Surviving a Bear Attack
By Alesha Damerville
Image from Kevin Dietrich
Written by Alesha Damerville
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS– The odds of being injured by a grizzly bear are one in 2.7 million, according the National Parks Service. Steamboat Springs resident and Buffalo Commons upright bass player, Denton Turner, experienced and survived this extremely rare event while employed with Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 2004.
Turner was hiking by himself on his day off. He was walking up on one side of a hill, trying to identify a bird and decided to stop and take a break once he reached the hill’s summit, and had walked up a hill in pursuit of a bird he was hoping to identify. “I had my back to the top of the hill when I crossed paths a mama grizzly and her two cubs,” Turner says. “I heard her when she hit the top of the hill. I turned around and she was staring at me from 15 yards away. A little cub poked his head up, followed by another, all three were staring at me.”
“The mama grizzly began grunting and pawing at the dirt aggressively,” Turner says. “I started to back away, and she then lowered her head and began running towards me as fast as she could. I knew she wasn’t playing around.”
Turner got on the ground, into the fetal position and covered his neck. “She was snarling and banging me around. She sounded like a dinosaur. I played dead, and she stopped and laid on top of me, breathing heavily. I don’t think I took a breath the entire time. She rolled me onto my side and then ran off,” he says.
He estimates the whole attack lasted maybe a minute. “What seemed like a really long time, wasn’t actually that long at all,” he says.“I laid there as long as possible to give her enough time to get away from me. I was shocked I made it. It was an out of body experience– I didn’t feel anything the entire time.”
Turner laid there until his adrenaline started to fade and he began to feel pain. He sat up and could see her the grizzly 150 yards away, running into the woods with her cubs following. “I felt like I was in Jurassic Park. I had blood all over my hands, I didn’t even know I had been bitten, but she bit me twice. I had to hike a mile to get back to my car. Once I knew I was away from the grizzly bear, I started yelling. I didn’t want to see any animals after that,” he says.
“The closer I got to the car, the more I realized I was in a lot of pain,” he recalls. “When I finally made it to my car, I looked over at my shoulder and could see thick saliva all over it. That’s when it hit me: blood, saliva…I’ve survived a bear attack.”
Turner pulled his jacket off and over his head, taking pressure off of where he was bitten. “I started bleeding heavily, through my shirt, dripping down my arm and hand. I was really hurt. I could see my reflection through the car window; I was pale as a ghost and realized I needed help,” he says. “I walked to the middle of the road and stopped the first car I saw. They took me to the medical center.”
Turner was bitten underneath his right arm, head and shoulder, and was clawed in multiple places. He needed staples in the back of his head and had to go to the doctor every day for two months to get his wounds cleaned. “Bear bites get infected easily, especially with puncture wounds, which have to heal from the bottom up,” he says. “They would pump me full of antibiotics, and clean, sterilize and re-patch my wounds, which at this point were two-inch holes, they’d pack with gauze. It hurt like hell. I basically had open wounds that were bleeding for a month.”
“The recovery process took months. I have some nerve damage underneath my shoulder blade, and it was six months before I could throw a baseball. I came out pretty good considering the situation. I am lucky and fortunate,” Turner says. “I feel like she treated me pretty well for getting in the way of her and her cubs.”
The bear attack hasn’t stopped Turner from enjoying nature. He hiked with a group a few weeks after the attack, bandaged up and bleeding. “I have a much bigger appreciation for everything in the wild now,” he says.“I am more prepared. My mistake was not making noise. If I had done that or had I been traveling with people, they probably would have heard me coming from a further distance away. Making your presence known is the best move. That mama grizzly was just trying to protect her cubs.”