plate to keep his brain intact.
“I lost a lot of blood,” Cash said. “Thankfully, it was me and not somebody else. I healed up pretty good.”
Unfortunately, Cash didn’t completely recover. His back is too messed up to ride horses and he can’t walk around long enough to go on hunting trips himself.
“It’s really ruined my life,” he said. “It took hunting away from me. I can’t ride a horse no more. I can’t do all these things that I love to do.”
Scott has never been back to the Tetons but has hunted elsewhere, mainly in the Big Horn Mountains where grizzly bears don’t live.
“Hunting is a big family tradition for us. The last thing I would want to do is put my son in a situation like that,” Scott said.
Cash, who now lives in Texas but lived in Gillette for the better part of his life, hunts when he can but can’t move around when he does. Instead, he has to wait for game to come to him.
He will turn 81 in November but still enjoys the outdoors as much as he can.
Unlike Scott, he’d love to go back to the area that he loves so much. He can’t because it requires him to ride a horse.
Scott is in support of hunting grizzlies as long as the species can take it.
“In Wyoming, I think there should be a season for grizzly bears,” he said. “They just don’t have a fear of humans and the ecosystem (seems to be) plentiful right now.”
“I feel like we need a season,” he said. “I don’t want the bears killed off. I think they should be treated like the other animals.”
As far as advice Scott would give to people who hunt in bear country, the importance of bear spray can’t be overstated.
“The one thing I would tell some of the younger hunters is that bear spray is not going to do you any good if it’s in your pack,” Scott said. “I hope that can resonate with hunters. It’s critical.”
One thing is for certain: The wilderness — especially near Cody, Yellowstone, Dubois and the Teton range — is still wild.
It’s best to keep your head on a swivel and bear spray ready because anyone can be a moment away from disaster.