MACHIAS, Maine — A 39-year-old man from Tuckasegee, N.C., was recovering Thursday at Down East Community Hospital after he was bitten earlier in the day by a bear while hunting in Marion Township.
Paul “Pudge” Lyndon McFalls said the entire experience felt like it flashed by in seconds and he knew he was lucky to be only minimally injured.
McFalls and his family have hunted for bear Down East for seven years and drove here last week, bringing their hunting dogs with them. When the hunting party of four brothers and four nephews entered the woods at 6 a.m. Thursday, McFalls was hoping to bag the fourth bear of his lifetime. But he never expected to be relating the day’s events from a hospital bed by noon.
McFalls’ uncle, Leonard “Doc” Luker, said he saw the bear first, just before 8 a.m. “But I couldn’t get a shot,’’ he said. That’s when the bear headed toward McFalls’ position.
In a thick Southern accent, McFalls recalled that his dogs “turned on a big bear,” which he pronounced “bar.” The bear kept circling around and around, trying to shake the group’s hunting dogs, which included Plott hounds, redbone coon hounds, and Walker coon hounds.
“The bear headed into the swamp to get away,” McFalls said. “Then he turned by me, about 20 feet away from me. I shot him and it knocked him down. He rolled over and I could see he was moving his legs. I wanted to protect the dogs, who were swarming all around him, so I stepped closer.”
McFalls said when he was about four feet from the bear, it suddenly got up on all four feet. “It was growling and it looked enormous. I shot it two more times and then it charged me and got me by my leg,” he said. McFalls said at that point he also suddenly realized that he had an empty gun.
“It grabbed my leg with its front paws and mouth and pinned me against a tree. It felt like it was pulling my leg off. I fell backwards and it began shaking my leg like a dog with a bone.”
Somehow, McFalls was able to get a bullet into his .30-06 rifle and shoot one last time. The bear fell dead.
“I looked down at my leg and saw the blood and got on the radio. ‘He got me,’ I yelled. ‘I need help.’”
The bear had bitten through McFalls’ leather boot in at least two places. It also bit him higher up, near the calf.
McFalls’ fellow hunters and two guides from Puckerbrush Guide Services out of East Machias — Wayne Gatcomb and Bill Dereszewski — came to his aid.
“I was screaming like a little girl,” McFalls admitted with a laugh.
Luker said those minutes trying to get to his nephew were terrifying. He said the undergrowth is so thick in the area they were hunting that he literally had to part the trees with his hands to slip through.
“We could hear him hollering and we weren’t sure what we’d find when we got to him,” Luker said.
“I had such a sense of disbelief,” McFalls said. “I just couldn’t believe he had a hold of me.”
While awaiting the ambulance, McFalls showed a sense of humor. “I could tell that Wayne was shook up so to make him at ease, I got on the radio and told him I expected this bear to be mounted for free,” McFalls said.
McFalls was taken by ambulance to Down East Community Hospital.
His leg was not broken, he said. Doctors did not stitch up several deep gashes and teeth puncture wounds because a bear’s mouth is considered very dirty and can cause serious infections.
“But I hope to be out of here by Saturday,” he said. “I can’t hunt because I’ve already tagged my bear, but I can be with the boys.”
Gatcomb said the male bear officially weighed 450 pounds and Game Warden Alan Curtis estimated it to be 10 to 12 years old. Gatcomb said the bear involved was one he had seen two weeks ago while hunting with dogs and a party from Pennsylvania.
“But they were not aggressive enough and the bear got away,” Gatcomb said. He added that bears “are not aggressive unless they are cornered.”
“They are not dangerous,” McFalls said. “The only reason he came at me is because he was wounded.” Curtis agreed. “None of the hunters did anything wrong here. This just happened.”
The last report of a hunter being bitten by a bear was a year ago, in September 2010, at Township 5 Range 7 in northern Penobscot County, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Ryan Shepard, 37, of Shin Pond was hunting with three friends and dogs when he was bitten in the arm and leg by a 300-pound bear that he had shot and mortally wounded.
McFalls and Luker said the family members always stay at a camp on Hadley Lake and that they will definitely be back next year. “We have probably more bears in North Carolina than you do, but the woods are too full of hunters there,” Luker said. “When you hear the dogs, you aren’t even sure if they are yours or not.”
“We love it here,” McFalls said. “It’s remote. We don’t see a lot of other hunters. It’s just us. Oh, we see deer, moose.”
And bear, he was reminded. “Oh yes, that bear’s going on my wall.”