Warning: This story contains some graphic description of a bear encounter, as told by the survivor. Please do not read the story if you may be offended by the violent nature of the event.
This word must be used to describe a man like Conrad Boyes.
While there are some people who would let fear keep them from ever experiencing the true wilderness, even after a near-death encounter with one of the wilderness’ most intimidating residents, a sow grizzly bear, Boyes can’t wait to get back out there.
As soon as he gets his gun back from the game wardens, who have had the firearm since the incident, “I’m ready to go again,” said Boyes.
Boyes is currently recovering well after a vicious encounter with a female grizzly bear in a remote wilderness area in the Northern Rocky Mountains Provincial Park, 90 miles outside of Fort Nelson.
Boyes said his life has been in the bush, and he will never stop going back, perhaps not surprising for someone who was raised in northern Ontario on a trap line.
It was likely the skills and experience Boyes has been gaining over his nearly 60 years of life which saved him, keeping his wits about him in a moment when most of us would likely have frozen.
The trip began as it had every year for the past 16, with Boyes and other close family all meeting up outside of Fort Nelson, where his older brother would meet them with his four-seater airplane and fly the group into a remote area where they made camp, this year near Kluachesi Lake.
The group walked up the valley, away from the lake where the plane was, about one and a half hours, to where they set up a camp.
This year, Boyes was there with his two brothers, his sister, and his niece, all from different parts of central B.C., including Kamloops, Quesnel, Prince George and Vanderhoof.
The group were experienced hunters and outdoorspeople, but one had made the mistake of dropping a sleeping bag between the plane and the camp.
After two days of hunting, both Boyes and his brother had shot an elk each, which the group had packed the same afternoon they had shot them.
Because he had his meat, Boyes decided to go for a hike back to check on the plane and grab some more supplies, as well as take a look for the missing sleeping bag on his way back.
It was on the walk from the plane when Boyes heard some noise in an opening, and suddenly, 15 or 20 feet in front of him, a big female grizzly stood up on her hind legs.
“She let’s one big roar out, eh … and all of a sudden she’s down on her fours, coming at me,” said Boyes. “That split second, I knew she was coming, I pulled my gun off my shoulder, flipped it down took the safety off and I managed to get two shots – bang bang -… and she was on top of me.”
The bear got him by his thighs first, tearing two large holes “the size of twoonies” and about an inch and a half deep.
Bleeding from his wound, he sat up, and the bear was “boxing him about his ears” so he attempted to get his hands up to protect his face and eyes.
The bear chewed on his arms, then got her mouth on his bottom jaw and crunched down on it.
“I can still hear my jaw going snap, crack, snap, bang, bang.” said Boyes.
He was on his back with the bear on top of him, and he managed to position his hands to try and pull open the bear’s jaw enough to get his hands and face out of them, but not before she had chewed his one thumb nearly off and torn the ligaments of the other.
He then put his feet on her chest and kicked as hard as he could.
Meanwhile, the bear was slowly succumbing to the injuries from the two shots Boyes had managed to get off, and he could hear her chest gurgle and wheeze as she breathed, one shot having hit her lungs and the other her heart.
The bear rolled over, got up onto her four feet and took off into the bush, where he could hear her still nearby.
“I knew then she was dying,” said Boyes.
Boyes then got himself to his feet, found his gun and while at first he couldn’t operate it with his damaged thumbs, he managed to reload, and then he grabbed his coat and hat and began to make his way back to camp.
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Boyes said he knew he was in trouble if he didn’t get back as fast as possible, because he was bleeding quite badly.
It was a 45 minute run back to camp, so he took his bearings and made his way back as directly as he could.
By around 12:30 p.m., he was back in camp, less than an hour after the attack. Immediately, his sister and brother did what they could in terms of first aid for their injured brother and made him as comfortable as possible.
His older brother David also went to the plane in order to radio for help. The plane was one and a half hours away on foot.
The message was relayed through a passing plane, and in five hours, two helicopters arrived, one with paramedics and one with RCMP and game wardens armed with guns in case there was still an injured bear in the area.
Boyes was flown out to Fort Nelson, where he was then put on a plane and flown to Edmonton, where he said he received the best care possible in sewing his face and other injuries up.
“To see me now, you can’t even see the scars, (the surgeons) were so good,” he said. “They did an awesome job.”
He had to have surgery on his jaw and thumbs, has had his left thumb sewn back on and his right one had the ligaments put back in place as well.
He has a plate in his jaw, and his mouth can only open a small amount, but his wife is taking great care of him, he said, blending up his food until he can chew again.
Boyes can still get around fine, and said he is healing up well, and he hopes to return to work in a month or two, but it will depend on his thumbs.
He owns a delivery truck, which his son has taken a leave of absence from his job to run while Boyes continues to heal, but he isn’t allowed to drive yet.
The bear Boyes encountered was located deceased by the game wardens, he said, and she had a couple of two-year-old cubs nearby, which explains her aggressive behaviour.
“That’s life eh, that’s their domain and you’re in their domain,” said Boyes.
“Born and raised” with a gun in his arms, Boyes gives the credit to his survival to two things: his .30-06 semiautomatic rifle and his lifetime of experience with guns and the bush.
His dad always made sure they knew how to handle a gun, he said, and how to “make the shots count.”
“It all paid off in the long run,” said Boyes.
The real payoff now for Boyes is he is getting to enjoy his eight-month-old grandson.
“That’s just life,” said Boyes. “It’s in the past and we’re still here to tell the story.”