If you want to survive a bear attack, the first step is to not get into a bear attack. You can avoid confrontations with hungry predators by following one key tip: Do not go into the woods at midnight looking for the bear. Unfortunately for three Minnesota guys, no person with common sense ever gave them that advice. They lived to tell the tale, so that we can marvel at their rationale on the Internet — er, be impressed at how they managed to escape.
In the fall of 2014, Brandon Johnson was 44 years old. You’d think he’d have aged out of crazy stunts by 44. Either he still was chasing that adrenaline rush, or maybe there just weren’t enough pool halls or sports events to occupy the gentlemen of Sand Stone, Minnesota.
Johnson, accompanied by his friends Craig Lindstrom and Trevor Nowack, aged 54 and 24, respectively, had been out bow-hunting black bears on September 27th. Nowack had found one and shot it, but instead of firing a second arrow, he chose to let it wander and die on its own.
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Now, it’s worth noting the three men — Johnson especially — had been hunting since they were young. With nearly four decades of experience, Johnson knew his way around the woods. He certainly wasn’t an idiot.
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However, there are always risks to high-stakes activities like bear hunting, and if one makes a habit of shooting wild animals, eventually you might have a close scrape with a very angry one. In Johnson’s case, it would soon come time to pay the piper.
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It had been 82ºF that day. The men were worried that the bear meat, which they would preserve, would spoil in the heat once it died, so they set out four hours later into the woods. They felt that the bear would have bled out by then.
Though they all carried headlamps, only one of the men had a firearm, and it wasn’t Johnson. Lindstrom’s Glock .45 would prove to be essential, but he’d be too far away from the bear to use it.
Before long, they were able to find the trail of blood that the injured bear had left earlier in the day. In the dim lights, they tracked it through the trees and into a swampy area.
The brackish, muddy water was coming up to their knees when the trees cleared out, and they found themselves at a river. With no way out but forward, they decided to cross.
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Nowack, the youngest, went first. He waded in, followed by Johnson, and the water came up to their armpits. When they reached the other side, Lindstrom was about 170 yards behind them, still in the swamp, when he heard them yelling.
In the darkness, the two frontrunners thought they might have found the bear, and tried to warn Lindstrom that it might be headed his way. He swept his surroundings quickly with his light, but saw nothing. Little did they know the animal had changed its course.
Sensing trouble, Nowack handed his hunting knife to Johnson, who was about to go ahead of him on the trail. It was an $8 knife Nowack had picked up at a flea market, with just a five-inch blade, but it would be better than nothing.
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Just a minute later, Johnson heard a twig snap. He took three steps before the creature was on him, knocking him flat. The first thing he realized was that a second ago, he’d been looking at the ground; now he was staring at the stars.
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He didn’t have long to admire the view. The bear’s massive teeth swung into view: its muzzle was going for his throat. Johnson swung both hands up to grab it and push it away, but a row of razor sharp teeth sank into his face.
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However, in his fall, Johnson hadn’t lost grip of Nowack’s knife. With his left arm, he tried to keep the bear’s jaws from ripping his skin off. With his right hand, he plunged the blade into whatever fur he could find.
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Then, the bear lumbered off as swiftly as it had come. Though it was only a few minutes, Johnson lay silent and motionless for what seemed like forever, trying not to attract it again. Soon, a shadow broke the treeline. He thought it was Nowack.
But he was wrong. It was the bear again, and the thing was running jaws-open straight for his crotch. Johnson locked his knees, and again used his left arm, now broken in three places, to block the attack while he stabbed with his right.
Johnson lost count of how many times he stabbed the bear. It climbed off him and came back once more before he was able to get the knife down its throat and deliver a fatal blow that would finally drive it off. By then, he was barely alive.
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It had only been a few minutes, but the attack was savage. Lindstrom had just crossed the river, gun drawn, when the bear was gone. He and Nowack carried Johnson three hours back to their camp, where he got a medevac to the nearest hospital.
Friends and family contributed to fundraisers to help cover the steep costs of Johnson’s medical bills. He required at least six surgeries to put him back together, and was lucky and grateful to be alive. “It’s amazing that I even had the knife,” he said.
Nine months after the attack, Johnson hadn’t yet been able to get back to work, but was well enough to be on his feet, and was planning to return to hunting. “You have to face your demons,” he said.
