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Perfect arrow shot saves life
Of The Gazette Staff

It was a one-in-a-million shot, but luckily for Ron J. Leming, his father accurately fired the arrow from his bow the one time it counted the most - as a 500-pound grizzly bear chased him downhill.

Ron J. and his father, Ron G. Leming, were archery hunting for elk up the South Fork of the Shoshone River in northwest Wyoming in mid-September, about 15 miles into the Washakie Wilderness from the trailhead. It's an area they are familiar with, having hunted there for the past 15 years.

For three days they'd bugled, cow-called and worked the woods, hoping to shoot a big bull. Fall is when elk breed. Big bulls bugle to challenge other bulls in hopes of breeding more cow elk. Hunters imitate the sounds in hopes of luring the testosterone-amped bulls into range.

The elder man, 62, had missed two shots on the two previous days. He has never shot an elk with his bow. But the father and son were calling in bulls, so when they left camp on horseback Sept. 12, hopes were high for success. At about 9 a.m., their expectations were realized when Ron J. Leming, uphill from his father about 40 yards, lured a five-point bull toward his dad by alternately bugling like a bull and mewing like a cow elk looking for a mate.

The bull came within 40 yards of Leming's father, stopping where he couldn't get a clear shot, although he had his arrow nocked in the bow, ready to shoot. Then the elk backed off 30 more yards, out of range, and raked a small tree with its antlers for about 15 minutes in a show of force.

"I heard something behind me at one point and didn't see anything," Leming said. Previously, a smaller spike bull had crept in as he was calling, running off when it realized the ruse. So Leming wasn't too worried.

This time, though, something different happened. The bull elk that had been shredding the tree bolted away.

Leming stood up to walk down to his father when again he heard a sound behind him. Turning, he found himself 15 feet away from a full-grown, 11-year-old male grizzly. The Lemings often encounter bears in the backcountry. It's a huge area that ties into Yellowstone and Teton national parks and the Washakie Wilderness. Last year, a six-point bull elk that Leming shot had been partially consumed by a bear when he returned to pack it out.

"I hollered at him," Leming said. "I said, 'Get out of here.' He waited about a half-second, laid his ears back and came at me full speed."

Initially, Leming thought about hooking his bow release, a triggerlike device, onto his bowstring and taking a shot. But as he fumbled to hook the release, he quickly discarded that idea. He ran around a tree and sprinted downhill, the big bear hot on his tail.

"I couldn't believe it," Leming recalled. "We always talk about what we would do if we ran into a bear. But you never think it's going to happen to you."

Leming said he considered standing his ground, but there was no way he was going to drop and play dead. If he dropped, he said, he wasn't sure if the bear would maul him or just start eating him.

"I'm not going to lay there and let something eat on me," he said.

Leming, a fence builder, is no small fellow. At 37, he stands 6 feet tall and weighs 230 pounds.

As he blazed past his father, he saw an arrow fly within a foot of his leg.

"The bear was two feet behind me at that point," Leming said. "I just kept running. I made it three more steps and the bear knocked me down."

As he was falling, Leming pivoted onto his back. As the bear bore down on him, he fought back, throwing punches and kicking to keep the bear away from his head.

"I wouldn't have wanted to be on the other end of those," his father said. "He definitely fought for all he was worth. That kid's Ford tough."

But the bear seemed undeterred. Chomping down, the bear bit into Leming's right arm, just below the elbow.

"I couldn't believe the force," he said.

Somehow, Leming managed to get back up and tried to escape again, this time getting tangled in the branches between two trees as he ran. The bear attacked from behind, biting into his shoulder and then pulling him down. This time, the bear bit through his gloved left hand. At the same time, his father was beating the bear on the back with his bow.

"The bear took a couple of steps toward my dad, then he just slowly turned and walked away from us," Leming said. "Dad put another arrow in his bow, but he didn't want to shoot."

The grizzly staggered down the hill about 80 yards and fell over dead. With his first shot at the running bear, the elder Leming had likely nicked the bear's aorta, causing it to quickly bleed out.

