Ed Higbie is recovering from a vicious grizzly bear attack more than a week ago, but he said he didn't think he'd live "when the bear had my head in its mouth."
"I just knew she was going to kill me," he said from his hospital bed.But Higbie got lucky: Apparently he broke one of the bear's legs with the one gunshot he fired before the bear overtook him. A hunting companion heard that shot and Higbie's shots and killed the bear before it killed Higbie.
The Cody real estate agent was attacked on Sept. 12 as he and some friends were hunting elk in rugged terrain in the Teton Wilderness near Yellowstone National Park.
As Higbie, 52, moved to flush some elk from a heavily wooded area, the female grizzly suddenly jumped up from behind a log uphill from him, Higbie recalled.
"The second she was up, she was growling and charging," he said.
Higbie thought he'd startled a sleeping bear, but the truth is more terrifying than that, according to Ed Higbie Jr. State game officials told the younger Higbie that the bear was lying in wait for the hunter as he moved up the trail.
"Like a cat waiting to pounce will make marks with its front paws, (game investigators) found the spot where the bear had been pushing up with its front paws," he said.
That surge of movement cut the 30 feet separating the hunter from the bear in a flash.
"I thought maybe I could kill her before she got to me. But that didn't happen," the elder Higbie said.
He was wearing a pistol but managed to get his rifle off his shoulder, release the safety and fire once from the hip before the grizzly was on him.
"I never even got my rifle up to my shoulder," he said. "I had more shells in the magazine but couldn't get one in to shoot again."
Just before the rampaging bear got to Higbie, she reared and knocked him down, he said.
"All I know is she was taller than me," he said.
He recalled the bear "chewing and biting on me, holding me down and biting, but not jerking. She chewed on my hand the longest. Every time she bit it felt like she was crushing it. It hurt bad, really bad. She was pretty loud and was growling and bellowing the whole time."
The bear held and chewed Higbie only about 15 seconds - long enough to tear open the skin above his eye, do serious damage to his left hand, put four very deep "penny-sized" holes in his side and tear a piece of flesh from his left leg.
"I knew what she was doing each time. She could have broken my neck pretty easily," he said. "I just knew I was going to die. She didn't seem to want to get off me. She just stayed there, and I waited for someone to show up."
That someone was Jeff Myers, part of the hunting party. Myers said he was about 150 yards uphill from Higbie when he heard the shot and cries for help. Myers ran downhill until he could see the bear holding Higbie.
From about 20 yards back, Myers fired his rifle and shot the bear in the back, killing it.
The rest of the party gathered around Higbie and used what little first aid they could muster until help arrived.
That took longer than anyone expected. A rescue squad arrived early Thursday morning rather than Wednesday night as anticipated. In the meantime, the hunters worked to keep Higbie comfortable and alert.
"He's a tough son of a gun and knew the predicament he was in. He just toughed it out," the younger Higbie said of his dad.
Once a medical helicopter reached the camp 20 hours after Higbie was mauled, he was hauled to Cody's West Park Hospital, where it took six hours of surgery to patch his injuries.
While he is expected to lose some use of his left hand - which amazingly had just one broken finger - Higbie hasn't lost his sense of humor.
He knew just what to say when game officials told him they have no other plans for the hide, if he'd like it.
"I want to make a rug of it," he told them.