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A grizzly bear, a .44 magnum and a brush with death

A screen grab of the grizzly bear that attacked Leon Lorenz, a film-maker in Dunster, B.C.

Leon Lorenz

Leon Lorenz had filmed her before, her smooth black and white grizzly fur a notable gem in his wildlife repertoire.

But he'd never been as close to the full-grown bear as he was last Monday around 7 p.m. when the light in British Columbia's Robson Valley was perfect and the terrain so smooth he could walk silently between the trees.

"I remember telling myself I would be surprised if I wouldn't see a grizzly," he said from his home office in Dunster, B.C.

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There she stood, about 25 yards away from him, her back turned as she grazed on some food. Her two-year-old cub lingered nearby.

In a flash, that second of serenity became a moment of terror when the grizzly bear turned and bounded straight toward him, the veteran wildlife filmmaker narrowly escaping death at the hands of one of his most beautiful subjects.

Mr. Lorenz has filmed grizzlies for the past 19 years and knew well how to prepare for an encounter with a bear. He'd washed with unscented soap and was sure to walk without making any noise. He knew he could likely talk his way out of a grizzly attack by calmly reassuring the beasts. After all, he'd done it before.

Most importantly, he'd packed his .44 magnum stainless steel handgun, a safe companion he'd toted on many of his excursions since his mother asked him to get one 10 years ago.

At first, he didn't have a clear view of the bear, her body shrouded by a layer of branches. Mr. Lorenz silently shifted to the right to get a clearer view, then began recording.

"She turned, right there, and I could see she caught my scent," said the 53-year-old filmmaker. "I just knew I was being detected.

"Then suddenly, she just looks right at me and she did a wheel and ran."

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He kept one hand on the tripod and drew the other to his holster, pulling out the gun he'd never had to use. The grizzly zigzagged toward him, roaring the whole time.

Mr. Lorenz lifted the gun and set it off, just four feet above her head. The shot was enough to startle the bear and make her turn in the opposite direction.

"This was something that she wasn't expecting, to get blasted in the face; that was enough to put a damper on killing me," he said. "If I didn't have the gun, I would have been dead."

Even missing the bear might've been key to saving his life, said Mr. Lorenz, who was unhurt in the incident.

"If I had made a fatal shot, she would have had me to shreds."

Mr. Lorenz said he returned to the site the same evening looking for blood or for any evidence that he'd hit her with the bullet.

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"For my own peace of mind, I wanted to go back and check," he said.

Despite a bit of trouble sleeping in the nights since the encounter, images of the attacking bear on a continuous reel in his mind, Mr. Lorenz has been back to the hills looking for more footage of grizzlies. He wants to add more clips to the DVD set he plans to release in the fall through his film company, Canadian Wildlife Productions.

Mr. Lorenz said he always prays with his wife and two sons before heading out on his filmmaking missions, but is doing it a little more fervently now.

"I really feel I've grown for this," he said, adding that this was the first time he was attacked by a grizzly. "In order to get experience, you have to experience it."

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