By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Watching a man getting pile-driven by a massive log or slammed by a speeding pickup while wearing a “grizzly proof” armored suit might seem like some of the best slapstick ever.
But it wasn’t fun and games for Troy Hurtubise, the late Canadian inventor who conceived and built the lumbering 150-pound personal protection shell. He was stone-cold serious about the contribution he thought it could bring to bear research and conservation.
“My life is dedicated to the grizzly bear,” he said in a 1990s television news segment (see below) about the suit.
In the program, he explained that surviving a grizzly attack inspired him to invent the suit, which he built out of titanium, plastic, rubber and chain mail. He claimed it could keep researchers safe while getting up close and personal with the mighty bruins.
Creative, But Not Practical, Biologists Say
Hurtubise’s heart was in the right place regarding grizzly conservation, but the suit never had a chance of gaining popularity with researchers, two biologists said.
“He (Hurtubise) was well-intentioned, of course, in the conservation of bears and safety in bear country, but the suit never came to fruition,” Dan Thompson, a large carnivore specialist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, told Cowboy State Daily.
Grizzly researcher Frank van Manen likewise gave Hutubise credit for having good intentions and inventiveness but said that the suit ultimately just wasn’t practical.
“While creative, from a research standpoint, the bear suit can only be classified as a novelty and wild idea. There is no practical value to a ‘bear suit’ for those who live, work, or recreate in grizzly bear country,” van Manen told Cowboy State Daily.
He’s the supervisory research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.
Grizzly researchers have ready access to more practical safety measures, such as bear spray, van Manen said. So, the notion of trying to put in a day’s work while hobbling around in a 150-pound protective suit never caught on among wildlife scientists.
At Least It Made For Great Test Footage
Hurtubise during his lifetime gained notoriety for testing his own edgy inventions, often at great personal peril.
The television news footage of him testing the “Ursa Mark VI” (the final iteration of the bear suit) is pure gold.
In it, the inventor is struck with a stout pole across the faceplate of the helmet, until the pole finally snaps. He’s also shown taking a 300-pound swinging log directly to the chest, resulting in a “Thump! Ooff!” that would have made the Three Stooges proud.
The suit is shown apparently deflecting a direct hit from a 12-gauge slug gun. It was touted for keeping him safe from harm as he was slammed by a pickup doing 30 miles per hour, then later, shoved down a steep ravine.
Hurtubise claimed that “bite bars” on the suit could record the pounds-per-square-inch (psi) force of a grizzly’s clamping jaws.
While none of that proved enough to get grizzly biologists interested in the suit, Hurtubise won a 1998 “Ig Nobel Prize” (a satirical award) for safety engineering.
He also gained notoriety for other grandiose inventions, some of which included “fire paste” and “Trojan armor,” the latter of which he claimed was effective “exoskeleton “ armor for soldiers.
However, like the bear suit, his other inventions fell flat, and Hurtubise ended up bankrupt.
A Fiery End
After frequently living in an unusual and spectacular manner, Hurtubise died the same way on June 17, 2018.
His vehicle collided with a fuel truck on a highway west of North Bay, Ontario, where Hurtubise, 54, lived at the time. Sparks from the crash resulted in an explosion, and he perished at the scene, according to news reports at the time.
Which could leave something to ponder – had he been wearing his grizzly-proof suit, could he have survived the crash?
That’s impossible to know. But his passion for his work, as evidenced by the over-the-top grizzly suit test footage, have given him a memorable legacy.