BEMIDJI, Minn. (WCCO) — Few shorelines in Minnesota are more serene than the wild and western side of Lake Winnibigoshish. As gentle waves lap the rocky coast, campers and anglers alike get a true sense of wilderness along one of the state’s premier fishing lakes.
But for 16-year-old Noah Graham, a weekend camping trip to the West Winnie U.S. Forest Service campground would see Saturday morning’s peace turn into minutes of sheer panic.
“I could feel it rip into my head,” Graham said, recalling a vicious gray wolf attack.
Graham and his girlfriend were among a group of six church friends enjoying the final weekend of summer break before returning to school.
It was just around 4 a.m. Saturday morning, and the two were sitting down by the lake’s edge talking under the moonlight. That’s when, the 75-pound adult male gray wolf caught Noah by surprise.
“I was leaning back, kind of on my elbows, and we were talking, and I was looking her right in the eyes. And then just out of the blue it came and bit me crosswise on the back of the head,” Graham said.
The 16-year old’s skull was in the wolf’s jaws.
Worse still, the wolf wouldn’t let go of its powerful grip. Its teeth were tearing into Graham’s scalp, puncturing the skin above his left ear.
“And then of course I was immediately jumping, trying to get it off,” Graham said. “So I had to go jerk my head out.”
After Noah was able to wrestle the wolf off, his head wound was bleeding profusely. He grabbed a blanket and applied direct pressure to stop the bleeding as friends drove him to the hospital.
The bite left behind a gaping wound 11 centimeters long. Emergency room doctors used 17 staples to close the laceration.
When asked if he saw the wolf that attacked him, Graham said, “Yes, I did. After I stood up I could still see it pacing back and forth.”
While Graham ‘s attack was obviously the most serious, it wasn’t the only wolf encounter in the campground that night. Other campers say the lone wolf was gnawing at their tents, trying to get in. Another man said it jumped up onto a picnic table near the screened tent in which he was sleeping.
Moments later, the other campers could hear Graham screaming for help.
Rachel Humeniuk is Graham’s girlfriend, and she says it all happened all so quickly.
“Yeah, it was pretty freaky, but it wasn’t as scary until later when I realized how serious it was I guess,” Humeniuk said.
The wolf was later trapped and killed and is now being tested for rabies.
Meantime, for Graham and Humeniuk, what they experienced along that tranquil shoreline now seems so surreal and unimaginable.
“I was scared when it first happened, but once I got up I knew I was fine,” he said. “I was just afraid it was going to come back and attack me again or Rachel.”
He has already been receiving rabies vaccinations and will require a regimen of three more rounds through November.