Todd Orr shares his tale of surviving grizzly attacks

Todd Orr, who survived two bear attacks in a matter of minutes in October, tells his story to a crowd at REI in Bozeman.

Associated Press

BOZEMAN — When the world last saw Todd Orr, his arms were bloodied, his back was scratched up, and there was a gash on the side of his head. He's recovered pretty well, and his voice box works just fine, so on Jan. 23, Todd Orr told the story millions already know with an epilogue — hours of surgery, stitches and months of physical therapy.

"This hand can't quite open all the way yet," Orr said, holding up his left hand. "But (I'm) feeling pretty good and happy to be here to tell you guys the story."

Orr was at REI in Bozeman and shared with a crowd of about 40 how he managed to survive two attacks from a grizzly bear and then drove himself to the hospital, reported the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

"Life doesn't suck in bear country," he said. "But things can go wrong."

Originally from Ennis, Orr has spent about a decade working seasonally for the U.S. Forest Service and a lot of time in the woods. This fall, he had a rare weekend off, so he decided to go looking for elk in the Madison Valley under the shadow of Sphinx Mountain. It was Oct. 1, and hunting season was just a few weeks away.

He started walking up the trailhead with two bear spray cans, a pistol, and every 30 seconds or so he would yell out something like, "Hey Bear!"

"So if there was any bears on the trail, hopefully they'd know I was there," Orr said.

He stepped into a meadow, and about 80 yards away, there was a grizzly bear sow and cubs. He stopped, and the bear immediately ran uphill and away from him. He thought she was gone, so he relaxed a little and took a few more steps.

Then he heard a sound.

"She'd dropped off the cubs and was charging off the ridge," he said.

He pulled out his bear spray, thinking the sow might bluff charge, but she just kept coming. He unloaded bear spray on her, but it was too late. The bear was on top of him.

He laid face down, covered his neck with his arms, and stayed quiet. The bear left. He got up and started walking back toward the trailhead, but it wasn't over. He guesses he only walked a few hundred yards before the bear was running up behind him for round two.

The bear was right on top of him. Teeth punctured his shoulder, his arms, a claw grazed the side of his head.

"I could feel her breath on the back of my neck," he said.

He said he just focused on staying quiet.

"I just kind of shut everything off, and I focused on survival," he said. "Just telling myself, 'Don't move, don't make a sound.'"

After what felt like an eternity for him, the bear left. He carefully looked around, then hurried down the trail. He estimates it was about 3 miles, or about an hour's hike. Another car was at the trailhead when he got there, and he wanted to write a note to warn the hikers of the bear. But his arm wasn't exactly in writing shape, and he worried the blood would make the note illegible.

Before he left the trailhead, he had one more thought.

"To show my hunting buddies that I had a crazier weekend than them" he said.

He pulled out his phone and made a video explaining what had just happened. Later that day, once he got out of the hospital, he posted it to Facebook.

"I thought maybe 25 or 50 people would see the video," Orr said. "Not 39 million."

Within a day of the attacks, national media organizations started calling. He said one national television news network told him they wanted to fly him to New York City the night after the attack — his doctor hadn't cleared him to take a shower, much less get on an airplane. He stopped answering calls for a while.

So far, he said, his recovery has gone well. After taking a week off, he was back in the office, typing one-handed for the Forest Service. He'd finished all his field work the day before the attacks, so all he had left was office work. In December, he was able to get back to his side business — making custom knives.

He's also looking forward to getting back out in the woods this year. He said he'll definitely be carrying two bear spray cans, and when he's not working he'll carry a gun (the Forest Service only allows law enforcement to carry guns). He might be a little nervous the first time out there, but not going out would make less sense to him.

"My life is in the woods," he said.

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