A Pendleton hunter was attacked by a black bear Sunday evening in the Starkey Unit near La Grande.

Shane Thomas was by himself at Tony Vey Meadows about six miles up Forest Road 5160, said Sgt. Nick Pallis with the Union County Sheriff’s Office. Thomas told officers he had shot the bear with his rifle and had walked into a thicket to retrieve the animal.

Except the bear wasn’t dead. It attacked Thomas, who was unable to reach for his pistol and forced to fight back by kicking and yelling. Thomas was able to get away and drive himself back to the highway despite puncture wounds to his legs and backside, Pallis said.

Thomas texted his mother about what happened, and she called 9-1-1. Pallis said he paged Search and Rescue, though before they could respond his deputy actually passed Thomas on Highway 244. Thomas followed medics back to Grande Ronde Hospital in La Grande, where Pallis said he was treated and released.

“I give this young man some pretty good kudos,” Pallis said. “Anyone who can fight off a bear the way he did ... that’s an undertaking in and of itself.”

Pallis, however, added that Thomas was lucky. He said the incident underscores the need for hunters to have a partner with them in the wilderness in case of an accident or, in this case, an attack.

“It’s always something you have to consider,” Pallis said. “Accidents can happen, and animals can attack and hurt you.”

Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, said bear attacks are extremely rare in Oregon, but not unheard of. The agency has documented five incidents, none of which have been fatal. Two of the previous cases — one in Douglas County, and the other in Coos Bay — came under similar circumstances, where a wounded animal came back to attack a hunter.

“This is not the first time this has happened,” Dennehy said.

She said hunters need to approach wildlife carefully, especially if those animals have been shot and injured.

Dennehy said they are not sure what happened to the bear that attacked Thomas.

Oregon is home to between 25,000 and 30,000 black bears, according to ODFW. Spring bear hunting season runs through May 31 in northeast Oregon.

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Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0825.

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