Chad Fortune says he can’t recall all of the details.
But he remembers lots of yelling (his own) and snarling (from the bears) and frantic flailing with fists and feet as he fought off two black bears among a group of four that attacked him as he was perched in a tree-stand bow hunting deer Saturday evening.
Fortune, who spoke to the Free Press this evening, said the fight ended in a draw, though he’s the only one that went to the hospital. He needed surgery and 40 stitches to repair a gash in his leg.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment officials described the attack, in Emmett County’s Bear Creek Township, as one of the weirdest outdoor events in memory.
They said it may have been an instance of a sow bear protecting her young. But Fortune said there was nothing childlike about any of the bears.
‘Those were full grown bears’
Fortune, a 21-year-old service adviser for a car dealership, called the Free Press today to dispute a characterization by state officials of his attackers as “a sow and three cubs.”
“They may have been related. But those were full grown bears,” Fortune said.
Fortune said he was annoyed by reports from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment that suggested the attack might have been attributed to his attendance at a family picnic earlier in the day, and the smell of fried food clinging to his clothes.
“I had different clothes on … hunting clothes. There was no smell of picnic on them,” he said. “I don’t know what happened.”
He described his evening this way:
Just before dusk, Fortune said he’d been in his tree stand at the edge of an alfalfa field and adjacent to a swamp for a relatively short time when the bears appeared “from out of nowhere.” He said he first saw two crossing in front of him from about 20 to 25 feet away. Then another pair, including the largest, appeared.
Fortune said he believes they came out of the swamp but couldn’t be sure.
At first, they appeared uninterested in him, but then picked up his scent on the trail he’d used to reach his tree stand.
Fortune said when two of the bears began to approach he shouted and yelled, which seemed to have little effect. Then, suddenly, one was clambering up the 8-inch diameter popple to which his stand was attached, just 15 feet off the ground. It was snarling. He was yelling some more.
Fortune said he didn’t have time to stand, had dropped his bow and just started flailing at the animal from a seated position, landing six to eight blows until the bear fell to the ground.
He scrambled to his feet as a second animal mounted an assault. Fortune said he was better prepared the second time and got in a good kick that precipitated the bear’s descent.
He was not attacked a third time as reported by the DNRE, Fortune said, and he didn’t know which of the four attacked.
Fortune said his triumph was tempered by the fact that two of the bears remained within sight as night fell. He kept yelling.
His cell phone was in his truck, but about two hours later his girlfriend and father, who knew the tree stand’s location, arrived. Fortune said he’s not sure, but he thinks the bears left when his backup arrived.
Sgt. Jim Gorno, of the Gaylord DNR office, said conservation officers believe Fortune, who was at a family picnic earlier Saturday, may have had the scent of fried chicken or pork on his boots or clothing, attracting the bruins.
Fortune of Walloon Lake underwent surgery at Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey and was later released.
Bears usually flee when they detect human scent, Gorno said, adding it was the weirdest case he’s seen in 24 years with the DNR.
He said the bears may have been used to humans or possibly even fed by people and lost some of their natural fear. Fortune said all four had been seen around a neighbor’s home earlier.
“Anytime you are dealing with a sow and her cubs, you have a potentially dangerous situation,” said DNRE Wildlife Chief Russ Mason.
Hunters may use a weapon to protect themselves against a bear attack, Gorno said, even though bears are not legal to hunt at this time of year. But a bow and arrow is a poor defense against a fast-moving bear.
Fortune said he isn’t sure he’ll be going back anytime soon, but if he does he plans to be more heavily armed.
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