Mark Matheny knows it’s not true, that old joke about not having to outrun a bear, only having to outrun your hunting partner.
“Because they lock in on you like a homing missile,” said Matheny, who survived a brutal bear attack 20 years ago and developed a bear spray to prevent others from being attacked.
On that September morning in 1992, Matheny saw a grizzly throw off her cubs and charge him. He yelled “It’s a bear. Get your spray” as he ran past hunting partner Fred Bahnson.
“He dove off the trail behind a pine tree,” Matheny said. “She passed him.”
Click image for Mark Matheny photo gallery, but beware there are graphic images
The 400-pound bear soon had its mouth around Matheny’s head. Bahnson came to assist but the bear knocked him to the ground, then turned its attention back to Matheny as he tried to crawl away like a mouse, and then it felt like she would nearly rip his arm off.
Bahnson ended the attack by emptying a can of pepper spray in the bear’s face, but the damage was done. A doctor, Bahnson got Matheny to a hospital and tended to his horrific injuries for seven hours. The wounds healed and Matheny vowed to work to prevent others from suffering as he did.
“It sure changed my life. I thought my life was going to be snuffed out -- this bear had my head in its mouth -- I thought my time on earth was finished,” he said. “They become a beast when they’re chewing on you. It all happened so quick. We estimate the attack was 15, 20 seconds from start to finish. I came out very blessed.”
Matheny said he went to the attack scene 11 days later, wanting to make his peace. He said he would never go out in bear country again unprepared.
“Now, I’m glad that happened to me because it helped me develop a product that has been successful out there,” he said of UDAP Pepper Power Bear Deterrent. “The reason why it works is because of their keen sense of smell. You can turn them. The bear spray is just like a bullet up their nose.
“If within 15 feet, they are going to go off and try to get it out of their eyes. We’ve never had a bear come through it. It just turns them. I know it works better than a firearm.”
Matheny’s products can be found on BearSpray.com or ask for it at your favorite Outdoor Retailer. It comes with a hip or chest holster for quick access and shoots from the holster action.
“You don’t have time to evaluate; you just have to react,” he said. “You only get a few seconds to respond. That’s why guys with firearms only get one shot.”
UDAP also sells products like bear-proof containers for storing food in bear country, electric fences and even a spray reliever that neutralizes the effects of Oleoresin Capsicum, the chemical that puts the pep in pepper spray.
“We supply about 15 items to Cabela’s and have other Outdoor Retailers educate customers on how to store and use if effectively" Matheny said. “We do what we can to train people. We really recommend people learn how to use these products. You practice shooting your firearm why wouldn’t you practice how to shoot this.”
He said one fact that all should know is the spray should be pointed somewhat downward so the rising cloud gets directly in a low-charging bear’s face. “You point lower than you think,” he said.
In marketing his bear spray, Matheny has worked with archery friend Casey Anderson, whose trained bear, Brutus was used in reenactment of Matheny’s attack. Now a two-minute clip of his attack video can be viewed on YouTube. It has even gone viral with more than 9 million hits and counting.
“Brutus is the spokesbear for my product,” Matheny said.
Seeing a simulated attack helps him gain attention when he’s giving a seminar or informing youth on things like never taking a “a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into your tent.”
As they made their way back from the attack scene to their vehicle, Matheny stopped and had Bahnson take a photo of him and the horrific wounds he suffered. He’s taken some heat for using the image to show people the damage a bear can inflict, but feels no regrets -- “I want to get their attention.”
What Matheny really takes pride in are clients who prevented an attack with his products, and hearing the stories.
“One man called and wanted to thank me personally,” he said. “He nailed it with our spray and turned the bear right around. That’s what makes me work hard at what we do.
“If it has helped to save somebody’s life, I feel like I’ve done my job, regardless if I’m using that bloody photo or not.”
For a video on Mark Matheny, click here. For Mark Matheny's first-person account of the attack, click here.