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Published August 27, 2013, 11:37 AM

Solway, Minn., teen fights off wolf attack

Noah Graham, after waking up to find his skull in the jaws of a wolf, fought off the animal and lived to tell the tale. Graham, 16, has a story to tell the rest of his life; a story about an incident that Chris Niskanen of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources called "extremely rare and unusual."

By: Justin Glawe, Forum News Service

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Noah Graham, after waking up to find his skull in the jaws of a wolf, fought off the animal and lived to tell the tale.

Graham, 16, has a story to tell the rest of his life; a story about an incident that Chris Niskanen of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources called "extremely rare and unusual."

Despite an 11-centimeter wide gash on his scalp, 17 staples to close the wound and "the worst pain of his life," the Solway teen was nonchalant about the attack, which occurred Saturday morning at a campground along Lake Winnibigoshish, between Bemidji and Grand Rapids.

"I had to reach behind me and jerk my head out of its mouth," he said after being treated at a Bemidji hospital. "After I got up, I was kicking at it and screaming at it and it wouldn't leave. But then after awhile I got it to run away."

Graham was camping at the West Winnie Campground with five of his friends that night. The attack, and subsequent defeat, of the wolf came just before 4 a.m. Saturday.

The wolf suspected of carrying out the attack was captured and killed Monday, said Tom Provost, DNR regional enforcement supervisor at Grand Rapids. A necropsy and DNA testing should prove whether the 75-pound animal authorities have in their possession is the same one that took a bite out of Graham's scalp.

The campground is closed until further notice, and traps will remain set up in the area Monday night.

When DNR staff and officers with Leech Lake Tribal Police arrived after the attack, they set up a perimeter in an attempt to capture the creature. At one point, a DNR officer blasted a pistol shot at the wolf, but missed. Traps were set and in one, Graham's alleged attacker was found.

There are a few possible explanations for the wolf's attack on a human: It occurred at a campground, where wild animals may be used to retrieving food from lazy campers; the wolf had a misaligned jaw and was missing a canine tooth, making it harder to go after larger prey, Provost said; and finally, Graham's head, with his straight auburn hair, may have resembled smaller prey.

"I won't be sleeping outside again any time soon," he said.

Graham was talking with his girlfriend just before the wolf chomped. The bite came without warning.

"There was no sound at all. Didn't hear it. It was just all of a sudden there," he said.

Graham defeated the wolf alone. His girlfriend fled -- "she ran and got in her Jeep right away," he said -- and two members of the camping party "slept through" the screaming, kicking and fighting.

Then, the 16-year-old called his dad, Scott Graham. All parents dread the 4 a.m. phone call, but very seldom does a conversation go like it did Saturday morning.

"Dad, I just got attacked by a wolf."

"Are you alright?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"Just make sure you call 911 cause you need to alert the authorities."

Graham is tall and thin, and didn't seemed phased by his encounter with the animal. Nor did he seem shaken by the needle that pierced his wound to deliver a rabies shot after the attack.

"I thought it was a big coyote, but I guess it's a wolf,” he said.

There have been two wolf attack fatalities in North America in the last decade, according to the DNR. One was in northern Canada and another was in Alaska.

According to the Dr. L. David Mech, writing on the website of the International Wolf Center in Ely: “Two interesting wolf-human encounters in northeastern Minnesota add further to the mix of ways in which wolves have interacted with humans, without the humans coming out seriously injured.

“The first incident involved a logger who saw two wolves attacking a deer nearby. The logger picked up his dog, which had become extremely frightened by the deer attack. One of the wolves charged toward the man and dog, catching a lower fang on the logger’s black-and-red checkered wool shirt and slicing a six-inch gash in the material. As the wolf tried to yank free from the logger's clothes, its jaws opened wide and the logger looked right down the animal’s throat.

“ ‘It wasn't me the wolf was attacking,’ ” the logger said. “ ‘He was trying to get the dog who just happened to be in my arms.’ ”

The second Minnesota incident, according to Mech, left a 19-year-old hunter with a long scratch from a wolf's claws. The man had been hunting snowshoe hares deep in a thick swamp north of Duluth during a snowstorm, Mech wrote.

“He was wearing his deer-hunting jacket, which was well anointed with buck scent,” Mech wrote. “Suddenly a wolf hit him from behind and knocked him over onto his back. As the wolf stood over him, the startled hunter managed to fire his .22-caliber rifle. The wolf appeared to come to its senses and fled, leaving the hunter with a long scratch.”


Reporter Sam Cook contributed to this article.

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