Sonny Pumphrey might be 78-years-old, but when it comes to fighting off bears, he’s got the energy of a man half his age.
The North Carolina man was outside his rural home this week when he noticed three bears that were very close to him. Two were young cubs that quickly ran off, leaving Sonny face to face with an angry mother bear. As the Salem News reported, the mother bear went on the attack.
“She made a charging dead run at me. That sucker was eyeball to eyeball to me,” he told the newspaper.
Sonny Pumphrey didn’t have much time to think about what to do, so he started punching the bear in the nose.
“I hit her right dead on the point of the nose the first shot, and when I did, she went down and started trying to bite me,” Sonny Pumphrey said.
The bear bit Sonny on the hip and held on tightly, but then let go and took a swipe with her giant paw, knocking him back onto the concrete. That caught the attention of Sonny’s wife, Betty, who ran outside with the family’s small dog. The couple yelled at the bear and the dog barked, causing the bear to stop her attack and run off into the forest.
Recent reports have indicated that the bear population in North Carolina is growing quickly, and that the bears themselves are getting fatter than they’ve ever been. A 2014 report from the Virginian-Pilot noted that hunters bagged bears weighing at least 780 pounds in three consecutive years, setting a record for the state.
Experts said that bears in the state are skipping hibernation due to milder winters, and continue eating instead, due to the shift from farming tobacco and cotton crops to corn and soybeans, which are edible — and a favorite of bears.
“The amount of agriculture has influenced hibernation,” said Colleen Olfenbuttel, who works for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “The reason for 700-plus bears is reflecting the abundance of food available now versus what we saw 20 years ago.”
After hunting and logging decimated the bear population in North Carolina in the 1970s, biologists introduced a management plan that emphasized protecting their natural habits, the report noted. There are now close to 20,000 bears in the state, up from 2,000 in 1984. But this has also led to more unwanted clashes with people, like the one that attacked Pumphrey this week.
Sonny Pumphrey will still have to undergo a series of rabies shots after his encounter with the bear, but he said he’s grateful to be alive.