Christopher Petronino and three other Scouts were hiking at Split Rock reservoir on Sunday afternoon when he stopped to show the boys a cave, NJ.com reported. He dipped into a small crevasse leading to it, and the bear grabbed him by the foot and yanked him inside. It began biting his legs and shoulders, and Petronino fought it off. The three fellow Scouts with him then called for help.
“Petronino struck the bear twice in the head with a rock hammer. He then pulled his sweatshirt over his head and curled into the foetal position,” Bob Considine, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said in a statement. “He yelled to the Scouts, who were outside the cave, to leave and go get help.”
The boys used a mobile phone to call authorities, who told them to place any food they had outside the cave to lure the bear away from Petronino. When it emerged, a dog that had come along with the group began barking and the bear ran up a nearby hillside.
The boys from Troop 69 likely saved Petronino when they used food to lure the bear out of the cave and called 911, officials said.
“I want to commend those young Scouts,” said Dave Chanda, director of the state Division of Fish and Wildlife. “They knew what to do.”
Considine said the Scout leader spent about 80 minutes inside the cave before escaping. He was airlifted to Morristown medical centre and treated for his wounds. The Scouts, from a troop based in the town of Boonton, were released to their parents.
Petronino, 50, told authorities he’d visited the cave regularly for decades and had never seen a bear.
Considine said state wildlife officials believe the bear was protecting its hibernation location. Initially, they placed traps around the area where the attack occurred and hoped to capture the animal. Later, they told NJ.com the warmer weather was confusing the bears and they were not deep into hibernation. The officials do not believe the bear is a threat and will not try to capture it.
Hunters in New Jersey killed 510 bears during the state’s extended black bear hunt, which ended on Saturday. Fifty-eight were killed in Morris County, where Split Rock Reservoir is located.
The Scouts’ encounter demonstrated that it was dangerous to go so far into the woods these days because bears were so prevalent, said Lieutenant Peter Reilly of Rockaway township police.
“They were several miles into the woods, far from any road or access point,” Reilly said. “I wouldn’t advise taking people into the woods at this point. There are a lot of bears all over in Rockaway township. There are swimming bears and walking bears.”