What is the worst thing you can wake up to while camping in Idaho’s vast and untamed wilderness? Well, a bear chewing on your hair may be one of the most frightening. Stephen Vouch, 29, jolted awake on early Friday morning to find a black bear standing over him. According to Idaho Fish and Game, the animal was doing a bit more than just giving Vouch a tug on his hair—it started biting him, leaving lacerations on the top and side of his head.
“According to Vouch, he awoke about 2:00am to the sensation of something tugging on his hair and quickly realized that he was being bitten by a bear,” officials reported. “He yelled, alerting the other members of his party, one of which shot the bear at close range with a .45 caliber handgun. The wounded bear backed away then climbed a nearby tree. After collecting himself, Vouch shot and killed the wounded bear. He was given first aid and he and the other members of his group rafted downriver then flew out of the wilderness area on Sunday, October 4.”
You can hear Vouch describe the attack in his own words below.
Vouch and two friends had been hunting for bighorn sheep in central Idaho’s Frank Church River-of-no-return Wilderness, but the surprise encounter with the bear ruined their once-in-a-lifetime hunt. Officials say that the hunters had kept their food stored properly and is still investigating why the animal came into their camp. Vouch and his companions were able to retrieve the bear carcass for rabies testing, which came back negative. Since officials did not suspect the hunters of any wrongdoing, Vouch was allowed to keep the bear hide and skull.
Experts say that a dry summer and mediocre berry crop may be driving bears to more human camps in the Idaho wilderness in search of food, especially young bears like the one that attacked Vouch. Young male bears have a reputation for inquisitiveness and lack the fear of humans that many older bears have. Officials say the bear that Vouch killed was between three to seven years old and weighed 275 pounds.
“If you encounter a bear in the wild, one of the hardest things to do, but the most important, is don’t run,” Greg Wooten, enforcement chief for the Idaho Fish and Game, told the Idaho Statesman. “Stay where you are, raise your arms above your head to make yourself look bigger than you are, and make a lot of noise.”
Experts say it is likely that the bear never encountered humans before and mistook Vouch’s hair for food. The hunter was later treated for minor injuries.
Vouch says he intends to return to central Idaho to continue his bighorn hunt. As in other states, opportunities to hunt bighorn in Idaho are extremely rare and coveted.