VAIL — Justin Young was hoping he'd see a bear while working in the Vail Valley this summer, but he never wanted to see one as close as he did last Friday.
Young, 25, was working for his father's construction business at a home in the 1500 block of Spring Hill Lane in East Vail when he took a break and took a stroll behind the home around 9 a.m. The next thing he knew he was about 20 feet from a black bear that he said weighed about 400 pounds.
“I spooked him,” Young said. “He immediately charged at me.”
Young, who lives in Florida full-time, said he feels incredibly fortunate to have survived the encounter. The bear hit him on the side of his head and again on the left side of his body before Young fell down. The bear knocked him out, he said, and when he regained consciousness the bear was gone. He got up and ran back to the house and told his coworkers what happened.
Young doubts his coworkers would have believed him if it wasn't for the bear hair.
“They assumed I fell down the stairs and was full of it, until they saw I was covered in bear hair,” Young said.
He walked away with some cuts and bruises, and a nasty black eye, but that was it.
His parents, Chuck and Terry Young, of Eagle, saw pictures of their son's cuts and bruises from his cell phone camera that morning. Terry Young said she got a picture message that said her son had quite the story to tell her.
“Now he has a whole new respect for bears,” Terry Young said.
Justin Young said he's pretty sure he scared the bear because it was facing away from him as he approached it. The bear reacted and went on the defensive, he said.
“I'm very fortunate the bear was on the defensive and not the offensive,” Justin Young said.
After the bear hit him once near his left eye and temple, he put up his arm to protect himself. The bear got a pretty good scratch at his left arm, and that's when Justin Young thinks he was knocked out.
He said he thinks his lifeless body as he laid there unconscious was what saved him. If he continued to fight back and try to protect himself, he said the bear may have done even more damage.
“It's probably good he knocked me out,” Justin Young said. “I'm glad I wasn't conscious for it.”
Justin Young said he has a lot of bruises and scratches on his body, too, which makes him think the bear continued to smack him around a bit while he was unconscious. He said the Division of Wildlife officer who responded to the scene told him a bear that size could exert 1,000 pounds of force.
The Vail Police Department responded to the call along with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Justin Young said he refused an ambulance ride to the hospital because he felt fine and doesn't have health insurance.
“Now that it's done and over with, and I know that I'm not going to die from it, it's kind of a cool story,” Justin Young said.
Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Division of Wildlife, said the agency tracked the bear for more than 12 hours Friday and could see the bear a few times but couldn't catch him. They tracked him with hound dogs but lost the scent when the bear's trail led across asphalt, a surface much harder for dogs to smell.
“Any situation in Colorado where we deal with an aggressive animal injuring a person, the policy is typically that the animal is going to be put down,” Hampton said.
Hampton said that while it's not exactly common to hear of a bear attacking or charging at a person, it does happen several times a year in Colorado. There were three incidents last year in the Aspen-area alone where people were physically injured by bears, he said.
“That being said, it's more common to get attacked by your neighbor's dog than a bear,” Hampton said.
Hampton said he didn't have information on the size or sex of the bear that attacked Justin Young. He said 400 pounds sounds pretty large, though, for a black bear this time of year.
“What we find is that most often, because of their hair and how much hair they have it makes them appear much larger,” Hampton said. “Guessing the weight of a bear is extremely difficult.”