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Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting?: > 2004

GILLETTE HUNTER SURVIVES GRIZZLY MAULING

By WHITNEY ROYSTER

Star-Tribune environmental reporter Thursday, September 23, 2004

ACKSON -- A grizzly bear? Well, that ain't nothing to Wally Cash.

His family, though, might say otherwise. The 66-year-old Gillette man has a quarter-sized plate in his skull and pins in his hand from a grizzly mauling Tuesday.

Cash's complaint? His wife says he can't go hunting there anymore.

"I'm not scared of bears, and I'm still not scared," Cash said from his hospital room in Idaho Falls on Thursday. "I wouldn't hurt the bear, because I'm in her territory. She was afraid for her babies. I'm not a cruel person.

I love animals. It just got a little too close."

So close, in fact, that Cash didn't even see the grizzly until he was within 5 feet of her.

Cash was hunting near Kitty Mountain and Pilgrim Creek outside Moran Tuesday morning. He was trying to "push out" a bull elk from a stand of dark timber at about 9:30 a.m.

"I walked up in some steep draws, so steep I had to put my hands down," he said. "I was pretty quiet. I was sneaking along."

Cash came up over a small rise, and on the other side was the grizzly.

"I didn't see her or nothing until I heard the noise, and there she was," he said. "She knocked me down, and it was so steep, I probably fell back about 15 feet. I was in the air about 6 feet."

He said he heard the growling and continued to hear it except when the grizzly was biting him.

"I knew I had to get on my face right away," he said. "She bit a hole in my skull, about the size of a quarter."

The gash is above Cash's ear, and the grizzly bit through bone but did not

"get into the brain," he said. She bit on other parts of his skull, resulting in more superficial wounds.

"And then she bit my left hand real bad," he said. The bear broke bones in his ring finger that are now being held together by pins.

Cash said he laid still for "what felt like forever," then lifted his head to see if she was gone.

"I heard her come at me again," he said. This time the bear "tromped" on him but didn't cause any more serious injuries.

He said he doesn't remember any pain because everything happened so fast.

"Of course I had blood spurting everywhere, and I couldn't see," Cash said.

"I climbed to the top of the hill and shot off my rifle."

That rifle, his friends would tell him later, was covered in blood. Cash and his hunting partners had agreed that a gunshot would signal communication.

He sat on top of the hill, trying to keep calm, yelling "Help!" His friends thought he was saying, "Elk!"

A man came up with a first aid kit and patched the now-gushing wound in his head. Through walkie-talkie, the two contacted a third man, who called the

Teton County Sheriff's Department. The department recommended Cash be taken via helicopter to Idaho Falls because of his head injury.

Cash walked about 200 yards to where he knew the helicopter could land.

"I was pretty dazed," he said. Within 45 minutes, the chopper arrived and evacuated him to the hospital. He was immediately taken in to surgery.

Cash said the bear was eating on an elk the group had killed the night before, although they had it strung up on poles. He said he saw the tracks of her cubs in the snow in the area.

Cash said he had seen many bears during his few days in the area, both black and grizzly.

"I'm fortunate, you know," Cash said. "I'm ready to go back, but the wife says I can't go back. She says I have to find a new area. I've been going in this area for 44 years, and I love it."

Cash was expecting to return to Gillette today.

Environmental reporter Whitney Royster can be reached at (307) 734-0260 or at royster@trib.com

 

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