It was the ultimate rude awakening for one Idaho hunter. With cooler fall temperatures, hunters sleeping outdoors might well expect “Jack Frost” to be nipping at their nose, but it’s an entirely different level of surprise to be jolted out of sleep by a bear chewing on your hair.
It took a minute for 29-year-old Stephen Vouch to understand what was happening to him. Vouch and his friends were hunting for bighorn sheep in Idaho’s Frank Church River-of-No-Return Wilderness. Vouch woke up at 2 a.m. when he felt a tug on his hair, and then…he heard the breathing, according to Idaho Fish and Game.
Still coming out of a deep sleep, he reached behind his head and felt the wetness. That’s when the Boise resident realized that a black bear was biting at his head and “kind of freaked out.”
The bear went from hair tugging to biting him, leaving lacerations on the top and side of his head. Vouch’s yells alerted other members of his hunting party and startled the bear, making it jump and hit the tarp that the group was sleeping under.
As the tarp tumbled, the animal and hunters became entangled. One of the hunters shot the bear at close range with a .45 caliber hand gun and the wounded animal retreated, climbing high into a nearby tree. A shaken Vouch collected himself enough to shoot and kill the bear.
The group was prepared for emergencies with basic medical supplies so they were able to patch up Vouch’s wounds before making the 3-day raft trip downstream before flying out of the remote wilderness area. Vouch was then treated at a hospital for the cuts on his head.
Idaho Fish and Game officials estimate the bear was between 3-7 years old and weighed 200-275 pounds. It’s not clear why the bear entered the camp in the first place, according to state wildlife manager Jon Rachael, because the hunters had stored their food properly.
One possibility is that the bear may have become accustomed to finding food from the many rafters who float the nearby Salmon River each summer, or it may have never encountered humans before and out of curiosity chomped on what appeared to it to be fur. It’s been a tough year for bears in the area because of destructive wildfires and droughts that have combined to make it a bad berry season – a key food source for the animals.
Vouch and his companions were able to retrieve the bear carcass for rabies testing which came back negative, and since the hunters were not suspected of any wrongdoing in the incident, Vouch got a trophy – as if he needed a reminder of his adventure – he was allowed to keep the bear hide and skull.
In the next several weeks he plans to return to the area to continue hunting for bighorn sheep since the opportunity is so rare: in Idaho hunters are allowed to harvest just one in their lifetime.