in the rugged wilderness northwest of Fort St. John, Jay Stafford and
his father were skinning an elk earlier this week when they were
attacked by three grizzly bears.
The two veteran outdoorsmen were debating what to do with the head of
the slaughtered elk when they realized they were being watched by a sow
and her two cubs.
"I heard a bear growl and I said, 'Dad, did you hear that?' And then the
wind blew and it sounded like it was just the wind comin' through the
trees," Jay Stafford said on Wednesday in a phone conversation from his
hospital bed in Fort St. John.
"So, I paid attention and looked up from the horns and I said, 'Oh my
God, Dad, it's a bear,' and it came down at us."
The female bear and her two cubs charged through the trees and down a
hill to where Stafford, 28, and his father, Terry, 57, were packing up
their elk meat.
The Fort St. John area residents had been out hunting for two weeks when
the attack occurred on Monday, and had just finished skinning and
de-boning the elk they shot the day before, when the bears descended on
"They just run down that hill fast as they could and they started
attacking," Jay Stafford said. "The one that came at me got up on his
back legs, knocked me down and then I was down, facing away.
"And then [it] went around the left side of me and then got a hold of my
Jay felt the bear's long, sharp teeth cut into his upper right thigh
before the bear left him and went for the horses, which he said were
"I got myself turned over and I seen [the bear] take off for where the
horses were standing," he said.
"I knew this was my only chance, so I went for the gun."
Jay dragged himself to his father's rifle, grabbed it and shot the bear
"They would have killed us. If I hadn't got the gun, they just would
have ... went at my dad and killed him finally and then me and then they
would have killed all four horses," he said.
Both men have spent significant amounts of their lives in the B.C.
wilderness, and have encountered grizzlies before, but Jay said they
have never witnessed -- or been the victims of -- such a brazen attack.
After the attack the two men, both suffering intense pain, got their
gear together, and started to leave. But they were miles from
civilization, and a five-hour horse ride from cellphone range where they
could call for help.
Two other hunters they had been traveling with were in the area, but
were not nearby, so Jay and Terry followed their trail.
"We come to a creek. It was quite a steep incline into the creek and I
was fairly weak and the horse kept fighting me to go down into it, so I
let him go down into it," Jay said.
"[The horse] fell, flipped over into the water with me on his back, so I
got myself up out of the water. And then I crawled up the bank and the
horse crawled up the bank over top of me and I got back up on the hill
and got on."
Terry and Jay -- who was now wet and cold as well as in severe pain --
eventually met their hunting partners, who treated their injuries and
rode with them through the dark to an old outfitters camp where they
could use their cellphones. The trip took more than five hours and they
did not reach the camp until after midnight.
It was too late and too dark for a helicopter to rescue them, but they
were flown out first thing the next morning.
Bessie Smith, who is Jay's mother and Terry's ex-wife, got news of the
attack first thing on Tuesday morning.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I just thank God my family's alive."
Smith said she has ordered her son not to go back into the bush.
But Jay, who is described by his friend Brad Thomson as a "true cowboy,"
said he hopes to get back out into the woods again later this year.
"He's a hell of a horseman," Thomson said of Jay.
Terry suffered severe scratches on his back and shoulder, but is
recovering at home. Jay is still in hospital and said he has "four large
holes" in his leg where the bear bit him.
The biggest puncture wound is about five centimetres long and 1.2
centimetres wide, he said.
Jay's puncture wounds are still too infected to be closed, but he is
expecting they will be stitched up in the next few days.
Keith Rande, a senior conservation officer in the Peace region, said
initial investigation indicates the sow was killed but the two cubs are
still in the area.
Rande said the two cubs, who are likely to be about two years old, will
be destroyed when they are found.
"We're really concerned about learned behavior from the sow," Rande
Young adult grizzlies also tend to cause "more problems" than more
mature bears, and Rande said the risk increases when they're "wandering
around without any direction" from their mother.
Rande said there have been increased reports of grizzly encounters in
the last few years, but "serious maulings aren't common."
Since 1985, five people have been killed by grizzlies and 54 people have
been injured. Last year, no one was killed by a grizzly bear, but two
people were injured.