Wilf Lloyd of Cranbrook (left) is pictured with his son-in-law Skeet Podrasky

Saved from the jaws of the grizzly

Bear attack survivor recounts one morning in October

It’s been a long month for Cranbrook’s Wilf Lloyd. On October 12, near Fernie, Lloyd was rushed, knocked over, pinned down and mauled by a grizzly bear.

Lloyd was out hunting elk at the time with his son-in-law Skeet Podrasky. Podrasky is credited with saving Lloyd by shooting the bear numerous times and killing it. Because of the close quarters, Lloyd also sustained a gunshot wound, but survived the attack, and was able to be flown to hospital in Calgary.

It’s going to be a long road to recovery for Wilf. After the attack he had five surgeries in just eight days. His wounds are now healing, but he’ll find out this week whether he will be ready in the next two to five months for a prosthetic knee.

Wilf and Skeet recently sat down with Mike Turner, local videographer, for an interview.

For the past few years, as part of a Thanksgiving tradition, Wilf and Skeet have gone out hunting near Fernie.

The evening before of Oct. 11 they managed to bugle in an elk and shoot at it, but didn’t appear to hit it. They spent some time looking for blood on the trails but couldn’t find any. Just to be sure they marked the area and decided to come back in the morning.

The next day they met to take another look.

“We started zigzagging and looking at different trails and it was thick — there were trees and little creeks,” Wilf said. “It took us about half an hour or so through the buck brush. We walked all the way through the bush. There was a field on the other side — we got to the field and we were pretty confident that there was no elk.”

But as they were walking back to the truck, Wilf spotted the skeletal remains of a whitetail deer. Wilf knelt down to check it out.

“As I knelt down, I was about down to my knees to pick it up.  I heard a noise below me. There was a little rise in the buck brush and really thick bush. I heard a noise and a thud — the bear had locked his eyes on mine.

“He was at a full charge — he was about seven yards away. I went to get up and I yelled at Skeet ‘bear,’ and by that time he’d hit me in the chest and rolled me over. I was on my back, and a second later he’s on top of me. His bodyweight was on my legs and his front, forearms and his paws were on my chest. He was pounding me back and forth and growling and making really weird noises. And he’s looking at my face and my throat and I know that’s what he’s trying to do — he’s trying to come in to kill me and close me out.

“I’m yelling at Skeet, ‘Shoot him! Get him off me! Shoot him!’” Wilf said.

As the bear came down his mouth was wide open — Wilf stuck his hand right into it.

“As he’s clamping down on my hand and biting — within seconds Skeet shoots. I could feel the vibration of the bullet through the bear’s body,” Wilf said.

The bear released Wilf’s hand —  his eyes rolled in the top of his head and he turned to look at Skeet before returning his attention to Wilf.

“I’m trying to kick him off with my legs still, he’s still got me pinned down and I’m yelling at Skeet “Shoot him again, Skeet, shoot him again.”

As Skeet took his second shot, Wilf’s leg was pressed into the bear’s mid-section and was hit by a bullet.

“The pain was intense and was like a burn. I look at the bear and now his eyes are focused on me. Again, I said to Skeet ‘shoot him, Skeet, shoot him!’ The bear’s growling and his face starts to come down and that’s when I jammed my right (arm) right down into his throat — he started to clamp down.”

The bear’s bite went right to the bone and damaged a nerve that runs to Wilf’s thumb, leaving no feeling there.

That’s when Skeet shot the bear again, knocking the bear back. Right away, Wilf said, the bear released Wilf’s arm. He jumped off of Wilf and moved away. Skeet was out of bullets so he came went over and got Wilf’s rifle.

“We look over and the bear’s running right at us again, and he’s growling,” Wilf said. “Skeet swings the gun and shoots him — the bear goes off into the buck brush and down into a little incline. He’s growling and flipping around.

“I’m left handed and Skeet’s right handed, so Skeet had to bring his hand over the bolt. It was awkward for him but he jacked another shell into the chamber. And just as he did that, we look up and the bear’s running at us again. So Skeet turned and fired again, and hit him and rolled him again, and as he was laying there, Skeet shot him again. He’s still growling and Skeet’s out of bullets. I had two in my chest pocket and I reached up and handed them to him. And he put those two in and shot him, and that was it.”

Skeet said the event was without a doubt the most terrifying thing he’s ever seen, watching a family member being attacked by a 500-pound grizzly bear.

After the bear was dead, Skeet called 911 and asked for a chopper. He knew he’d have to go to Calgary, or a bigger centre, because of the gunshot wound.

Skeet also called his cousin who lived nearby. His cousin and others brought a quad down with water and blankets and first aid kit. They were the first one to arrive.

From there more people started to arrive, including the paramedics.  Fernie Search and Rescue got there and cut trees to clear a trail.  They brought in a basket to to pack Wilf out. The RCMP, the Conservation Officer service were also on hand in a short while.

They had to pack Wilf down to the road, where an ambulance picked him up. The STARS helicopter couldn’t land because of mountain drafts so they shut down the nearby highway. The helicopter was able to land in a field near the turnoff to Morrissey.

Wilf said STARS saved his life. He lost half his quantity of blood — approximately two and a half litres — but was given a transfusion in the air ambulance. All the while, Wilf said, the pain was excruciating.

At Foothills Hospital in Calgary, Wilf had five surgeries in eight days.

The bullet had entered his leg in the calf. It hit the lower bone and followed the bone up and shattered the knee, then exited out the top half of his thigh.

The first surgery was to stabilize Wilf, as well as clean the damage and the soft tissue. The second surgery was to put a bar into his lower leg and upper leg.

“They meet in my kneecap, and there’s some kind of metal gel that is holding everything together because there is no knee,” he said. “So that’s what we’re waiting for — just time to heal.  I have a doctor’s appointment in Calgary (this week) and I believe he will cast this leg then because the wounds will have healed enough. My donor site from the skin graft is all healed — all the wounds had to be skin grafted.”

Wilf also had around 50 stitches total put in in both hands.

He still can’t put any weight on his wounded leg. He’s tried to go back into his shop to work on taxidermy, he said,  but after about five minutes the pain is unbearable.

But he is thankful to be alive.

“I know there’s a lot of people that don’t survive these kinds of things and I know each day that I got now is truly a blessing and a gift and I don’t take that for granted anymore.

“I look forward to each day and getting better and getting back to a normal life.”

Skeet is his hero, Wilf said.

“He’s the guy that saved my life. I phone him every few days, and there’s no regrets, there’s no looking back,” he said. “Because of what he’s done for me I get to see his kids and my grandkids and I get to see my wife again.

“Skeet and I have a bond for the rest of our lives that nobody will ever be able to take away, nobody will ever be able to break and some people will never understand it. And that’s okay. We understand it and I know what he’s done for my family and myself. And there’s not many times in a person’s life when you get to meet a true hero.”

As for why the bear attacked him, he said the Conservation Officer couldn’t find a reason. “Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason,” Wilf said.

“I’ve guided for bears, I’ve shot some bears. In the Kootenays we go out hunting and we’re in Griz country and we’re always aware of them. Usually it’s the 100 or 300 yards and they see us and run away,” he said. “This one we just don’t know. He was in his bed and didn’t hear us coming. He gets into an area where 30 yards is his safety zone and I’m within that and he charged. It’s all speculation.”

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