Home > Outdoor

‘It Was Pure Violence’: Grizzly Attack Survivor Recounts Horrifying Encounter and the Decisions That Saved Him

Shayne Patrick was hiking in Teton National Park when he found himself under attack by a mother grizzly bear — luckily, he was prepared.
grizzly bear attack shayne patrick teton national park wyoming(Photo/Shayne Patrick)
Support us! GearJunkie may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article. Learn More

There was almost no warning when the grizzly bear attacked Shayne Burke on May 19 in Grand Teton National Park. When it happened, he had been on a short, unassuming dog walk on a popular road that skirts Grand Teton Lake. Offhandedly, he’d brought his camera, binoculars, knife, and bear spray. Had he not had those items, he is certain he’d be a dead man today.

Burke is a 35-year-old who lives in New Hampshire with his wife and dog. He’s been in the Army for 17 years and has been an outdoorsman all his life. He’s an established rock climber and hunter in the Northeast. He’s also an avid wildlife photographer. Peruse his photography-focused Instagram profile (@cae_imagery_), and you’ll see bison, foxes, falcons, owls, seals, raccoons, moose, and more.

“I’ve pretty much been outdoors my whole life and had many different types of animal encounters,” Burke told GearJunkie. “Just never with a grizzly until now.

Burke’s close encounter with death made national headlines. News organizations across the country picked up his story, but few dug deeper than his Instagram post about the incident.

GearJunkie reached out to Burke a day before he went into surgery to have his broken shoulder fixed, to get the story firsthand, and to talk with him about the single piece of gear that saved his life: his can of UDEP Bear Spray.

“I’ll go to the grave saying it: I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it,” he said. “Especially if you’re in these real dangerous areas.”

Editor’s note: This story contains graphic images and descriptions of extreme violence.

Q&A With Shayne Burke: How He Survived a Grizzly Attack

a grizzly bear walking
A grizzly bear; (photo/Shutterstock)

GearJunkie: The story has been shared dozens of times, but in your words, what happened?

Shayne Burke: Essentially, my wife and I had been walking a dog on Signal Mountain Road. She and the dog turned back, and I kept going … I was making noise, but it was pretty windy, so I wasn’t hearing anything. And the bears probably couldn’t hear me until I was way too close.

When I noticed a grizzly cub running away, I grabbed my bear spray. and as I pulled the spray out, I looked down to see the safety and pull it off, I looked up, and the mom was already on me — from the moment I saw the baby to the moment the mom contacted me, it was about 3 seconds. It was lightning fast. I had no time to truly react to what was actually unfolding.

grizzly bear attack shayne patrick teton national park wyoming
(Photo/Shayne Burke)

What was your first reaction?

I turned around and went to lay down and [play dead]. As I did that, she jumped on my back, bit me in the shoulder, tackled me … then she went over me, turned around, and stepped on me and just started ravaging my legs.

I was able to stay quiet for a couple of seconds, but she really got me good in one of the bites, and I just let out this blood-curdling scream. And that’s when she turned her attention to my head. She bit my wrist, exposed my bone … She bit my right hand and exposed all my tendons and hand bones and, simultaneously, just happened to get a mouthful of bear spray because she bit the canister as well.

Grizzly bear
(Photo/Valerie via Flickr Creative Commons)

Did you know what happened when you heard the canister explode?

My first thought, when I heard the bear can pop, was that it was actually my skull cracking and that she was going to kill me. I felt a very warm fluid flow down my back and down my face. And I just thought it was my blood.

But within microseconds of all these thoughts, I heard her running away, looked up, and saw her going the way the cub ran. And so I ran the opposite direction … I was about a mile away from the parking lot by the time I stopped. I phoned my wife. She’s an EMT. And she’s got her WFR [Wilderness First Responder], and she started explaining, “You need to do x, y, z.”

I could tell the back of my legs were just profusely bleeding, steady flow — but not alarmingly so. It wasn’t arterial bleeding or anything like that … So I started cutting straps off all my gear and tying it as tight as I could to slow the blood flow … Then I just sat there and waited for search and rescue. Took them a little less than 2 hours.

grizzly bear attack shayne patrick teton national park wyoming
Gear strap tourniquets; (photo/Shayne Burke)

Have you ever seen the movie The Revenant?

Yes. That’s pretty much how I explain it. Aside from getting flipped over so my belly was exposed. That was the only real difference. Like, it really felt like that. It was pure violence. And this bear literally could have done anything she wanted to me.

It’s a total — I hate to use the word because I don’t believe in “miracles” even after all this — but like, it’s some pretty goddamn good luck that she didn’t just completely tear grapefruit-sized chunks off my legs.


Was there any time for you to put coherent thoughts together while this was happening?

Minimally. The only thing I could think was, “You really fucked up this time, dude. Like, this is how you’re going to die?”

Like, I really thought I was going to die. And not for nothing, kind of a badass way to go. But not the way I ever want to go.

Honestly, I mostly just thought about my family and my dog. Like, “How dare you take yourself away from these people and your dog?” So I felt really guilty during the attack.

grizzly bear attack shayne patrick teton national park wyoming
Shoulder bites; (photo/Shayne Burke)

What was the full extent of your injuries?

I had nine surgical sites needing staples and internal stitches, the largest one being 9 cm long. The first bite was on my right shoulder, her canines punctured down my trap and her lower mandible canine punctured and ripped into my lat. At some point, she managed to fracture my right acromion, a complete displacement.

grizzly bear attack shayne patrick teton national park wyoming
Burke’s fractured right acromion; (photo/Shayne Burke)

You requested that the bear not be euthanized because it was just protecting its cub. Do you know what happened to the bear?

Yeah. The bear’s still alive. Basically the Rangers, they took all my stuff, pretty much confiscated everything because they needed to do a thorough investigation. They just want to make sure I wasn’t following the bears and taking pictures of them or anything like that, because that’s a chargeable offense.

So they took all my clothes, and essentially, they took DNA off that to try to determine if they could figure out what bear it was. They have a pretty good database of the bears’ DNA. They haven’t told me what bear it was. I don’t think they ever will … I’ve heard through sources [which bear it might have been]. And I, you know, I don’t care. Like, cool. She’s a beautiful bear. She’s an old bear.

grizzly bear attack anchorage alaska
(Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Do you think that you asking them not to kill the bear had any effect on their decision?

I don’t think so. They had to investigate all the factors to make sure that the bear didn’t go out of its way to attack me. They said … “We’ll take that into consideration. It’s very admirable of you to feel that way. However, if this bear has done this before and it’s been aggressive to humans, we can’t afford to keep it alive.”

But the park did decide that the bear was acting naturally, and they have no cause to pursue it and euthanize it.

Do you think you’ll ever hike without bear spray again?

Definitely never in grizzly country. It is now part of my local kit as well. You know, I archery hunt, and it weighs a couple of ounces. It’s one of those things I’d rather have and not need than need and not have.

I just really want people to remember to be prepared, even if it’s just a little hike. Like this was supposed to be a quick little walk in the woods.

I’m not saying that every time you go to the park, you need a first-aid kit or [bear spray], but anything can happen anywhere. Just try to be prepared and remember that it’s their territory, not yours. And you gotta be respectful of that.

Bear Paw

I've Been Attacked by a Bear, and I Still 'Choose the Bear'

When will we stop telling women that it's safer if we go along with one of the guys? The reality is that it's safer if we just choose the bear. Read more…

Subscribe Now

Get adventure news and gear reviews in your inbox!

Join Our GearJunkie Newsletter

Get adventure news and gear reviews in your inbox!