New Jersey Scoutmaster Attacked By Bear, Fights Him Off With A Hammer, Lives To Tell About It

A New Jersey scoutmaster is lucky to be alive after relying on his wits to survive a bear attack, Fox News is reporting.

Scoutmaster Christopher Petronino, 50, was hiking along New Jersey’s Split Rock Reservoir with some Boy Scouts when he showed the group a cave. As he approached the cave, a bear who had been living inside grabbed the scoutmaster and pulled him inside.

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Bob Considine tells NJ.com that the scoutmaster fought off the bear by attacking it with a small rock hammer. Petronino then pulled his sweater over his head and assumed a fetal position. He told the Boy Scouts who were with him to go get help.

As their scoutmaster lay trapped in the cave – the young men would later say they could still hear the bear “huffing” from inside the cave – they called for help on their cell phones. Using GPS coordinates from their phones, officials were able to hone in on where the injured scoutmaster was trapped and sent a helicopter to rescue him.

Meanwhile, the scoutmaster told the Boy Scouts to try to use whatever food they had to lure the bear out of the cave. Fortunately, a dog in the party barked at the bear, scaring the animal out of the cave. The bear then ran up a hill and out of sight, and Petronino was able to escape. Authorities say the scoutmaster spent about 80 minutes trapped inside the cave with the bear.

Petronino was airlifted to nearby Morristown Medical Center and treated for bites and scratches to his legs and shoulders. Petronino would later tell authorities that he’d been visiting that particular cave since the 1980s and had never encountered a bear there before. He also said he didn’t notice any collars or ear tags on the animal, meaning New Jersey authorities had not been tracking it.

Considine believes the bear was likely threatened and is most likely not exceptionally aggressive.

“Division of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officers and the Wildlife Control Unit believe the bear was protecting its hibernation location and they do not, at this point, consider the bear to be a Category I bear.”

New Jersey defines Category 1 bears as bears that are particularly aggressive and dangerous to humans or livestock, according to KYW-TV.

The Boy Scouts were all taken to a nearby police station before being reunited with their families. None of them were injured.

The population of bears in New Jersey – black bears, in particular – has been growing, and as humans encroach on their habitat, attacks on humans are more likely.

In September, 2014, 22-year-old hiker Darsh Patel was killed by a black bear – the first (and so far, only) fatal bear attack on a human in recorded history in New Jersey, according to the New York Times. Patel had ignored warnings from other hikers that a bear was nearby and got up close to photograph the animal. As Patel and his group began walking away, the bear followed them. The animal eventually caught up to Patel and killed him.

The Garden State has recently begun a controversial program allowing hunters to kill the bears in order to control the population. This year’s hunt brought in 472 bears, up from 272 in 2014.

New Jersey authorities have set up traps hoping to catch the bear who attacked the scoutmaster, but as of this writing, the animal has not been caught.

[Image via Shutterstock/Menno Schaefer]