Bella Twin, the .22 Used to Take the 1953 World Record Grizzly, and More

By Dean Weingarten

Bella Twin is shown with the hide from the world record grizzly bear
Bella Twin is shown with the hide from the world record grizzly bear
Dean Weingarten
Dean Weingarten

Arizona -(Ammoland.com)- On 10 May, 1953, Bella Twin was hunting small game with her partner, Dave Auger, along an oil exploration cutline south of Slave Lake, in Alberta, Canada. She was 63 years old.

They saw a large grizzly bear coming toward them. Wishing to avoid an encounter, they hid off the side of the cut.

But the bear kept coming closer and closer.  The bear got so close that Bella Twin thought it less risky to shoot the bear than to not shoot it.  It was probably only a few yards away. Some accounts say 30 feet. Perhaps she saw it stop and start to sniff, as if it had caught their scent. We may never know.

She shot at the side of the bears head.  Knowing animal anatomy very well (she was an experienced trapper, and had skinned hundreds, perhaps thousands of animals) she knew exactly where to aim to penetrate the skull at its weakest point.

She shot, the bear dropped. It was huge. She went to the bear and fired the rest of the .22 long cartridges that she had, loading the single shot rifle repeatedly, to “pay the insurance” as Peter Hathaway Capstick said.  She made sure the bear was dead, and not just stunned.  My father taught me the same lesson when I was 13.

Here is a picture of the bear's skull and the .22 caliber holes in the left side.

1953 World Record Grizzly Skull

For those curious about how to place that shot on a live bear, the place to aim is half way on a line from the center of the eye to the ear hole.

From the front, you would aim directly up the nose. If the bear's mouth is open, aim for the back of the roof of the mouth.  Aiming above the nose will likely miss the brain.

What rifle did Bella use to shoot the world record grizzly in 1953?

I wrote an article asking for help in 2014. Several alert readers replied over the intervening period.  Because of their efforts, and the Internets, I have been able to find more detail about Bella Twin, her rifle, and the event. One reader was able to track down the current location of the rifle and send me pictures taken by the curator of the museum. The rifle is a Cooey Ace 1 single shot .22 rimfire.

Bella Twin used the rifle for many years on her trapline. The rifle was produced between 1929 and 1934.  From a commenter at Ammoland:

here is a quote from the curator of the museum about the gun when i talked to him via email:

” I can tell you that the rifle is a .22 caliber single shot Cooey Ace 1. I can also tell you that the rifle’s condition, which has remained as it was when Bella Twin shot the bear, leaves a lot to be desired. There is corrosion on the receiver and barrel, the front screw that holds the stock to the barrel is missing and has been replaced with hockey tape. There is a piece of rubber under the barrel – probably as a method of “free floating” the barrel. There is no finish left on the wood. The stock is missing a part by the receiver and there is a wood screw reinforcing a crack in the stock.”

Bella Twin was a Cree woman. She had a reputation for being a deadly shot.  Her grandson, Larry Loyie became an award winning writer.  He wrote a fictionalized account of the bear shooting to include his grandmother in his prize winning children's book, As Long as the Rivers Flow. From smokyriverexspress.com:

Kokom Bella Twin is a highlight of the adventures in As Long as the Rivers Flow. The tiny 63-year-old Cree wo- man, who lived on Rabbit Hill overlooking Slave Lake, shot the biggest grizzly bear in North America.

“I had to put Bella into the book. She was being forgotten. The only people who remembered her were readers of hunting magazines,” said Larry.

In As Long as the Rivers Flow, Larry wrote that he was with his grandmother when she shot the bear. It made sense to put the story into the book, but Larry was not with his grandmother when she shot the bear. In 1953, Larry had been gone from Slave Lake for five years.  I suspect his grandfather, Edward Twin, had died. Bella was 63 and was spending time with another man.  Larry refers to Dave Auger as Bella's partner in a family picture. Dave Auger was with Bella when she shot the bear.

Bella Twin and her partner Dave Auger, family photo by Larry Loyie. The photo was likely taken in the 1960's or later, because it is in color.

In Bruno Engler: Photography, the famous photographer has pictures of Bella in front of the bear skin. When Bruno told her that he wanted to take the picture, she insisted on going home and sprucing up, and changing into nicer clothes. Engler writes:

She was dressed very simply. When she thought I was going to take a picture of her she said “No, I have to go home first.” And she came back with a dress and put some cornstarch on her face for makeup. I said “Bella Twin, you looked much better before.”

Women want to look their best in a photograph that will be shown to the world. This explains the somewhat awkward grip on the Cooey Ace 1 in the Engler photograph. Her left hand covers up the repair to the rifle.

What ammunition did Bella Twin use? The written accounts say .22 Long.

Ammo Used to Kill 1953 World Record Grizzly

This style of box was produced by CIL in Canada from 1950 to 1956. It is probably the type of ammunition Bella Twin used to shoot the world record grizzly. Bella Twin is specifically recorded as reporting that she shot it with .22 Longs, not Shorts, not Long Rifles. I recall that into the 1960's Longs were more expensive than shorts, but cheaper than Long Rifle ammunition.

