In early September, a man was mauled by a grizzly bear while helping a friend search for a mule deer he’d shot in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest of southwest Montana. Rudy Noorlander survived the mauling and was life-flighted to a nearby hospital with critical injuries—including a ripped-off lower jaw. Now he’s returning home after enduring extensive reconstructive surgery at a hospital in Utah.
At a press conference held at the University of Utah Medical Center on Friday, October 13, one of Noorlander’s daughters relayed a written message from the 61-year-old Navy veteran and lifelong outdoorsman. Noorlander is unable to speak as a result of his injuries.
“Even if there seems to be no hope, keep on fighting,” the message read. Both of his daughters appeared alongside him at the press conference, along with the doctor who preformed the surgeries.
Noorlander owns an ATV and snowmobile rental service out of Big Sky, Montana. According to his daughters, he had bear spray and a side arm when the mauling occurred back on September 8, but his pistol misfired in the lead up to the attack. Fellow hunters then came to his aid, scared the bear away, and made contact with emergency services.
“Only by the hands of God am I here,” Noorlander wrote on a whiteboard during the nearly 34-minute, live-streamed press conference. “I’ve had a lot of inspirations, and I felt the need to share my story with others. Believe it or not, I believe that this attack was an answer to my prayers and that potentially it could help someday else going through something similar.”
Noorlander is no stranger to bear encounters. He said that his first bear run-in took place when he was just 10 years old, and he’s seen bears four times in the last five years going up the same trail where the attack occurred. He once injured his left knee while running from a bear, according to one of his daughters.
Noorlander’s surgeon said she expects him to regain his speaking abilities after undergoing physical therapy. “I don’t have an exact timeline, but I promise you that he will be speaking again before you know it,” she said, adding that, “he’s going to make a full recovery and be back to himself.”
Noorlander said he wants to tell more of the story as time goes on and might write a book about the harrowing experience. For now, he’s looking forward to getting home to Montana, and getting back into the backcountry. When asked if he’ll return to the area where the attack occurred Noorlander’s daughter said yes. “He plans on going back out there,” she told reporters. “He’s not afraid, but I would like him to retire.”