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The trio showed off their survival skills by — perhaps unwisely — fighting off a wild black bear. Deadly as that species may be, it is actually far from the most dangerous animals in the Americas, as another outdoorsmen might tell you.
It was Good Friday, 2015. Rick Nuemann was celebrating the weekend with his good friend, Julian Cruz, 3 miles off the coast of Florida. They were on a 20-foot vessel, talking politics, grand kids, and fishing.
But for Rick, fishing wasn’t a sport where you kicked your feet up and relaxed with a cold beer. He was a spear fisher. “Spearfishing is like hunting in the fish’s element,” Rick always told his skeptical friends. “It’s a charge.”
That thrill of the hunt saw Rick, below, and Julian sliding into skin-tight wet suits and trading in fishing rods and lines for an old-fashioned spear. In over five decades of “shooting” fish, he never ran into any problems in the water.
This day started out as well as any: right away, Rick shot a 51-pound cobia. He was happy with the catch, but as the morning bled into the afternoon, he grew restless. The visibility in this part of the ocean wasn’t great. They needed to move.
Julian captained the ship to a different reef and jumped into the water, spear in hand. Following spearfishing protocol, Rick waited aboard the ship: having two divers down below would spook any cobia. Finally, his friend returned with good news.
“There are cobia down there,” Julian reported as he slipped back on to the ship empty-handed. This was welcome news for Rick, who was antsy to get back into the water himself. There was, however, a vital piece of information missing from Julian’s report.
The hungry shark knew this was a good spot for cobia, and the hungry shark was on his way to that spot for lunch. Of course, Julian couldn’t have known that, which was why Rick jumped fearlessly into the water with no idea how his life was about to change.
Spear in hand, Rick dove down 40 or so feet, his eye on a cobia. He neared his target, felt his fingers tighten on his weapon, and… was smacked hard in the side of the head.
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The collision beneath the sea was hard, like a car accident. In a moment of complete disorientation, Rick saw his scuba mask go flying and a 500-pound shark swimming away. He calmed himself. The shark was gone. He was alive. Then he touched his neck.
He felt warmth — his blood pouring from his neck. His adrenaline truly pumping, he swam back to the surface, hoping to scurry back on to the ship. He didn’t know how bad the damage was… until he saw Julian’s face.
What Julian saw was ghastly: Rick’s ear was attached by a thin thread of skin. The cheek the shark had crashed into sported a deep, gushing wound, which gurgled blood onto the deck of the ship and into his wet suit. Without help, he was going to die.
So Julian called 911. He ran to the ship’s controls and steered towards shore as his ghost-white friend — a grandfather — clutched weakly to the ship’s console. Every time the ship hit a wave, Rick spilled more blood on to the deck. His time was limited.
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The 20-foot ship fought hard against the waves. To keep his friend alert and focused, Julian asked Rick how he was doing. “Okay,” Rick said, underselling a bit. “But let’s get back as quickly as possible.”
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After 45 minutes, the ship finally reached the Florida shores, where paramedics were waiting. The rescue workers placed Rick on a gurney, hooked him up to some IVs, cut off his wet suit, and shoved him into a helicopter. He was on his way to St. Mary’s Hospital trauma center.
Rick was woozy when the chopper landed. The flashing lights and frantic scrambling of nurses in the trauma ward were a haze to his fading mind. He held on for awhile, but then, the world went black.
He woke up later with 200 stitches in his neck. “They reattached my ear, and closed up my cheek, the gashes down my neck, and some more on my shoulder and back,” Rick said of the trauma doctors. With a clear head, he looked back at the moment.
“The doc said I was lucky,” Rick recalled. “There are all kinds of arteries and glands in that part of the body that somehow didn’t get hit.” But the expert diver believed two things were responsible for saving his life.
The first life saver? The wet suit. “I was wearing a thick one because I’d thought we might hit some cold water,” Rick said. “Looking back, that suit probably saved me from a worse bite.” But there was another factor.
The shark! “He bit through the wet suit, and part of me, then realized neither one was a fish and just went on his way,” Rick said. “He was probably a little confused himself… Normally a shark is not going to go after a human being.”
After spending some time healing, Rick was ready to get back into the water. “I still have a healthy respect for the ocean,” he said. And “I need the exercise.”
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