Grizzly bear

A grizzly bear is seen in this photo from the Idaho State Journal.

Chuck Bryant was at the shop on his ranch in the Madison Valley around 8 on Saturday morning. He saw a truck rumbling down the road that cuts through his land to reach a trailhead. The truck was moving pretty fast until it stopped at his shop. A man inside waved Bryant to come over.

"When he looked up at me it was obvious. I knew it was bear," Bryant said. "He was covered in blood ... I asked him, 'Can I take you to the hospital?'"

The man refused, insisting he could drive himself, and asked Bryant to call the Ennis hospital to let them know that he was coming. Now, the man in the truck, Todd Orr, has become an online sensation for a video he posted to Facebook — views have topped 27 million, shares have passed 560,000 — explaining what had just happened to him during a hike to scout for elk.

"Life sucks in bear country," Orr said in the video. "Just had a grizzly with two cubs come at me."

The 50-year-old from Bozeman had hiked three miles when he found the grizzly and cubs in a meadow. He wrote that he had been shouting "Hey Bear" all morning and continued to do so. But the adult grizzly charged him.

He unloaded a cloud of bear spray, but the bear plowed right through it. He dropped to the ground and covered his neck with his arms. The bear started biting. Teeth dug into his arms, shoulders, backpack. 

"The force of each bite was like a sledge hammer with teeth," Orr wrote. "She would stop for a few seconds and then bite again. Over and over. After a couple of minutes, but what seemed an eternity, she disappeared."

Bleeding from all of the bites, he started hurrying back to his pickup. But before long, the bear came after him again, pinning him to the ground and biting him more.

"I was so lucky the first attack, but now I questioned if I would survive the second," Orr wrote.

Eventually, the grizzly left again. Orr made it to his truck and started driving. A Madison Valley Medical Center official said Orr got to the hospital at about 8:35 a.m. and confirmed that he was treated and released. The official declined to say when he was released, citing privacy laws. 

The U.S. Forest Service has now closed several trails in the Bear Creek area in Madison County until further notice. Wildlife officials are investigating the incident.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear biologist Kevin Frey said they don't plan on capturing the bear since the attack happened in regular grizzly habitat. He said they are still investigating the incident, but that the bear's behavior appeared to be normal at the outset.

"The initial response and encounter was something that is expected," Frey said. "That's defensive behavior."

The encounter was not Orr's first. Terry Cunningham, a freelance writer and director of the local group Run Dog Run, wrote about Orr in a 2007 article about bear attack survivors.

Orr worked for the U.S. Forest Service for many years surveying and designing trails. He told Cunningham he saw about 10 bears a year while doing that work. He was charged by a grizzly bear for the first time in the early 1990s south of West Yellowstone, an encounter he escaped by shimmying up a tree. In 2005, he encountered a black bear in the Boulder River drainage south of Big Timber.

"Some guys are called chick magnets," Orr told Cunningham. "My friends call me a bear magnet." 

Magnetism isn't necessary to find bears in the Bear Creek area, which sits below Sphinx Mountain near Cameron. Bryant, who runs a cow-calf operation there, said it's not uncommon to see grizzlies there, and that most hikers and hunters he talks to report seeing at least one. He and his employees carry guns and pepper spray while they work, especially when they have to go toward the mountains. On Monday morning, he saw the tracks of an adult grizzly and a cub between the shop on his ranch and the home of one of his employees.

Frey said the Bear Creek area has seen increased bear activity in the last five years or so. Bears come down from the steep mountain faces at night to look for chokecherries and other food sources, returning to the heavy timber during the day. 

"There's always been grizzly bears anywhere in that country," Frey said. "But yeah, the population has increased, distribution is increasing and we're just seeing more activity." 

Video and photos posted by Todd Orr publicly to Facebook in which he details injuries he suffered in a pair of attacks by a bear in the Madison Valley. WARNING: This content contains strong language and graphic images.

Posted by Todd Orr on Sunday, October 2, 2016
Posted by Todd Orr on Sunday, October 2, 2016

Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1. 

Michael Wright covers the environment and wildlife issues for the Chronicle.

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