WATFORD CITY, N.D.-Michael Turk says he's lucky to be alive after he was gored by a bison two weeks ago while hiking on a trail in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, south of Watford City.
"I know I was lucky to be alive. If it had hit my femoral artery (the largest artery in the body), it would have been the end of me," said Turk, now at his father's home in Biloxi, Miss.
The former Army combat medic, who grew up in Ocean Springs, Miss., near Biloxi, is a contract surgical technician who travels to various areas for his work. He has a passion for biking and hiking. When he arrived in North Dakota two weeks ago to bike and hike, it was his 50th state to visit. "I save the best to last," he said in an interview this week.
Turk, 51, who had been on contract work in Oregon, took the Amtrak passenger train to North Dakota, getting off the train with his bicycle in Williston and then biking to the park's North Unit on Friday, June 30.
Arriving at the North Unit that evening, he set up camp. "I planned to be there a week and go to the South Unit before coming here ," said Turk.
"It was a most beautiful evening, I was just in love with the park," he said, recalling his first night there.
After setting up camp, Turk headed for the Buckhorn Trail to take photos of the sunset. On the way up the trail, he saw a large majestic bison near the trail feeding on grass and went past the animal to photograph the sunset.
When he was returning on the trail he encountered the same bison bull. "It was probably less than the 25 yards they recommend," said Turk, referring to the park's recommendation that people should have at least 25 yard between them and bison. "I was too close, it was my fault. It was getting dark." He said there was still ambient light.
"I remember, I think I took one last picture of it as I was coming back. He looked at me and put his head down and started running at me," Turk said. "I don't remember him hitting me but I remember I woke up in the bushes."
After the attack, he said it took him a few minutes to get his bearings and at first he couldn't even remember what state he was in.
"I was in the state of confusion," he said.
Turk attended to the bleeding of his left upper thigh where the bison had gored him. He had cuts and scrapes all over his body from landing in the bushes.
"The buffalo was still hanging around the bushes," Turk said. While he was still in the bushes, he said the bison finally walked away.
"When it did, I scrambled halfway up a butte," Turk said. He continued until he neared the trailhead. "Then I saw the campground lights and started hollering for help," he said. The Juniper Campground was about a quarter mile from him.
"I had to get help. I didn't have a choice," said Turk. "It knocked my backpack and phone out of my hand." He was using his iPhone 7 to take photos.
"There was a buffalo on the trail but I'm not sure if it was the same one. That's why I didn't go farther down the hill," he said.
Turk remembers at some point taking off his shoes and socks, and used his socks to stuff them in the wound. He didn't have anything else because he had lost his backpack during the buffalo attack. "I was fading in and out of consciousness," he said.
Turk had hoped his hollering would attract help. "I think it was the last energy I had. I saw lights on the campground start lighting up, voices and then a sea of flashlights."
The campers, including airmen from Minot Air Force Base who were camping at the park that evening, could not reach Turk immediately because a bison was standing in the way. One of the campers who brought his firearm along fired it into the ground to try to get the bison to move so they could get to Turk. That didn't work. Campers also had to pile into a car brought to the area by another camper when the bison by the butte started coming at them. Finally the bison went around the butte and they were able to go to the injured hiker.
"I don't remember hearing the shot," Turk said. But he remembers calling back to the campers and once the bison below moved, he remembers campers coming up the hillside to reach him.
"One took his shirt off," Turk said. That camper used his shirt to make a tourniquet to wrap around Turk's injured left thigh. Turk was assisted to the waiting car.
"They got me into the car and we met the ambulance halfway to the entrance to the park," he said. The ambulance from Watford City took him to the McKenzie County Hospital where Turk remained overnight in the hospital.
He could have been released from the hospital that night but he had no ID or money to go to a motel. His backpack with his ID had been knocked off him in the attack. Park rangers found his backpack and ID the next day and brought it to him
Turk's name and current address were incorrect in earlier information about the incident possibly due to confusion after he was injured. Earlier information said he was 65 - he said he was born in 1965 - and his address was given as Juneau, Alaska. He said his driver's license still said Juneau where he had lived for a time.
Turk contacted his family members in Mississippi about his situation. His dad, Henry Turk, a retired Air Force captain, and his brother, Joel, a former major in the Marine Corps, took a plane flight to Minot, rented a car and arrived in Watford City on Sunday. "They thought I was on my death bed," said Michael Turk.
The three drove to the park to retrieve Michael's bicycle and camping gear. "My brother and I walked the trail and I got my phone back," he said. He got all of his belongings that he had lost back. "I just lost my dignity," he said.
Initially, Turk, planned to take the summer off. He had just hiked 400 miles of the 2,659 mile Pacific Crest Trail. His plans were to cover more of that trail over the summer but the desert heat was so intense he decided to go home to Mississippi. "I had one more state to complete so I took the train to North Dakota before heading home," he said.
Turk said he has never before had an encounter with wildlife as he did with the bison.
Of those who came to help him that night in the park when he was injured, Turk said, "They were awesome. I give them my utmost appreciation."
Turk said he didn't know military members were in the group of campers coming to help him until he came across stories online about the incident. "I thank them for serving in the United States armed forces," he said.
Turk said he will continue to rest for about a week. Since he's completed biking and hiking in all 50 states, he plans to look for work at home and remain there for a while. "I do plan to return to North Dakota to see the South Unit of the park and to the Pacific Crest Trail," he said.
But if there's any bison or other wildlife in the area, he said he plans to give them plenty of distance. "Definitely keep your distance, limit your photos to maybe one or two pictures and move on - no sense in lingering," he said.