There are few animals in North America as frightening as an adult grizzly, and if one of these massive animals get it in their heads to attack you, your day just suddenly got a whole lot worse. Twenty-six-year-old Chase Dellwo was expecting to bag some elk in the Montana backcountry near Choteau last Saturday, but a chance encounter with a bear ended with him sticking his arm into its roaring mouth instead.
That decision may have saved his life.
According to the Great Falls Tribune, Dellwo was bowhunting near a creek bed with his brother Shane. Strong wind and intermittent snow and rain kept visibility to a minimum, but the brothers heard elk bugles in the area and Dellwo was eager to make his first elk harvest of the year. The hunter had been steadily driving the animals toward his brother, but the weather also hid a sleeping grizzly, which Dellwo practically tripped over. At less than three feet, there was little that Dellwo could do before the animal charged him.
“I had an arrow nocked, and I put my bow up in front of me and took two or three steps back,” he told the Tribune. “There wasn’t any time to draw my bow back.”
The grizzly knocked Dellwo off his feet and bit him in several places across his head. It then reared back and gave what the hunter later described as the loudest roar he had ever heard, before attacking him again and biting his right leg. It was at this point that Dellwo recalled that an old survival tip about how bears have sensitive gag reflexes—so the hunter plunged his arm down the animal’s throat.
The bear promptly left.
Dellwo is not the first person to have stuck their arm down a bear’s throat and lived to tell the tale. The trick is commonly regarded as a last-ditch defense against bear attacks. As recently as last November, a hunter in British Columbia used to same trick to disable and ultimately kill a large grizzly sow near Fernie. According to CTV News, Wilf Lloyd was seriously mauled by the bear before he was able to stop its biting by jamming his hand down its mouth. While the bear was still on top of the man, Llyod’s son-in-law arrived and shot it dead with a rifle.
Lloyd also received a bullet in the leg during the chaotic struggle, but he did not blame his hunting companion in the least.
“The man saved my life,” Lloyd later said. “What Skeet did and because of his fast reaction, the shots, I had maybe fifty stitches in my hand and that’s it. So I was very fortunate that way.”
Dellwo echoed Llyod’s sentiment after his own bear encounter. Shortly after the attack, he was able to reunite with his brother and was transported to a local hospital, where he was treated for various cuts and punctures on his head and right leg. Dellwo expects to be back in the woods later this year for rifle season.
Officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks are currently investigating the case and believe that the bear involved was a 400-pound male. Experts added that the brothers seemed to have done everything correctly and that the bear will likely not be tracked down since the attack was not predatory in nature.
“Even the hunter didn’t want us to capture the bear,” the department’s bear management specialist, Mike Madel, told USA Today. “He didn’t think it did anything wrong.”