The Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration has recommended that a big game outfitting company “evaluate its training policy on bear spray use” after a grizzly bear killed one of its hunting guides.
OSHA also said in a “fatal alert” following the death of Martin Outfitters’ guide Mark Uptain, that the company should “evaluate its operating procedures for bear country.” OSHA is investigating Uptain’s death following an attack by a grizzly and her cub that also injured bow-hunting client Corey Chubon.
During a brief but deadly melee on the slopes of Terrace Mountain, 6 air miles from the trailhead in the Teton Wilderness of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, a mother grizzly charged the pair as they field dressed a bull elk, according to information from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and OSHA.
Uptain’s 10mm Glock semi-automatic pistol was with a pack and shirt a short distance away, and Chubon’s bear spray was in a pack, the state agencies said. The guide was carrying his bear spray and used it before he died — but not, investigators believe, before sustaining mortal injuries — Game and Fish Regional Wildlife Supervisor Brad Hovinga said in an interview with WyoFile.
Chubon, whom the bear also mauled, grabbed Uptain’s Glock but couldn’t get it to fire, Hovinga said.
A related investigation by the Teton County Sheriff’s office resolved a key question; whether Uptain’s Glock was in good working order.
Game and Fish turned the weapon over to the department, which gave it to its firearms expert, Lieutenant Matt Carr told WyoFile. “It was a fully functional Glock,” said Carr, the sheriff-elect of Teton County.
Neither Game and Fish nor OSHA have completed or released their investigations. While investigators begin to resolve some outstanding questions in the case and issue recommendations, other aspects remain unclear. Two timelines — one developed by Game and Fish, the other by Teton County Coroner Brent Blue — differ. The probes so far leave a foggy understanding of the sequence of events including the infliction of injuries to Uptain, his use of the bear spray and when he died.
Game and Fish and OSHA gave the following account of the incident. Chubon arrowed the elk in the evening of Sept. 13, Hovinga said. But the two couldn’t immediately find the mortally wounded animal. The next day, they discovered the elk carcass at the end of what Hovinga said was “a pretty good blood trail.”
There was no evidence, he said, that a bear had yet been to the elk carcass. Nevertheless, “I’m certain it was coming to the scent,” at the time of the attack, Hovinga said.
Before the two began field dressing the elk, “the guide removed an automatic pistol that he carried in a chest holster as well as his shirt and left them with the two men’s packs a short distance up the hill from the carcass…” OSHA wrote in its fatal alert.
“They had removed the intestines and all the guts and were quartering it up,” Hovinga said; Uptain was sawing off the elk’s antlers when the two heard rocks rolling “and turned and discovered the bear coming,” Hovinga said. “It just came to them immediately … at full speed,” over rolling terrain across which there was only a broken line of sight.
The bear hit Uptain as Chubon went for the pistol. “He said he had [the Glock],” Hovinga told WyoFile. “He had a hard time trying to find a clear shot.”
Chubon tried to shoot the bear, Hovinga said. “He grabbed [the pistol], was unable to make it fire,” Hovinga said. “There was not a round in the chamber, so the gun was empty. He couldn’t make the gun work.”
After hitting Uptain, the grizzly quickly turned and bit Chubon in the ankle.
“He swung me around in the air,” Chubon told WKMG Television in Orlando, Florida, near where he lives. That’s when Chubon threw the pistol toward Uptain.
It was “a matter of seconds” during which the bear attacked Uptain, turned on Chubon and then returned to further maul Uptain, Hovinga said.
But the Glock, “it didn’t make to Mark [Uptain],” Hovinga said. “The hunter fled.”
Chubon mounted a horse and rode to where he had cell service and called for help.
Searchers and Game and Fish personnel flew into the Teton Wilderness, found the site, discovered Uptain dead and ultimately killed both bears in a sequence of events documented by the Jackson Hole News&Guide.
Investigators found the Glock and its magazine in different locations, Hovinga told WyoFile. The evidence raised speculation that Chubon might have pushed the magazine release button below the trigger guard thinking it was a safety switch.
“In the process of trying to manipulate [it], we think he dropped the magazine, or it wasn’t engaged and it fell out when he picked [the pistol] up,” Hovinga said.
The Glock 10mm semi-automatic pistol has three safety features designed to prevent accidental discharge, according to web descriptions of the weapon, but none is an external “on-off switch” typical of many firearms. For safety reasons, many semi-automatic pistols are carried without a round in the chamber — essentially un-cocked.
To arm a semi-automatic pistol like the Glock, one must rack, or pull back, the slide, which is the top plate of the weapon. This moves a bullet from the magazine into the firing chamber and arms the firing pin. The operation is the equivalent of cocking a revolver, but less intuitive than the six-shooter action one typically sees in Hollywood Westerns.
Once so armed, the Glock is ready to fire by only pulling the trigger.
(Glock lists the firearm as a “10mm auto”, however fully automatic varieties — continuous fire with the trigger depressed — are available only to privileged parties such as law enforcement. Civilian firearms are semi-automatic firing only one round per trigger pull).
WyoFile was unable to contact Chubon.
When the bear returned to attack Uptain the second time, Chubon retreated. The News&Guide first reported and Hovinga confirmed that Chubon told investigators his last view of Uptain was of the guide on his feet attempting to fend off the attack.
Investigators found Uptain’s body 50 yards uphill from the attack site. They found a canister of bear spray about five feet from his body, a canister that had been discharged and emptied.
“We believe the fatal injuries occurred prior to him deploying bear spray,” Hovinga said. “We feel like he got to the location where he died on his own. All evidence [is] he made it there under his own power.
“There was no evidence the bear had been to where the victim died,” Hovinga said. “We don’t know where the bear spray was sprayed, deployed. [Uptain] hadn’t deployed it before the hunter fled.”
Editor’s note: The full version of this article is available on the WyoFile website, wyofile.com. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.
By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.
WyoFile.com via Wyoming news exchange