South Hadley man, Granby High grad survives grizzly bear attack in Wyoming

A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. On May 19, a South Hadley man hiking in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming was attacked by a mother grizzly bear. The man survived and wrote an account of the experience on Instagram.

A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. On May 19, a South Hadley man hiking in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming was attacked by a mother grizzly bear. The man survived and wrote an account of the experience on Instagram. AP

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 05-28-2024 5:06 PM

Modified: 05-28-2024 7:29 PM


As South Hadley Army veteran Shayne Patrick Burke, 35, hiked along Signal Mountain in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park last week, he instinctively felt that he wasn’t alone.

Burke began talking and singing to himself and breaking branches, noises aimed at deterring dangerous wildlife from coming closer. Unfortunately, a grizzly bear cub nearby wasn’t scared off by the noise, and Burke wrote in an Instagram post that he saw the cub run up a hill about 50 to 70 yards away from him.

The next thing Burke saw was the cub’s mother charging directly at him.

Burke, who graduated from Granby High School in 2008, described the bear attack that ensued on May 19 as “the most violent thing I have every experienced,” more deadly than his past experiences “being shot at, mortared and (improvised explosive devices) explosions” while serving in the Army Reserves.

Despite receiving deep wounds from the encounter, Burke wrote on his social media that the mother bear simply defended her cub, and “what happened up on Signal Mountain was a case of wrong place, wrong time.”

His lengthy post begins, in part, with Burke commenting on how much he loves and respects wildlife.

“Anyone who knows me knows this about me,” he wrote. “In fact, the second thing I said to the park rangers was, ‘Please don’t kill the bear; she was defending her cub.’ ”

Grand Teton National Park staff report the park will not pursue any management action, such as capture or euthanasia.

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“Based on initial reports from the injured visitor and preliminary information conducted as part of an ongoing investigation of the site, law enforcement rangers and park biologists believe the incident was a surprise encounter with two grizzly bears, with one of the bears contacting and injuring the visitor,” the Park Service said in a statement on May 20.

Burke said he went to Signal Mountain in hopes of photographing a great grey owl, after he and his wife learned it was a “hot spot” for the species. Burke set off on his own and told his wife he would return in one hour, so when more than an hour had elapsed, he said he knew she would be getting worried, “so I decided to B-line it back to the car using my GPS in my phone.”

Sensing he wasn’t alone, that’s when Burke started making noise, singing and talking loudly.

Moments before the mother bear charged, Burke had unholstered his bear spray but didn’t have time to deploy it. Instead, Burke interlocked his hands behind his neck, bear spray still in hand, and laid down on his stomach to protect his vital points.

The mother grizzly bear bit and slashed into Burke’s back and legs. She picked Burke up, her teeth dug into his leg, and slammed him on the ground multiple times. As he screamed, she turned her attention to the source of the sound: his head.

The mother bear lunged for Burke’s neck to attempt a fatal blow. As she bit down on Burke’s hands covering his neck, “she simultaneously bit the bear spray can, and it exploded in her mouth.”

He writes that the bear spray saved him.

Upon hearing the bear flee, Burke ran in the opposite direction up the hill. He then attempted to contact his wife, who was in a parked car in a nearby lot. His initial call didn’t go through, so instead he texted “attacked.”

Burke’s wife responded to the alarming text by calling him, and the two talked through the events while Burke “applied improvised tourniquets to my legs” with whatever material the couple could brainstorm: cut backpack straps, camera straps and fanny pack straps.

“I laid alone in the woods gripping my knife with my back to a tree just hoping the bear wasn’t to return,” Burke said. “At this point my legs were not really working.”

According to a press release from the National Park Service, Grand Teton National Park rangers and a Teton County Search and Rescue team responded to the scene. Rangers on the ground dressed Burke’s wounds, and then airlifted him to an ambulance that transported him to St. John’s Hospital in Jackson, Wyo.

Medical professionals at the hospital cleaned and closed up Burke’s wounds. He was discharged on Monday and is expected to make a full recovery.

The park closed all trails on Signal Mountain in response to the attack.

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.