The High Velocity .22 Long dates back to the 1930's and uses a 29 grain bullet at 1240 fps.  The High Velocity .22 Short dates to about the same period, with the same bullet as the Long, but a velocity of 1125.  The difference in velocity is 1240 – 1125 or 115 fps.  That amounts to a 21% increase in energy for the Long, but far short of the Long Rifle, which is almost double that of the .22 Short.

The energy figures are listed as Short 81 foot pounds, Long 99 foot pounds, and Long Rifle 158 foot pounds, all for High Velocity loads of the period.  A standard velocity .22 Long Rifle is listed at 1140 fps, with 120 foot pounds of energy, or 21% more than the High Velocity Long.  The modern CCI standard velocity .22 Long Rifle travels at 1070 fps, with 102 foot pounds of energy, still 3% more than the High Velocity Long.

What was the location where the bear was shot?  During my research, I came across a photo of the right side of the bear's skull. The right side has the location where the bear was shot written on it. The bear was shot in Section 24, Township 71, Range 6, W 5th Meridian.   That is a section of land about 7 1/2 miles south of Slave Lake. The bear was likely shot just west of Florida Lake.  A section is one mile square.

In Larry Loyie's obituary in the Smoky River Express, Bella Twin is described as a tiny woman. This photograph suggest that she was under five feet tall.

We know the date the bear was shot, because it is recorded on the top of the skull. Most written accounts only say it was the spring of 1953. It was on May 10th of that year.

Bella Twin was only a name for most of the time I knew of her. I wondered about this famous huntress for many years. Now we know that she was an expert trapper, hunter, and a crack shot.  She was a beloved grandmother who taught her grandchildren well and knew the Cree traditional folkways.  She lost one man and found another.  She was shrewd enough to parlay the world record grizzly into cash. She sold the skin and skull separately, and sold the old, beat up rifle as well.

Bella Twin, I salute you. I would have liked to know you. Born in the Canadian wilderness in 1890, your life stretched between worlds.

May your memory and deeds live long, told around many campfires. I will tell my grandchildren about you.

Readers who know more about Bella Twin, please share your stories.

©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.

Link to Gun Watch

 

About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

  • 23 thoughts on “Bella Twin, the .22 Used to Take the 1953 World Record Grizzly, and More

    1. Great slave lake has always been in Canada a fact I’ve known since second grade! After reading many outdoor magazines fishing articles I learned this and a lot of other useful info. Still, I would like to know how big the bear was!

    2. Excellent article. She did in deed bridge two worlds, and her cool competence certainly came from the old world. I too hope her memory and deeds live long, and are told around many campfires. I be one of those doing the telling.

    3. What a great story and an amazing lady. It just goes to show what I have always said, “It is not how fast the bullet is going, it is not how big around the bullet is, or the configuration of the bullet; it’s all about bullet placement.” Better a single well-placed .22 than multiple bigger caliber hollow-point, FMJs, copper-solids, plastic tip or any other “modern/magic projectiles just hitting “somewhere” close.

    4. I well remember when a kid reading of Great Slave Lake and it’s location in Northwest Territories. Back then I was into reading of early fur trappers and traders of the era. There is often confusion between Great Slave Lake and the town of Slave Lake, which is located on the shore of Lesser Slave Lake in Alberta.

    5. I would love to know what she replaced the Ace 22 with – being a trapper, I would guess she went with another 22, but it would be interesting to know. Or maybe she retired…

      Anyhow, nice one, Dean. Small woman, with lots of grit.

      1. Also – the rubber under the barrel of her rifle, mentioned by the curator in his email, likely functioned to keep the barrel from rattling around in the stock and making unwanted noise.

    6. It is “shot placement” that counts. Large calibers are used as insurance to bad shot placement. She proved it.

    7. the first line says Alberta, Canada…….clearly stated for those who read………I have not heard of this before.. I am not sure that I would have even taken the shot…….so shaken that would most likely have missed anyhow. just call me lunch..

      1. @chuck, I believe that Dean added the Alberta, Canada after many people read the article and the question arose.

      1. Slave Lake is in Alberta. Almost exactly the geographic centre of the Province, North West of Edmonton on Lesser Slave Lake.

    8. Great story BUT where the heck is Slave Lake??? I see that it is in North America but Dean never states where (unless I missed something). She was born in the “Canadian wilderness” and there is a Florida Lake mentioned along with details of road names and even a map but no mention of where. Canada? Wyoming? Montana? Florida??? Sure I can look it up but it should have been mentioned in the first paragraph.

    9. Wow, what a narrative! I never heard the account, before. And a testimony to cool nerve and the .22LR. Amazing. That is an experience that no politician will ever have.

    10. I am in AWE…. what an amazing woman. I now remember reading about her Griz kill when I was a teenager in Ohio., At that time, my father told me that most women could shoot better than men if given the chance. And for those readers who don’t recognize me from our writings, Mary, my bride of 30+ years is a better shot and hunter than I will ever be. I love it when we go to the range and the guys gather around to watch her “clean out the bullseye”. Thank you for sharing the story Dean, Doc

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