BILLINGS, Mont. – Carroll College freshman wide receiver Roman Morris had never been tackled like this before.
Morris, who was bow hunting with two friends, was crouched on a hillside north of Gardiner at dawn Saturday when a female grizzly bear that was walking by turned and attacked him.
"It charged down the hill and just drilled me," said Morris, 21, of Whitewater.
Over the next 30 to 45 seconds, Morris fought with the bear as it bit and clawed, severed his left hamstring, punctured his shoulder, chomped at his head and tossed him around.
"I thought the whole time, This is so messed up. I'm going to die, I'm going to die,"' said Morris, a pre-med major.
The bear ran off after a friend fired a pistol. Morris underwent surgery at a Livingston hospital and was recuperating Monday at his brother's house in Helena.
"I still have a pretty dang good headache from the whole thing," he told The Billings Gazette in a telephone interview.
Morris, who was not on the Carroll football team's traveling squad for Saturday's game at Butte, said he and his brother, Mitch, and friend, Josh Love, set out to Beattie Gulch early Saturday to bow hunt for elk.
Daylight was just arriving as the three split up. Morris found a spot behind some sagebrush. After hearing some rustling, he pulled an arrow from his quiver and readied his bow. Just then, he saw the grizzly about 15 feet away, walking at an angle toward him. He felt certain the bear knew he was there.
Morris thought briefly about shooting it but thought that would only antagonize the animal.
Instead, he waited and hoped the bear would keep walking.
However, the bear turned and charged. Morris said he stood partway up and started to draw his bow when the grizzly hit him. For several seconds as they slid downhill, he held the bear's head and pounded away with his fist.
"I put everything I had into it. It didn't budge at all," said Morris, who is 6 feet, 2 inches, and 205 pounds.
The grizzly swatted Morris, its claw stabbing a 2-inch hole into his shoulder. He dropped down and put his hands behind his head. The bear bit at his head several times, but the slick outer layer on his hooded jacket apparently prevented the bear from clamping down.
"That jacket probably saved my life," he said.
The bear tried to roll him over, looking for a bite of his face or head, he said. Morris said he tried to play dead but also kept pushing the bear away as it bit and slapped at him.
Finally, the grizzly tore into his left leg — leaving a deep 9-inch gash — and tossed him, perhaps five to eight feet, he said.
"I don't know how you can stay still when it sinks its teeth into you," Morris said.
The bear kept picking him up and dropping him and Morris had been bitten more than a dozen times. Then the attack stopped.
His friend fired a shot and the grizzly took off.
Morris and the two others hiked a mile or so back to the car.
The attack came just hours before two Pennsylvania hunters shot a grizzly bear in self defense after bear spray didn't deter the charging bear.
On Monday, Morris said he still didn't understand why the bear attacked him. She was with three cubs, but they weren't under any threat as far as he could tell. Morris wasn't carrying pepper spray, saying he wasn't convinced it's as effective at keeping bears at bay as some claim.
The grizzly was doing more than just defending itself, Morris thinks.
"It was looking at me like I was an easy meal," Morris said.
The doctor told him he can't put pressure or weight on his injured leg for the next month or so and that it could be about a year before it's back to normal. Morris still hopes to fill his elk tag.
"I'm definitely going back out hunting as soon as I can," he said.