Bear Terror in the Deer Woods!

A chance encounter leads to a horrific attack on a bowhunter, who barely survives to tell the tale of his mauling at the claws and jaws of a sow bear.

By Robert Brunisholz

It was in the anemic half-light of a late November afternoon when a Pennsylvania bowhunter hunkered down in a ground blind in the shadows of a large hemlock tree. From his vantage point the archer surveyed several nearby buck scrapes. It was about 4:30 p.m., and sportsman James Adams didn't know it at the time, but the next few moments would be the most terrifying of his life. Emergency medical technicians, doctors and wildlife managers would later say that Adams narrowly escaped a nightmarish and gruesome death.

Shortly before 5 p.m., Adams, then 24, was mauled and severely bitten throughout most of his body, not once, but twice in the span of 10 to15 minutes by a sow black bear. So brutal was the attack that at the time of the initial interview when he was recovering, Adams said he was happy to be alive. He also said that during the attack, death would have been a welcome interloper.

Adams said he was with his brother that day, but for reasons best determined by the fickle finger of fate, the two had decided to hunt separately. Consequently, his brother had driven to a farm owned by a cousin of the two brothers: Sherm Adams. When they arrived at the farm, the brother dropped James off and continued driving to another whitetail hotspot he'd been scouting, a distance of some four miles.

"My brother and I often hunt together or at least close by, but on this day, he wanted to try another spot that he'd recently found. He said it showed good promise for deer. Subsequently, I went to one of my favorite places where there was also good buck sign," Adams said.

"I was in my blind when, all of a sudden, with no warning sounds, several black bear cubs scurried out alongside of the place I had concealed myself with camo and cover scents. Within seconds, they were right in front of me, only a few feet away," Adams said. "I knew there would be a female, or sow bear, in close proximity to the cubs, so I stood to announce my presence to the cubs. I shouted something like, 'Scoot, get out of here,' hoping they would scurry off to the female."

But while Adams' attention was drawn to getting the cubs away from his ground stand, he heard what no hunter wants to hear. Even bear hunters armed with rifles would not want to hear this sound so close to them.

"While attempting to chase the cubs back to the sow that I knew had to be in the vicinity, from immediately behind me I heard a rather large twig or small branch snap. Unfortunately, the noise wasn't somewhere off in the distance. The snapping noise was immediately behind me, only a few feet away, if that," Adams said. The next few moments were to be the most horrific of his life.

When Adams turned around, the bear was standing on its hind legs. He was face to face with an angry sow black bear that was within arm's reach. Adams was about to take a trip down the road to eternity, or at least as close to eternity as one can get before finding a quick, albeit welcome, exit ramp.

Adams said he didn't recall the exact events when he turned and saw the bear, but he did recall with distinct clarity that it " . . . was painful."

The impact of the bear closing the short distance between it and Adams drove him to the ground as easily as if a pro-football linebacker had smashed him. At this point, Adams said, "Things became fuzzy."

The bear began to maul and bite him. Later, at the hospital, he would tell doctors and specialists as well as game managers, that he couldn't recall when each bite occurred and which of the two attacks accounted for the multiple wounds.

"I didn't know what else to do, so I just curled up in a ball with my hands and arms protecting my head and neck as best I could," Adams said. "The bear actually stood on me, that I do remember, and she kind of jumped up and down or pushed on my upper body really hard."

Though presently in a different division of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Dr. Gary Alt was, at the time, the commission's bear biologist. He is also one of the country's most respected and knowledgeable authorities on black bears.

Alt told Game & Fish he interviewed Adams while he was in the hospital. Alt also had the opportunity to view Adams' medical charts and his wounds.

Adams was severely bitten on both thighs, just above the knees. In addition, he had a slab of skin pulled from his side, near the waist. There were bite wounds on both shoulders and the upper left arm, Alt later told me.

But that wasn't the full extent of Adams' injuries, and the examination took place when Adams was finally safe and in the hospital. All of his wounds were not the result of only the one attack.

"It was difficult to see while it was going on. I had so much blood all over me, including in my eyes and around my head. I had a choice of trying to reach my brother some miles away or walking to my cousin's farm," Adams said.

After the sow bear left Adams apparently for dead, he began the trek to the farmhouse. He'd walked what he estimated to be perhaps 20 yards or a bit farther, when someone hit the rewind button and the horror went into instant replay.

"I was really injured. I mean bad, and losing a lot of blood. I was stumbling along when all of a sudden, there it was again, right in front of me only feet away. Because of my bloodied condition, I was concentrating on getting to the farmhouse. I never saw the sow returning. I do recall the first blow of the second attack was to my face from her front paw. I honestly don't recall much after that," Adams said.

Referring to the second attack, Dr. Alt later said, "It appears the bear hit Adams about the head during the second attack. Both hands were bitten clear through and there were severe wounds on his head. Fortunately, the bear's teeth didn't penetrate his skull, but large flaps of skin were pulled away from his head, and one (bite) had come dangerously close to his eye."

Fortunately, Adams didn't remember much of the second attack. Whether he was unconscious or semi-conscious, he doesn't recall, but he did remember being shaken ". . . like a rag doll."

"Judging from his wounds and our discussion at the hospital, the bear grabbed Adams by the buttocks and shook him like a puppy shakes an old sock," said Alt.

For the second time, the bear left Adams. When he finally managed to crawl, stumble and stagger to his cousin's farmhouse, he remembers his cousin telling him he was unable to recognize him.

"He told me later that when I arrived at his door, he didn't have the slightest idea of who I was," said Adams.

Sherm Adams called the rescue squad, but the wounds were so extensive that Adams had to be transferred later to a larger medical facility in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Most of the folks familiar with the story, many who are not hunters, by the way, said they'd bet the family farm that Adams' bowhunting days were over. They'd say that because they don't really know Adams.

Reached at his home recently, nearly a decade after the attack, Adams said that he not only bowhunted the following season, but as his wounds healed, he even managed to get in on the waning portion of the firearms season for deer.

"I've had no lingering effects from the damage the bear did, and I love bowhunting. That (attack) would not stop me," said Adams.

Considering what Adams went through and living to tell about it, somehow that doesn't surprise me.



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