Grand Teton Mauling Ends When Grizzly Chomps On Can Of Bear Spray

The man attacked and mauled by a grizzly in Grand Teton National Park on Sunday was amazingly lucky. During the attack, the grizzly chomped down on his can of bear spray, which exploded it into her face and immediately ended the ordeal.

Mark Heinz

May 22, 20245 min read

A grizzly mom plays with her cub.
A grizzly mom plays with her cub. (Getty Images)

The out-of-state man who was mauled by a mother grizzly in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park on Sunday apparently had a phenomenal stroke of luck when the apex predator essentially bear-sprayed itself.

The attack on a 35-year-old Massachusetts man ended when the grizzly bit into his can of bear spray, bursting it into her own face, according to a statement from the National Park Service.

Some experienced outdoorsmen said that could very well have been a first.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” outdoorsman and former Navy SEAL Chris Forrest of Bozeman, Montana, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.

Forrest teaches the Survive the Grizz course, which teaches hunters how to avoid, and if necessary fight back against, bear attacks in Wyoming, Montana and other states.

Renowned outdoor writer and Park County resident Jim Zumbo, who has vast experience in grizzly country, was equally impressed by the incident.

“I’ve not heard of that happening,” he told Cowboy State Daily.

The man, who was not identified by the Park Service, was released from the hospital Monday and is expected to recover fully from his injuries.

It was the first verified bear mauling of the season in Wyoming.

Attack Was Sudden

The man was hiking off-trail in the backcountry near Signal Mountain in the park. He was carrying bear spray in a holster and “intentionally making noise” in case any grizzlies were nearby, according to the Park Service. That’s what people are supposed to do in the backcountry in bear territory.

As he was moving through a forested area with poor visibility, he suddenly came upon a smaller grizzly, apparently a cub, which was running away.

He started to pull his bear spray out of its holster when he saw a larger bear in his peripheral view, presumably the cub’s mother, charging in from the side.

He managed to pull his bear spray from the holster, but didn’t have time to use it. As the larger bear “made contact,” he dropped to the ground, face-down, in an attempt to play dead, according to the Park Service.

He had his fingers interlaced behind his neck, and the bear spray canister was caught in one of his fingers.

“The bear bit him several times before ultimately puncturing the bear spray can,” the Park Service reports. “When the canister burst, the bears immediately departed the scene.”

The man was able to walk to an area where he got cellular phone service and called for help. He was airlifted to St. John’s Hospital in Jackson and released the following evening.

The attack was apparently an instance of a mother grizzly defending her club after a “surprise encounter” at close range, according to the Park Service.

Park Service Probably Won’t Go After Bears

The bears involved haven’t been specifically identified yet, but are thought to be “an adult female grizzly bear with at least one older cub,” according to the Park Service.

The agency states that “no further management action is warranted at this time,” indicating that the bears likely won’t be tracked down and captured or killed.

Wyoming’s most famous bear, Grizzly 399, has a large yearling cub, which fans have named Spirit. However, famed wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen, who frequently monitors Grizzly 399, previously told Cowboy State Daily that she was apparently miles away from the mauling site when the attack happened.

Victim Did Everything Right

Forrest and Zumbo said that the victim did everything right, including making noise while he was hiking and going into the face-down, “play dead” position with his fingers interlaced behind his neck once the mauling was inevitable.

The bear biting into the can was just an extra stroke of luck, they said.

Forrest said that the nearest thing to a bear-bite discharge that he knows of are specialized backpacks with built-in bear spray cannisters.

“If you have to go face-down with a bear on top of you, you can pull a ripcord, and that deploys the bear spray,” he said.

He added that those who venture into grizzly county must accept the fact that even when every precaution is taken, there are rare instances when an attack unfolds too quickly for any response.

“There’s no safety that’s completely guaranteed. With bear spray, or even with a gun. You’re going into their neck of the woods,” he said.

Zumbo said he’s heard of a few instances in which “all of the sudden, the bear was just right on top of them,” and there was no time to fight back with spray, a gun or other means.

Specifically, he cited an incident in October 2022 when two wrestlers from Northwest College in Powell — Kendell Cummings and Brady Lowry — were suddenly attacked by a grizzly while hiking near Cody.

Lowry was attacked first, and Cummings was later hailed as a hero because he rushed in and tried to pull the bear off his friend before being mauled himself.

Mark Heinz can be reached at

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter