A Tennessee hunter is recovering from claw and bite injuries in the wake of a bear attack, according to eyewitness reports from fellow hunters.
Cat Miller was one of five people, plus seven dogs, who were bear hunting in the thick woods of Mt. Sterling, located in the northern part of Haywood County, at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 2.
When the group saw on a GPS tracker that their dogs had gathered around a tree, Miller said she went with a 12-year-old boy and another hunter — who lives just across the state line in Cocke County, Tennessee, and whose name they declined to provide — to locate the dogs.
“When we got to the dogs, they still had the bear up the tree,” Miller said in a phone call.
The younger hunter took the first shots at the bear, followed by the Cocke County man, before the bear climbed halfway down the tree, then dropped to the forest floor on its haunches, Miller said.
“Your reaction — if you’re injured like that — your first reaction is to come up on your legs and lunge forward to whatever you can get ahold of,” Miller said. “The bear did exactly that, and unfortunately (the hunter) was in the way.”
The bear — having been shot through the neck, backside and leg — was only trying to flee from the hunters, Miller said.
“I do not believe this was a mauling on the bear’s part,” Miller said. “This was more of a fight and survive situation.”
The Tennessee hunter was bitten and clawed in both his stomach and legs before he, the bear and two of the hunting dogs — Foghorn and Jack — tumbled 30 to 50 feet downhill, landing briefly on a rock face, then sliding between 100 and 150 feet farther, bouncing off the ground and tumbling another 30 to 50 feet, landing in an area where several dead trees had fallen on top of one-another.
Upon coming to a stop at the bottom of the escarpment amid the pile of fallen trees, the bear released the man from its grasp and ran off, leaving the hunter in a heap as the hunting dogs chased close behind the animal.
“It wasn’t pretty at all,” Miller said. “You don’t have time to be scared — you do what has to be done. My first and foremost concern was the boy.”
Miller said she had to crawl through the fallen trees to reach the injured hunter. She managed to maneuver him to a more stable place, calm him down a bit and call for help. With no cell phone service, Miller said she used a two-way radio to reach the rest of her hunting crew.
“If it weren’t for all of us working together to ensure (he) got out safely, it would have resulted much differently,” Miller said.
Another hunter in the area, Jeremy Messer, said he was with his party when they were made aware of the situation.
“We received a voicemail a little around 1 p.m. that (he) had been eat by a bear,” Messer said. “We got our hounds gathered up and headed to find them.”
Messer said his group was just more than a mile from the injured hunter, and stayed with him until emergency services arrived at around 2:40 p.m.
“During the time we waited we brought coats, hoodies and anything we had to keep him warm so he wouldn’t go in shock,” Messer said.
Emergency services arrived some three hours after the incident, then worked on the hunter’s injuries for about an hour, Miller said.
Assisted by the two hunting parties, firefighters from Fines Creek Volunteer Fire Department and Crabtree Iron-Duff Volunteer Fire Department spent about an hour and a half carrying the injured hunter out of the thick woods, Miller said.
“It was not the easiest of circumstances to retrieve from,” Miller said. “With the work and help of everybody, we were able to retrieve (him) out of the situation he was in.”
In all, about 30 people contributed to the rescue operation, Miller said.
The hunter is in good spirits and recovering from his injuries, which were tended to at both Haywood Regional Medical Center and Mission Health in Asheville, Miller said.
“Most thankfully he is recovering well,” Miller said. “To recover from a bear attack, it’s a lot of pain.”
Two hunting dogs sustained slight injuries during the exchange, but are also on their way to recovery, Miller said.
As for the bear, it was found dead roughly 90 yards from where it landed at the bottom of the slope, said Messer, whose party found the animal while waiting for emergency services to arrive.
“We field dressed the bear and got it out for them, and they took it and hung and divided the meat up the next day,” Messer said.
Both Messer and Miller said they had never before been involved in such a hunting experience.
“Whenever you’re hunting, those are always circumstances that can happen, but very rarely do,” Miller said. “Regardless of what you’re hunting, make sure you’re not close enough to get injured.”
Miller said it is advisable for hunters to get as close to eye-level with a treed bear as possible before shooting at it, to prevent the animal from charging when it inevitably jumps out of the tree to escape its attackers.
“For that matter, any animal will try to get away,” Miller said. “You need to ensure your own safety by making sure you’re not close enough to get injured.”
The hunter was a little too close to the tree, and when the bear came down, it caused an ugly scene, Miller said.
“It was pretty crazy,” Miller said. “I guess for the circumstances in which everything occurred, the outcome was better than any of us thought it might be.”