Bear spray success

NICK WOLCOTT/CHRONICLE Kevin Boyer describes how he stopped a grizzly's charge with bear spray while he was hiking in Yellowstone National Park with his wife in July.

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Thank God for the bear spray.

Without it, Kevin and Julie Boyer probably wouldn't be alive. Instead, they'd have likely shared the fates of two other hikers who were attacked and killed by grizzly bears this summer inside Yellowstone National Park.

But they did have bear spray. They survived. And they're here to share their story.

It began July 2, when the pair went for a hike in the Hayden Valley. They decided on a mellow route, one that would take them to Sulphur Mountain and Violet Springs.

They started out as they always did, Kevin 10 yards ahead of Julie, maintaining the separation partly because he hiked faster and partly to keep at least one of them protected if something bad were to happen.

The Bozeman residents are frequent Yellowstone visitors and had practiced what to do in case of an emergency. They had cans of bear spray at their sides and had practiced deploying them in the backyard.

They knew not to run if a bear crossed their paths and to be aware of scat, prints and wind direction while hiking.

But they'd probably never need to use those emergency skills -- at least they had hoped not.

They followed a ridgeline to Sulphur Mountain that day, using a map to find their way as they were hiking off trail. After going to the mountain, they started making their way toward Violet Springs, traveling along the high sides of hills.

It was approaching noon, so the two stopped to eat lunch. They went near an island of trees that offered shade, and Kevin bent to duck beneath a tree branch.

That's when they heard the distinct crack of timber.

Kevin stood up in time to turn and see a sow grizzly bear coming for him at full speed.

"It was crazy how fast she was running," Kevin remembered later. "She came over those logs like they weren't even there."

He also remembered the look on the bear's face, one of "just pure bad intentions," he said. "She meant business."

He dropped his hiking poles, took two steps back and started screaming, "Bear! Hey bear!"

Julie was to his left and 10 yards back, watching the scene play out before her as the grizzly bear charged her husband.

"It was almost like slow motion watching it," she said. "I was screaming, but I don't even remember what I was screaming."

All she could think was that her husband was as good as dead. Or he'd be gravely injured, and she'd have to run four to five miles to get help.

"What the heck am I going to do?" she remembered thinking.

Kevin saw that the bear had a cub with her, and he knew then how high the stakes were. Sow grizzly bears can be particularly dangerous because they have young to protect.

Kevin pulled out his bear spray and undid the safety, actions he said he didn't even remember doing. He held the can with both hands, prepared to spray her.

But the bear stopped. It was a bluff charge, and Kevin figured it was over. Then, the cub came up to the grizzly's side, and the sow bolted for Kevin again.

Kevin first gave a quick spray to see if the bear would stop. She didn't, so he deployed the entire can, pointing it more to one side to factor in the wind, and downward to make sure it hit the grizzly.

"I knew I had one chance," Kevin said.

The cloud of spray went out, but Kevin didn't know if it would be enough. The grizzly was only yards away and running full speed at him. With that momentum built up, she might not be able to stop.

But when that spray hit her, Kevin saw her mouth open and her eyes wide. She instantaneously reared up, twisted to the side, fell over and ran in the other direction.

Kevin bent over and took a deep breath before going to Julie. She was crying and shaking and still holding out her bear spray.

"I thought you were dead," she told him. "I thought you were dead."

"Yeah," he said. "But I'm not."

After calming down, they eventually returned to their truck and drove to Canyon Village, where three park rangers interviewed them.

"You did everything right," one ranger told Kevin.

The ranger did critique the fact that Kevin and Julie were hiking slightly apart, but Kevin explained it was to keep something tragic from happening to them both.

***

Kevin and Julie came across that bear on July 2.

Four days later, Brian and Marylyn Matayoshi were hiking on Yellowstone's Wapiti Lake Trail when they happened upon a sow with young cubs. The bear attacked and killed Brian, 57, before running after Marylyn. The bear bit her daypack, lifting her from the ground, then dropping her. Marylyn, who survived, remained still and the bear left the area.

Last week, 59-year-old John Wallace, of Chassell, Mich., was also killed in a bear attack. His body was found Aug. 26 along the park's Mary Mountain Trail. There were no witnesses, so nobody can say for sure what caused the attack. The park's investigations are ongoing, and eight traps have been set up in the hopes of catching the bear responsible for Wallace's death.

The deceased hikers were not carrying bear spray - a fact that Kevin was well aware of Thursday, when he sat in a red chair on his porch retelling his survival story.

"I feel in my heart that they'd be alive today (if they had bear spray)," he said. "Those two individuals are dead. For $40, they could've had the opportunity to protect themselves."

He said he's met hikers and families multiple times in prime grizzly bear country and asked why they're not carrying bear spray. Some say they don't want to spend the money.

But Kevin knows it's worth it.

He was in the park to go fishing a few days before the hike when the grizzly charged him, and he realized he'd forgotten to bring the cans of bear spray he keeps at home. So, he paid $54 for another can.

Two days later, it saved his life.

Carly Flandro may be reached at 582-2638 or cflandro@dailychronicle.com.

 

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