Alex Neumann’s claw and bite wounds are healing after he was mauled by a grizzly bear in northern B.C. last month, but memories from the attack are harder to deal with.
Neumann’s hands still shake and his sleep is interrupted by nightmares. He hopes telling his story will help his recovery.
“I still don’t know why I’m alive,” he said.
Neumann, 50, grew up hunting and fishing in northern B.C. As a teenager, he ran a trapline near his rural home on the forested outskirts of Prince George.
“I’ve been around bears all my life,” said Neumann. “I always respected them. This is their home I’m going into. Never had an issue, ever.”
Until last month.
It happened in the middle of May when Neumann was on his way to a ranch job about 70 kilometres northeast of Prince George. He was early, so he pulled his truck over for a quick visit to a favourite fishing spot on the Willow River.
Neumann hiked down an overgrown trail to a high ridge above the river. It was a windy day and the sound of rushing water filled his ears.
He didn’t hear the grizzly sow or her three tiny cubs. He didn’t even have a chance to turn around. He said the sow grabbed him by the shoulder, picked him up and bit down.
Man surprised grizzly with cubs
“It was like a popping sound. She had a good hold on me. I held on to her head when she grabbed me. If I hadn’t, I would have been ripped apart probably. She literally picked me up off my feet.”
The sow’s breath smelled like “dead salmon along the river,” he recalled.
“This is what happens when you die,” Neumann remembers thinking. “It was almost like you’re looking at your own body and just watching what happens to it.”
Holding him aloft, the bear shook him twice and threw him into a grove of alders.
That’s when the grizzly cubs took an interest in the man in their midst.
“Each time the cubs came, her aggression would build,” he said. “Her ears were down, she was clicking her teeth. She made huffing sounds at first. Then heavy guttural breathing that you could feel through your entire body.”
‘If I don’t get out of here … soon, I’m gone’
“I was getting into the stages of panic, and then everything went kind of clear,” he said. “If I don’t get out of here and do it soon, I’m gone.”
Neumann said he slowly got up and started to backtrack down the trail. “I started talking to her. ‘Okay, Mom, I don’t want to hurt your babies. It’s OK. I’m not going to touch them.’ I said that all the way down the trail.”
The sow followed him all the way to his truck, drooling, huffing and swatting the ground.
“That was the most terrifying part,” said Neumann. “I knew if I were to trip she would be on top of me.”
Neumann didn’t think he would make it to his truck, but he did. His hands were shaking so hard, he couldn’t get the key into the ignition at first. “I looked out the window and she’s sitting beside my truck. It terrified the hell out of me. I knew she could rip the truck door off.”
But Neumann managed to drive away.
‘I was so glad she let me live’
“I was so glad she let me live, that was the main thing in my head. I felt this bear had the opportunity to pull me into a million pieces and she didn’t,” he said.
He wanted to protect the mother bear. “This is on Mothers’s Day. I knew if I report this now [to Conservation Officials], they’re probably going to have to destroy her.”
Instead, he headed straight for the hospital emergency department in Prince George. “There were no broken bones. There were no stitches. Just puncture wounds and a ripped shoulder,” he said.
Neumann was given antibiotics for his bite wounds and sent home, but he developed an infection under his shoulder blade. His puncture wounds were extremely painful, but the psychological trauma was worse.
“I didn’t want to admit it to anybody, because that would mean I’d have to talk about it,” said Neumann, who has since sought counselling.
‘I couldn’t even go in my … backyard’
“I couldn’t even go in my own backyard. Every tree I saw that had a black shadow in between it was too risky. I missed out on picking wild asparagus,” he said.
But Neumann is more worried about the reaction of people who hear his story. “I don’t want the message to be about this vicious horrible animal.
“I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Neumann. “I don’t want people to fear going in the outdoors, because it’s so beautiful.”