TOWNSHIP 5 RANGE 7 — Ryan Shepard got the bear, but not before the bear almost got him.
With a couple dozen stitches in his right leg, arm and torso, and nine puncture wounds besides, the 36-year-old bear hunter was released from a local hospital to his Wapiti Road home on Tuesday.
Speaking in calm, measured tones, the professional hunting guide related how he was attacked by a charging 365-pound male black bear that he and several friends and their six hounds had chased down near a side road between Garden Pond and the Seboeis River in northern Penobscot County.
“I don’t think I would have done anything different,” Shepard said from his bed at Millinocket Regional Hospital on Tuesday. “At that point, we needed to get in there and kill that bear or he would have killed our dogs.”
Shepard estimated that the bear, which he already had knocked down with his first shot, was moving at up to 15 mph once it turned on him from about 21 feet away. He said he hit the bear with a second shot with his .30-06 Remington pump-action rifle before the roaring beast knocked him down.
“The big deal was making the decision to shoot and making sure of the safety of the dogs and the other people around,” Shepard said. “I believe he grabbed my leg with his mouth and knocked me down or pulled me down, but I went down.”
Shepard said the bear ended up atop him. He was trying to fight it off and defend himself while hollering “Get him off me!” for several seconds as a friend kicked at the bear, and the dogs, all walker and bluetick hunting hounds, attacked the wild animal — and possibly Shepard, too.
“I think that explains a few of these marks,” he said.
Shepard said he believes the bear knocked the rifle out of his hands, but he isn’t sure.
“It was all kind of a blur at that point,” Shepard said. “It felt like 10 minutes, but I guess it was only a few minutes.”
Dazed by the attack, Shepard wasn’t sure when the bear finally died. He declined to identify the friends who accompanied him. The dead animal later was transported by other members of the hunting party to Shepard’s home. Shepard expects to get 75 to 100 pounds of meat from the carcass.
State records fail to reveal any hunter being killed by a black bear in Maine, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte said. At least 50 people have been killed by black bears in North America since 1960, but most died in nonhunting incidents.
“This is so rare,” Turcotte said. “Everybody here is saying that they can’t remember the last time this has happened.”
In the last 30 years, three people have reported being injured by bears in Maine, mostly from bites, Turcotte said.
The only fatality that might be attributable to bears occurred in 1910 in the vicinity of Wilton, when a baby girl fell out of a wagon and died. The horse pulling the wagon possibly was spooked by a bear, Turcotte said.
The fact that so few injuries occur, given that close to 10,000 people hunt for bears throughout all phases of the bear hunting season, illustrates the safety-consciousness and good training of Maine bear hunters, Turcotte said. The season runs from Aug. 30 to Nov. 27.
A state-certified Maine Professional Guide like her husband, with whom she runs Camp Wapiti & Northbound Adventure Co. of Township 5 Range 7, Jennifer Shepard tried to take the news of her husband’s injuries stoically when she first heard of them.
“He’s extremely courageous,” she said of her husband, “fearless — but not reckless. And mellow is not really the word that describes him.”
In pain from the injuries , Shepard nevertheless walked out of the woods to meet paramedics after the bear was dead. That wasn’t heroism, he said, just practicality. The very dense woods made carrying him out almost impossible.
“It would have prolonged his care and injured him further,” said Jennifer Shepard, a former Portland firefighter.
They plan to put the bear’s carcass through a full-mount taxidermy and locate him right in the main lodge of their business, a year-round all-inclusive sporting resort, which can be seen at campwapiti.com.
“We already have three other bears in here. This is going to be largest,” Jennifer Shepard said.
And between his scars and the trophy’s prominence, Ryan, who already is quite well known among his friends for his love of telling bear hunting stories, will get a lot of mileage out of the yarn he will spin of his encounter, his wife said.
Shepard, who plans to return to bear hunting as soon as possible, said he learned a lesson from the experience.
“Try,” he said, “to stay out from under the bear.”
CORRECTION: Ryan Shepard’s wife’s name is Jennifer.