The 600-pound grizzly, growling and snapping its massive teeth, charged down the mountain like a runaway train toward the two elk hunters.
"It was bearing down on us 400 miles per hour, in full attack mode," said John Wasser, 66, of Stillwater. Wasser was archery hunting with Kim Wunderlich, 49, of Kalispell, Mont., and two other friends last week in the wilderness west of Yellowstone National Park when the bear came out of nowhere and attacked.
The sow, its two cubs nearby, pounced on Wunderlich, who was just steps away from Wasser. Neither had time to react, though Wunderlich said he instinctively thrust his bow in the bear's mouth at impact.
"It felt like a car hit me," Wunderlich said Thursday. "She was coming down the hill as fast as she could run."
While Wasser watched in shock, bear and man tumbled down the hill about 20 yards. "I felt her bite me," Wunderlich said. And among the thoughts he said flashed through his mind: "Is she going to kill me?"
The bear bit Wunderlich once, puncturing both of his legs. Wasser screamed and started to grab for an arrow when the bear ran off.
"The whole encounter was maybe 15 seconds," Wasser said.
The attack occurred on Wunderlich's 49th birthday. Two other friends, Bob Marcue, 64, of Wayzata, and another Montana man, were hunting on the other side of the mountain.
Wunderlich, an experienced hunter and land surveyor who has encountered grizzlies before, but never been attacked, was shaken.
"I didn't know how bad she had bit me, and didn't know if she was coming back," he said. The two gathered their gear and started hiking the 11/2 miles back to their four-wheeler. After a short distance, they stopped to check and bandage Wunderlich's wounds.
"It looked worse than I had thought," Wunderlich said. "The puncture wounds were the diameter of a 50-cent piece." But they hiked out and eventually got to a hospital in Dillon, Mont., two hours away. Wunderlich now is recovering at home.
A strong wind was blowing toward the grizzly, so he doesn't believe they surprised it.
"She was just over-the-top aggressive," he said. Even if they had been carrying guns, it wouldn't have mattered, both men said. "We had zero time to react," Wunderlich said.
Another hunter was attacked by a grizzly a few days before, about 3 miles away. Authorities are investigating whether the same bear attacked both men.
Wasser and Wunderlich both said that they accept the risks of venturing into the wild.
"That's part of being there," Wasser said.
Wunderlich has no health insurance, so Wasser and Marcue have set up a fund to help with his medical expenses: Kim Wunderlich Benefit Fund, Americana Bank, 3330 County Road 101, Minnetonka, MN 55391.
Doug Smith • 612-673-7667