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Deer hunter attacked by bears as he sits in tree stand

October 12, 2010 | 10:13 am

Bear A deer hunter was injured Saturday when he was attacked by a female black bear and her three cubs as he sat in his tree stand, an incident that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment described as one of the weirdest outdoor events in memory.

According to the agency, Chad Fortune of Walloon Lake, Mich., was bow hunting for deer just before dark Saturday on farmland in Bear Creek Township when the bears approached and then climbed up his tree stand and attacked him.

Fortune, 21, said at first two of the animals climbed up the tree stand ladder and when he shouted at them, they dropped to the ground. A third bear then climbed up the tree, and the hunter punched and elbowed it until it fell from the tree. Then a bear climbed up the tree stand ladder and bit Fortune on the leg.

Fortune remained in the tree stand for two hours until his fiancee and father came looking for him, concerned that he had not yet returned. After helping him down, they took Fortune to the hospital for treatment to bites on his left calf, thigh and shoulder, including 40 stitches to repair a gash in his leg.

A preliminary investigation by the state agency theorized the bears were lured by food scents on the hunter's clothing, and that Fortune may have been wearing something underneath his camouflage hunting gear that smelled like fried food from a family party he attended prior to going hunting. They also think the attack may have been by a mother bear protecting her cubs.

"Anytime you are dealing with a sow and her cubs, you have a potentially dangerous situation," said agency wildlife chief Russ Mason. "A sow will do whatever it takes to protect her cubs if she perceives a threat. In this case, the hunter was not threatening the cubs, but the sow apparently thought he was, and she attacked him."

Fortune, however, disputes the claim that the attack might have been caused by the smell of food, telling the Detroit Free Press: "I don't know what happened.... I had different clothes on ... hunting clothes. There was no smell of picnic on them." Fortune also told the paper that he disagrees with the characterization by state officials of his attackers as a sow and three cubs.

"They may have been related. But those were full-grown bears," he added.

No matter the age of the bears or the reason for the attack, I'd say one thing is apparent -- Fortune was certainly fortunate to escape more serious injury.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Black bear. Credit: Steve Hillebrand / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service