When the night finally went silent again, at about 2 a.m., and the bloodied bear had disappeared into the darkness, Brandon Johnson lay unmoving. This was in eastern Pine County, near Duxbury, and Johnson's left arm was mangled and broken. His right arm and hand — the one that held the knife he had shoved into the bear's mouth — was also broken. Leg. Midsection. Face. Head. Johnson bled from each.
The evening had begun quietly enough. Johnson, 44, and a few friends, including Craig Lindstrom, 54, and Trevor Nowack, 24, had gathered at Johnson's hunting camp. The surrounding acreage is frequented by deer and other wildlife. But in September, the men, all from the north metro area, pursue black bear, targeting the animals selectively with their bows.
Late the previous afternoon, Nowack drew back on a big bruin. An experienced hunter, Nowack believed he had a good bead on the animal when he loosed an arrow, which he later found covered in blood. Still, to be sure, he didn't follow it immediately, thinking it better to allow the bear to amble away unhurried, and die a short distance away.
"It was a little after midnight when we went into the woods to track the bear," Lindstrom said. "It had been 82 degrees that day, and we didn't want the meat to spoil."
Headlamps and powerful spotlights illuminating their way, Johnson, Lindstrom and Nowack picked up the bear's trail in the darkness. Of the three, only Lindstrom carried a sidearm, a Glock .45.
"We followed the bear into a swampy, boggy area," Lindstrom said. "We were up to our knees in water."
Which is when the men came to a river.
"Trevor waded in, and was quickly up to his armpits," Lindstrom said. "Brandon crossed, too. I didn't. But shortly thereafter, when they were maybe 170 yards ahead of me, I heard them yell that they had kicked up the bear, and that it might be coming my way."
Shining narrowly into the darkness, Lindstrom's headlamp offered little comfort as it searched left and right for movement in the blackened swamp. But the bear wasn't headed toward him.
Instead, it had reversed course, and charged Johnson, flattening him and sending his headlamp flying.
"Brandon remembers seeing stars in the sky, with the bear standing over him, its mouth open and going for his neck," Lindstrom said. "He felt one of the bear's teeth going into his chin."
Blocking the animal's thrust, Johnson threw his left arm into its mouth, while with his hunting knife in his right hand, he repeatedly stabbed the bear.
Nowack, not far away, was yelling, and Lindstrom, .his 45 out of its holster, crossed the river.
Retreating, the bear tricked Johnson into thinking the attack had ended.
"I'm hurt, I'm hurt," Johnson whispered to Nowack, who stood not far away.
Then the bear charged again, and once more Johnson shoved his left arm and wrist into the animal's mouth.
The bear broke and twisted them both.
Again Johnson stabbed the bear. And again, and again.
Then, growling, the bear stood back momentarily, before attacking a third time. Now unable to lift his left arm, Johnson shoved his right hand, with the knife, into the bear's mouth.
The bear broke that arm, too, then began gnawing on Johnson's leg and chest.
Then the animal disappeared.
Running to Johnson, his .45 in hand, Lindstrom felt for a pulse. Nothing. He wiped blood from Johnson's face. "Can you breathe?" he asked his friend. Johnson took a breath. Then Johnson whispered: "I'm not going to make it. Tell my kids I love them."
Applying a tourniquet to Johnson's left arm and placing a sling around both of his arms, Lindstrom and Nowack half-walked and half-dragged their injured friend through the swamp, across the river and to their four-wheelers about a mile away, a journey that took perhaps three hours. A few miles of bumpy trail riding followed and, ultimately, a medevac flight to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.
That was Sept. 27.
Today, three surgeries later and more to come, Johnson remains in his own kind of quarantine, unable to use his left arm, unable to work …
And wondering how he will pay his medical bills, including ongoing physical therapy.
Wanting to help, his friends have established a website, bbbfundraiser.com, to which contributions can be made.
A fundraising dinner on Jan. 17 also is planned in the Stacy-Lent Township Hall in Stacy, Minn.
"We're all experienced bear hunters, but we learned a few things," Lindstrom said. "Heat or not, we should have backed out that night when we couldn't find the bear right away. And each of us should carry a sidearm when bow hunting for bears."
Epilogue: Ten hunters searched for the bear later that day, finding it lying dead a short distance from the site of the melee. The animal weighed more than 500 pounds field-dressed. It took four hours to drag the bear from the woods.