Elk hunter attacked by grizzly in Paradise Valley

Joe Kiedrowski and his elk hunting buddies have long known the risks of hunting in the Tom Miner Basin area, just north of Yellowstone National Park in the Paradise Valley.

"It was inevitable that one of us would run into a bear," he said.

Unfortunately, that happened to him Sunday morning as he was trailing an injured bull he'd shot and hit the night before.

"I went back the next day to retrieve him," he said.

As he hiked downhill in 5 inches of fresh snow that muffled his approach, a grizzly stepped out from behind some bushes only 30 yards away.

"He saw me and instantly was coming right at me," Kiedrowski, 28, said. "I just saw his canines coming at me. They were an inch long."

To blunt the rush Kiedrowski threw his right arm up in front of his face. The bear chomped down on his wrist and forearm and also scratched the side of his face.

"I don't remember him being on me," Kiedrowski said, but at some point he had fallen down.

Fearing the bear might attack again, he began to roll onto his stomach to protect his vital organs and also grabbed his bear spray. Playing dead, it was so quiet that he could hear the bear huffing.

"It was cool and crazy at the same time," he said. "Then he tried coming at me again."

Kiedrowski discharged his bear spray, hitting himself and everything around him at the same time. The bear backed off and Kiedrowski moved to grab his rifle.

"I didn't want to go for round three," he said.

But the bear had disappeared. Kiedrowski said it was like the bear was nipping at him to let him know the elk was his.

"It wasn't like he was out to eat me," he said. "He just wanted to protect the elk."

"The later in the year it gets, they're a touch easier going," said Kevin Frey, a bear management specialist for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "He's pretty darn lucky it wasn't worse."

The attack occurred on the Rock Creek side, north of Tom Miner Basin and close to where a woman was attacked and injured by a grizzly in September in a similar situation.

Leaving the site of the attack, Kiedrowski hiked up the ridge, stopping to phone his brother and let him know what had happened and where he would reach the nearest road so someone could pick him up. Then his phone died.

Kiedrowski wrapped a compression strap around his wrist to try and stop the bleeding. By then his right pant leg was soaked with blood and he was leaving a red trail in the fresh snow as he hiked.

"It wasn't bleeding bad. It wasn't a Tarantino movie," he added, referring to director Quentin Tarantino, who's known for gory, slow-motion shootouts.

"Apparently I picked the most treacherous way down to the road," he said, so he stopped, drank some water and tried to calm down. "I couldn't parkour through the rocks with a broken wrist," he joked, referring to the sport that involves running, jumping and climbing.

After negotiating around the rocks a ranch hand picked him up and drove him to the highway where his brother and friends were waiting to drive him to the Livingston hospital.

He said the drive seemed to take forever because that's when the pain grew worse. In Livingston the staff cleaned the wound, dressed it and sent him on to Billings Clinic for further treatment.

His wrist had suffered broken cartilage, broken bones and rearranged some others, dislocating it. For now the wounded wrist is in a temporary cast and Kiedrowski is swallowing lots of antibiotics to prevent infection along with a few pain pills to ease the throbbing. Next week he'll go in for surgery to have the bones wired into place.

Although he's a roofer by trade, Kiedrowski isn't worried about the injury keeping him from work. The doctor told him he should regain full use of the wrist but may suffer from arthritis in his old age.

As to whether he'll go out elk hunting again this season, Kiedrowski was more uncertain.

"I think my wife may have something to say about that," he said with a laugh. "At this point, I'm not too worried about it. I'm not going to stop hunting, though."

Since the encounter was not predatory, Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials will take no action to trap or kill the bear, but they warned hunters to remember that grizzlies have not yet denned. The agency received a report of bears still active in the Madison Valley this past weekend, as well, and a bird hunter along the Rocky Mountain Front shot and killed a charging grizzly Saturday.

Consequently, hunters should take precautions to ensure no bears are in the area by looking for tracks, making noise or by hunting in groups.

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