"She takes her claw and she rakes it across my chest" – North Carolina runner recalls terrifying bear attack

Cinnamon colored black bear with two cubs on trail
(Image credit: Getty)

A North Carolina man has explained what it was like to be attacked by a bear while out for a run near his home. Bill Palas, of Asheville, was running one of his usual routes on July 7 when he came across a bear cub that appeared to be alone.

"When you see a cub like that, there’s usually a mom around," he told local news network WLOS (article contains graphic photos). "So, I go and I turn around real quick – and all of a sudden, there I see the momma bear."

Black bears are the only bear species found in North Carolina, and following a successful reintroduction program, they can be found across 60% of the state's land area. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission explains that they prefer to live far from human settlements in uninhabited woodland or swampland with dense cover, though recently some animals have adapted to living near more developed areas.

"I just feel so lucky I'm together"

Palas began to shout and wave his arms to make himself look larger and show that he wasn't a prey animal. The adult bear made a bluff charge, veering away at the last minute, and Pala thought the encounter was over until he realized he was standing in between the mother and her cub.

"She stands up on her back legs, and here’s this head – her head must have been the size of a basketball – and it’s right here," he said. "She takes her claw and she rakes it across my face and chest."

Palas tried to defend himself, but was knocked down. Luckily for him, the bear wasn't interested in continuing the attack, and he was able to get up and retreat. At first he was unaware of the extent of his injuries, but managed to get back to his house fuelled by adrenalin. His wife immediately took him to hospital, where he received treatment from specialist facial plastic surgeons.

He is now back running on the trails, and is grateful that there was no permanent damage. “I just feel so lucky that I’m together," he said. "I mean, seeing these three-inch razor claws, I could see them this close to my face. Man, it’s just surreal."

If a black bear approaches you, regional program BearWise advises you to follow Palas's example and stand your ground, backing away only when the bear stops coming closer. Make yourself look larger by raises your arms or jacket, or standing on a rock or tree stump. Yell 'hey bear!' and remove your bear spray from it's holster so you're ready to use it. For more advice, see our guide what to do if you meet a bear.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.