"I was covered in blood," Leming said. "I didn't know if it was my blood or the bear's.

"My dad pretty much saved my life there," he said. "That's the thing I cannot believe in this whole story. He stood there with a bow and made that shot at a charging grizzly bear. That's amazing. You could take that shot a thousand more times and never do it."

"I'm just glad it ended the way it did," his father said "The only thing that went through my head was that bear was going to maul my boy.

"I just knew I had one shot. I never thought it would do what it did."

The elder Leming said he was exceptionally unruffled during the whole incident.

"I was just calm as can be, and I don't know why," he said.

He said he prays often. He prays for his family's safety. And that morning, before hunting, he prayed that God would guide his arrow, although he had a big bull elk in mind.

He figured the bear was about 10 feet from him when he shot, although he can't remember using the bow's sight to aim. He also had to wait until his son passed, so his target window was short and his target was moving.

"I knew I was going to hit him, but I didn't know where," the father said. "When you're in a situation like that, it all happens so fast."

According to Mark Bruscino, bear specialist for Wyoming Game and Fish Department who examined the fight site and the bear the following day, the bear was hit with the arrow in the upper right chest and the arrow continued horizontally into the bear's body.

"He's lucky the shot was as lethal as it was, because a wounded bear would've done more damage," Bruscino said. "He lost a large amount of blood in a short period of time."

Bruscino said the bear, which was in good condition, probably mistook the two for elk because they were calling. The two were also masking their scent with wafers that smell like cow elk urine.

"An adult male grizzly bear is fairly predacious," Bruscino said. "At this time of year, the bulls are vulnerable because they're caught up in the rut. They're distracted by the breeding season and the cows and drawn down a bit physically. And the bears probably figure that out and hunt them a little harder."

Bruscino said he's not one to criticize the actions of people involved in such encounters. He said it's possible that if Leming had held his ground, the bear might have recognized him as human. Bear spray is a good tool in such situations, he said, but whether or not Leming would have had time to deploy spray is questionable.

"Something the general public doesn't understand is these situations evolve quickly," Bruscino said.

Although the Lemings both had bear spray and pistols in camp, they had packed neither along on their morning hunt.

During and right after the attack, Leming said he felt no pain. It wasn't long, though, before he became cold and his vision started blurring.

"I was getting kind of nervous," he said.

Fearing he was going into shock, his father built a fire to warm him up. Taking off his left glove, Leming found the bite wound he didn't know he had. Since his shirt was tight to his right arm, figuring it was helping to staunch the flow of blood, the men didn't tend that wound. Eventually, he felt good enough that they took some pictures to document the scene.

Leming found out how bad his injuries were when he couldn't mount his horse for the two-mile ride back to camp. After walking back to camp, he was able to saddle up, and the hunters left their camp for the ride out to Cody and the hospital, stopping at Leming's house along the way to drop off the horses.

He'd called his wife to warn her, but Bridgett Leming was still shocked by the amount of blood that covered her husband. Their children, 5-year-old Jessie and 3-year-old Casey, were also "shook up" for a couple of days.

Leming spent only one night in the hospital. He received about 40 stitches to what were mostly puncture wounds, and no bones were broken. A month later, he feels pretty much back to normal and is looking forward to returning to the forest today to go to the same spot to rifle-hunt for elk.

"I think about it a lot," he said. "I feel like I'm going to be looking over my shoulder a lot more. But I'm not afraid to go back up there."

The elder Leming said his son's commitment to hunting, in spite of the mauling, is amazing.

"This is the kind of guy he is," Ron G. Leming said. As his son warmed up by the fire following the attack, he said to his father, "I hope it's not too bad, because I want to keep hunting."

"I just thank God it turned out the way it did," he said.

Contact Brett French at [email protected] or at 657-1387. ... -arrow.txt

Talk about a crazy day. They have pics up on the website, they woulden't load here!
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