The ability to suppress panic and an article clipped from a magazine and passed along by his grandmother helped Chase Dellwo, 26, survive a grizzly bear mauling Saturday morning northwest of Choteau.
He has a couple of hundred stitches and staples in his head, some stitches on his face, a bruised and swollen left eye and deep puncture wounds on his right leg. He also has an incredible story to tell of a tangle with a 350-400 pound male grizzly. It is a story that has a good ending and no villains.
"I want everyone to know that it wasn't the bear's fault, he was as scared as I was," Dellwo said from his hospital bed at Benefis Health System Sunday afternoon.
Chase Dellwo and his brother Shane, 30, headed out on Saturday morning to bow hunt for elk. The wind was blowing 30 to 40 miles per hour with snow and rain.
The brothers spotted an elk herd and decided to have Chase walk up a narrow creek bed, hoping he would drive the animals up to a ridge where Shane would wait.
"About 8 to 10 minutes in I heard a bull bugle, so I quickened my pace," Chase said.
It wasn't until he was just three feet away that he realized he was approaching a bear that had been sleeping. The windy conditions meant the bear was as surprised as Dellwo.
"I had an arrow nocked, and I put my bow up in front of me and took two or three steps back," he said. "There wasn't any time to draw my bow back."
The bear knocked Dellwo off his feet and bit down on the top and back of his head.
"He let go, but he was still on top of me roaring the loudest roar I have ever heard," Dellwo said.
The bear left and Dellwo managed to sit up.
"He came back and bit my lower right leg and gave it a pretty good shake and threw me a ways," he said.
The bear came after him again.
"I remembered an article that my grandmother gave me a long time ago that said large animals have bad gag reflexes," Dellwo said. "So I shoved my right arm down his throat."
It worked. The bear left.
Dellwo started to walk out, bloodied and disoriented.
"I saw a six-point elk on the way out, that was disappointing," he said with a laugh.
He wasn't laughing at the time however.
"I forced myself to calm down and not to panic," he said. "I was lost. I cleared the blood out of my eyes. If I had allowed myself to panic I would still be in there."
He made it out of the drainage and found Shane.
"He was lifting his bow above his head and kind of waving it and I thought he had shot an elk," Shane said. "He had to tell me he had been bitten by a bear."
Shane was worried that Chase had sustained injuries to his abdomen or back that could be life threatening. Once they determined that was not the case, they high-tailed it to the Benefis Teton Medical Center.
"It took about 20 minutes, 20 minutes of driving too fast," Chase said.
Shane called ahead and the hospital staff was waiting.
"Thank goodness we have that facility available," he said.
Chase's wife Becca was at home in Belgrade when she got the call from her brother-in-law.
"Normally, I would be hunting with him," she said. "I was just relieved when I saw him."
She said the family is grateful for the excellent care Chase received at both Benefis Teton Medical Center and Benefis in Great Falls.
Chase expects to be released from the hospital in the next day or two and will probably sit out the rest of this archery season.
"I shoot with my left hand and my left eye is pretty beat up and swollen," he said
But he plans to chase elk when rifle season opens.
Growing up in Teton County, Saturday's bear encounter was not his first.
"We had a bear in our house when we were kids and last fall there was one in the back of my dad's pickup," Chase said. "I've had bears charge me before, but until Saturday, the closest was about 20 yards."
Chase was not carrying bear spray and the windy conditions probably wouldn't have allowed it to be effective. The speed of the encounter wouldn't have allowed time to discharge any spray.
But when asked if he had advice for others after being mauled by a bear Saturday Chase and Becca answered in unison.
"Carry bear spray."
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