As an angry grizzly bear tossed around James Wanyandie, leaving his left arm busted and useless, the 39-year-old Alberta man was sure he was as good as dead.
He lay on the ground in the bush near Grande Cache, as he watched his elderly father, Tom, charge toward the attacking bear, yelling and using every Cree swear word he knew. And then, Tom, who is no ordinary senior citizen, took his walking stick, a branch picked up earlier off the ground, and rammed it down the animal's throat.
“I was surprised, yeah. He is 77, he'll be 78 next week,” James said Tuesday of his father.
“He's pretty brave and tough,” he added from his hospital bed in Grande Prairie, where he's recovering from surgery.
The Wanyandies live north of Grande Cache, about 430 kilometres west of Edmonton. On Saturday evening, James, an accomplished artist and outdoorsman, and Tom, a long-time hunter, trapper and guide, decided to take a look in the backcountry for shed moose antlers. James is fond of using the material for carving sculptures.
With one antler in a pack, the men walked toward their truck, about 550 metres in the distance, along a familiar, dirt, oil-field services road near Prairie Creek. As they came over a ridge, James spotted a bear cub up a tree. He pointed out the animal, gripped his .270-calibre rifle a little tighter, but by then it was too late.
“Right away I saw that bear behind the tree come cruising straight at me. I fired. I don't know if I missed or hit it. But it just kept on coming. I moved a little bit to the side and it went by, turned around and just grabbed me on the arm,” James said. “It swung me around and wrestled me.”
Tom intervened, jabbing and whacking the bear as he hollered. That's when the sow turned its attention to the older man.
Helpless, James couldn't reload the gun and watched the bear attack his father – Tom would break a hand in the melee. As the animal bounded back toward James, grabbing his legs and dragging him, Tom proved he still had some fight left in him.
“He ran at it and stood his ground and swore at it again. It either ran or walked away,” James recalled.
The two wounded men left their belongings behind and hobbled toward the truck, promising each other that they could make it. As they talked later, both said they were convinced they were dead.
“He was really thankful that something was taking care of us,” James recalled his dad saying at the time.
James drove until they found a spot with cell service so he could call his wife, Carol, who in turn called 911. They drove for a while longer until an ambulance met them on the highway. Tom was treated in the local medical centre and released. James was sent 190 kilometres north to hospital, but expects to be released today.
Dave Ealey, a spokesman with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, said officials located a bullet at the scene, but no sign it had wounded an animal. They also found no trace of the bear, but posted warning signs in the area.
“It had done the behaviour that we would expect of the bear,” Mr. Ealey said. “It wasn't anything unusual. The sow saw the men coming too close to its cubs.”
Friends and family said the close call could have been much worse, but are revelling in Tom's heroism and even finding some humour in it.
“He was calling it very unkindly names,” said Bazil Leonard, who has known the Wanyandie family for three decades, “because he talks English very poorly, so any Cree swear word, he was using them all.”
“Tom's not the kind of man that would run,” he added. “He'd fight no matter what. He's not a 78-year-old you might find in an old-folks home.”