Manitoba

Black bear sneaks up from behind, bites Mantario Trail hiker

'It's not normal bear behaviour' says Winnipeg man, now recovering with only minor wound

Posted: July 03, 2018

A black bear, like the one pictured, came up behind Ryan Potter to bite him in the leg while he was hiking the Mantario Trail. (Yukon government)

A Winnipeg man bitten by a black bear after a sneak attack from behind on the Mantario Trail is cautioning other hikers to be prepared.

Ryan Potter, 44, and his wife Allison set out Monday with plans to do an overnight hike.

They were about an hour in along the muddy, wet terrain after leaving the north end of the trail by the Whiteshell Lake. Potter's wife was about 15 feet ahead of him, he said, and they'd just passed the lake and entered a section of trail surrounded by brush.

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"All of a sudden I got hit, something from behind just hit me hard enough in the legs to almost buckle my legs," said Potter.

Because he had about 35 pounds of back-country gear on his back, he wasn't able to look over his shoulder.

Ryan Potter said the neoprene knee brace he wears likely prevented the bear from puncturing deeper into his skin. (Submitted/Allison Potter)

"When I turn around, there's a bear. Just standing there. Like close enough that I could've just patted it on the head," he said. He refrained from doing so.

"It was more just shock at first, I literally, like I turned around and just saw the bear, and I think in my mind I was thinking, like, 'Holy cow, that's a bear!' And then when my wife starting screaming at it and it didn't leave, that's when kind of the fear set in a little bit." 

He and his wife both started yelling and screaming "Go away, bear!" in an effort to scare the animal off. He waved this walking stick and began to walk slowly backwards. He said the animal was healthy-looking, about 200 pounds and seemed calm.

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"It's walking slowly toward me as I walk backwards. And I'm trying to get my bear spray out of my bear spray holster, with one hand, with the walking stick in the other, while keeping eye contact with the bear, and so I was finally able to get the bear spray out," he said.

Then he stumbled and fell backwards. On his way up and from his knees, he sprayed the bear in the face with the bear spray.

"It kind of shook its head and kind of walked away shaking its head, and then my wife and I took off in the other direction,  the same way we had originally come, so back towards the parking lot," he said.

Ryan Potter and his wife Allison were hiking the Mantario Trail for her birthday on Monday. (Submitted/Allison Potter)

"I was worried my leg was going to be really bad, really hurt, just 'cause I just got bit by a bear and I thought I was maybe just in shock, but we got maybe five or ten minutes back out the trail, back out to the lake got to an opening, and we stopped, and checked my leg out, it wasn't too bad at all, just a little tender and a couple scrapes, a little puncture from one of the teeth," he said. 

They did some first aid on the injury and connected with another couple that did not have bear spray on them, he said, so the group hiked out together. He's grateful for the neoprene knee brace he wears, which he believes prevented the bear from puncturing deeper.

"It's not normal bear behaviour and it's nothing anyone ever warns you about, to watch out for bears sneaking up behind you." 

Once they had cell service, Potter said he phoned Manitoba Conservation so they could alert other hikers, then got the bite checked out at the Victoria Hospital.

Mantario Trail partially closed

The Mantario Hiking Trail has been closed from the Big Whiteshell trailhead to Mantario Lake until conservation officers find the bear, in an effort to relocate it.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Conservation said signs have been erected at the Big Whiteshell staging area saying it's closed due to dangerous wildlife. 

Though the bear remains at large, conservation officers have made other hikers aware, and are flying in to Mantario Lake Tuesday to continue the search.

"It is unusual for a bear without cubs to be aggressive without being provoked," wrote the spokesperson. 

Hiking enthusiasts can still trek from the Caddy Lake Trail Head to Mantario Lake and back.

"Hikers are encouraged to be bear smart," said the spokesperson. 

Won't stop hiking

Potter's leg is tender and sore, but he's relieved the injury isn't more serious, and that he had the bear spray on him. He wants other hikers to be aware, and prepared, before heading out into bear country.

"Just have to be bear smart, do what you can to avoid them and scare them off," said Potter.

"If it gets that you're face to face, you need that bear spray or you're kind of in trouble," he added.

He said the ordeal hasn't quashed his love of the great outdoors; he and his wife plan to hit the Rockies for more back-country hiking next month.

"It won't deter, maybe looking over my shoulder a little more, but we'll see," he said.