Allen Minish was alone and surveying land for a real estate agent in a wooded, remote part of Alaska, putting some numbers into his GPS unit when he looked up and saw a large brown bear walking about 30ft (10 meters) away.
“I saw him and he saw me at the same time,” Minish said by phone on Wednesday from his hospital bed in Anchorage, a day after being mauled by the bear in the chance encounter.
The attack left Minish with a crushed jaw and a puncture wound in his scalp so deep that the doctor said he could see bone.
Minish startled the bear on Tuesday morning just off the Richardson Highway, near the small community of Gulkana, about 190 miles north-east of Anchorage.
The bear, which Minish said was larger than the 300lb (136kg) black bears he had seen before, charged and closed the ground between them in a few seconds.
Minish tried to dodge behind small spruce trees. But that didn’t stop the bear.
As the bear neared, Minish held up the pointed end of his surveying pole and pushed it toward the bear to keep it away from him.
The bear simply knocked it to the side and the force of the blow knocked Minish to the ground, he said.
“As he lunged up on top of me, I grabbed his lower jaw to pull him away,” he added. “But he tossed me aside there, grabbed a quarter of my face.”
“He took a small bite and then he took a second bite, and the second bite is the one that broke the bones … and crushed my right cheek basically,” he said.
When the bear let go, Minish turned his face to the ground and put his hands over his head.
And then the bear just walked away.
Minish surmises the bear left because he no longer perceived him as a threat. The bear’s exit – Alaska state troopers said later they did not locate the bear – gave him time to assess damage.
“I realized I was in pretty bad shape because I had all this blood everywhere,” he said.
He called 911 on his cellphone. While he was talking to a dispatcher, he pulled off his surveyor’s vest and his T-shirt and wrapped them around his head in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
Then he waited 59 minutes for help to arrive. He knows that’s how long it took because he later checked his cellphone record for the length of the time he was told to stay on the line with the dispatcher until rescue arrived.
Before help arrived, Minish said he worried about the bear returning to finish him off.
“I kept hearing stuff,” he said.
But every time Minish tried to lean up to look around, he got dizzy from his blood loss.
“He didn’t come back, and so I just lay there and worried about it,” he said.
Minish, 61, has had his share of bear encounters over the 40 years he has lived in Alaska, but nothing like this. He owns his own surveying and engineering business, which takes him into the wild often.
“That’s the one lesson learned,” he said. “I should have had somebody with me.”
He had left his gun in the vehicle on this job but said it wouldn’t have mattered because the bear moved on him too fast for it to have been any use.
Minish can now add his name to the list of six people he knows who have been mauled by bears in Alaska.
“I guess I feel lucky,” Minish said, adding that someone told him he was better off hurt than dead.
“In all honesty, it wouldn’t have mattered either way. You know, if it killed me, it killed me. I had a good life; I’m moving on. It didn’t kill me, so now let’s move on to the other direction of trying to stay alive,” he said.