ANCHORAGE — A man who recently was mauled by a grizzly bear near northern Alaska’s remote Brooks Range said he recognized the animal that left him with broken teeth and a deep gash in his arm from his guide trips.
Jim Tuttle said he and the hunters he guided often spotted the bear, nicknamed Buddy. But the animal was never aggressive toward them until two weeks ago, when Tuttle was walking along a creek and saw it charging.
Tuttle said 16 years of guiding in the area had dulled him to the risks of working in bear country. When the incident occurred earlier this month, he was walking to a caribou carcass by himself, armed only with a pair of trekking poles.
“I am partly to blame. I got complacent, and I paid for it,” he told the Anchorage Daily News. “I guess I should have had a gun in my hand, safety off, ready to shoot.”
He said the attack northwest of Anaktuvuk Pass lasted less than 15 seconds. When it was over, Tuttle was spitting out broken teeth and needed a tourniquet on his left arm. One of his cheekbones was cracked.
Because of dense fog, Tuttle had to wait 36 hours for a National Guard helicopter to reach him. Following surgery and dozens of stitches, he is recovering at his Anchorage home.
Tuttle suffered nerve damage to the face and wounds to his groin and knee have temporarily hobbled him. A cast on his left wrist has fixed his forearm in place so it can grow back muscle.
Tuttle, 52, said he feels lucky to be alive.
He had flown into the hunting camp in early August, where he planned to stay for two weeks. The camp was 15 miles from the base camp run by his outfitter, Arctic North Guides.
Chris Carrigee, who stayed in Tuttle’s camp with his son before the mauling, said grizzlies were commonly in the area and would eat meat scraps that hunters left behind.
Carigee had taken photographs of his son and Tuttle in front of Buddy with their coffee and oatmeal. He said he didn’t feel there was any danger.
On Aug. 14, after Carrigee and his son left, Tuttle was working with new hunters. The group killed a caribou that morning. They carried some of the meat back to camp and ate lunch before Tuttle returned to the carcass.
He heard the bear coming from behind him. He swung his hiking poles in the animal’s face, but the bear knocked him over and bit him on the arm and hand before walking away.
“I thought maybe I’d get lucky, and she’d leave. No, she turned right back around, and then really chewed and got into where she could bite my face,” Tuttle said. “I said to myself, ‘You’re dead.’
After the bear left, Tuttle made a tourniquet from rope in his backpack, and waited 10 minutes to make sure the bear didn’t return, before limping back to camp.
The hunters called to request a rescue, but the camp was fogged in.
The owner of Tuttle’s outfitting company flew in the following morning during a break in weather with a retired paramedic and medical supplies. But they left Tuttle, believing they couldn’t fly him all the way to a hospital.
At 3 a.m. the following morning, the National Guard helicopter came.
The bear was killed by one of the hunters in Tuttle’s group. Harry Reynolds III, a retired biologist who worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for more than 30 years, said it’s hard to say what made the bear attack. “They’re wild animals,” he said.