Another Bear Spray Failure: Bow Hunter Mauled – WARNING Graphic Images

By Dean Weingarten

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Dean Weingarten
Dean Weingarten

Arizona -( Another case of bear spray failure occurred in Montana on September 4th at about 8 a.m.  A grizzly bear charged through bear spray to get at Tom Sommers.

Sommers and his partner Dan were bow hunting for elk when they saw the bear about 30 feet away.  Dan put out a cloud of spray, but the bear charged through it.

Sommers was unable to get the safety off his spray can and dropped it as the bear closed with him. He then accessed a pistol, but was unable to shoot before the bear swatted his hand down. As the bear attacked him, it stood on his hand/gun, so he could not shoot.


(Tom Sommers) And partner Dan both pulled out pepper spray. Dan sprayed but Toms spray didn't work so bear came after Tom. Tom ran behind a tree, bear kept coming. apparently bear chased Tom around tree twice, Tom got his pistol out turned to shoot, bear knocked his hand down. Tom hit ground. bear bit through thigh then put toms head in his mouth. while head in mouth tom tried to shoot bear in neck but bear stepped on hand /gun. Tom said he could hear his skull cracking. thought that was it. Dan shot bear at 2 feet with pepper spray. that's all it took. bear ran off and tom shot at it but said he couldn't see anything from all the blood and pepper spray in his face. 4 hours later after several hours on back of mule he is alive and in hospital. great spirits. was laughing. hope I did his story justice.

Some interesting things to note about this failure of bear spray to prevent the attack. Tom would have had time to use his pistol if he had not fumbled with the bear spray first. He almost had time to use it, twice, even after wasting 3-4 seconds with the bear spray.

It was only after the bear was sprayed at extremely close range (2 feet) that the bear stopped the attack. Then Tom fired a shot. Whether it was the spray or the shot or both that kept the bear from returning is uncertain.


“The bear just flat-out charged us,” said Tom Sommer, as he recovered in a Montana hospital on Tuesday afternoon. He said it closed the 30-foot (9-meter) distance in 3 or 4 seconds.

The attack on Sommers is reminiscent of the attack on Todd Orr that happened in the same area less than a year ago.  In that bear spray failure, the bear also charged through a cloud of spray. Todd Orr also relied on bear spray instead of his pistol, and was unable to use the pistol while the bear was mauling him. Orr was alone when attacked.

Another Bear Spray Failure: Bow Hunter Mauled - WARNING Graphic Images
Another Bear Spray Failure: Bow Hunter Mauled – WARNING Graphic Images


Both Orr and Sommers yelled at the bear to “let them know they were there”. It was the wrong decision in both of their cases.  Both bears attacked when they were yelled at. Both men sustained severe injuries to their head that required dozens of stitches. Both were fortunate to survive.

There are numerous flaws in the “studies” that show bear spray to be effective.  A skeptical article by the Bear Attack Examiner, Dave Smith, tears apart the idea that studies have shown bear spray to be more effective than firearms.

 A thorough review the research on firearms and bear spray reveals that it's not possible to make a legitimate comparison of bear spray to firearms, and that Smith's research on bear spray and firearms is flawed and biased.

The Bear Attack Examiner goes on to show selection bias in the study by Tom Smith.  All 269 incidents used to classify gun defenses were incidents involving aggressive bears, while less than a third of the bear spray incidents involve aggressive bears.   Dave Smith goes on to write:

A far more significant problem is that the results of Tom Smith's study on firearms are inconsistent with the results of a 1999 study by Miller and Tutterrow on Characteristics of Nonsport Mortalities to Brown and Black Bears and Human Injuries from Bears in Alaska. Miller & Tutterrow examined more than 2,000 incidents from 1970 to 1996 when people killed bears in defense of life of property, and less than 2 percent of the people involved reported injuries. Instead of offering a meaningful explanation for major differences between the two studies on firearms vs bears, Smith and Herrero claimed there were no previous studies on firearms vs. bears.

Bear spray can be a useful tool. It is good for conditioning non-aggressive bears to avoid humans. The claim that it is more effective at stopping bears than firearms is unwarranted. Smith explains the advantages of bear spray.


Lighter than a gun; requires less training; no risk of an accidental, fatal shooting; and no real skill required for use.

“So fine, go to bear spray,” he said, “but realize you’re giving up something.”

There is simply not enough evidence to conclude – as some have – that bear spray is more effective than a firearm, Smith said, and the attack on Johnson at Pogo Mine underlines that. Smith is deeply critical of government officials for suggesting bear spray might be more effective than a firearm.

He is of the belief that it was only a matter of time before the growing faith in bear spray got someone killed. He’s not alone.

Bear spray has had a number of spectacular failures. It has had numerous successes with non-aggressive bears.

©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.

  • 30 thoughts on “Another Bear Spray Failure: Bow Hunter Mauled – WARNING Graphic Images

    1. When the game wardens went in on the Katmi to kill the bear that killed and ate Timithoy Tredwell and his girlfriend, they had shotguns. Keep in mind this was a very old and debilitated bear. He was hungry and had been driven off of kills, and his salmon fishing ground. At necroposy it was found one bear had been shot from just a few feet in the head and the slug bounced off. A shotgun is not necessarily the best weapon. You need to break down a bears shoulders with a solid deep penetrating heavy for caliber bullet. A side arm is also not the best weapon unless it is a heavy caliber. A enraged griz can dead run at over 30 miles an hour. You just might have time for one shot. Every scenario is different, If I am going into griz country I want to take precautions. I carry a 338/378 or a 375 H&H with a 300 grain Barns or Woodleigh solid up the pipe and bear spray. (Also read the can, bear spray has a shelf life of only 6 months because the pressurization that propels the spray can leak) Alaskan kodiak grizz can go 10 feet in length and weigh in at over 1400 lbs most are significantly smaller depending on available biomass . They are magnificent awesome creatures with 6 to 8 inch claws and can take your head off with a single love pat. Hunters try to be quiet and stealthy, especially bow hunters this of course makes for a more likely encounter with a surprised dangerous bear. In griz country you will not find me with a bow unless I have a backup hunter armed with a heavy caliber weapon.

    2. ideally if you are going to be hunting bear country, one person should be along carrying a 12 gauge loaded with slugs. that would be his only purpose, to be there for protection.

    3. If you decide to go the gun route, and I have, then load up with hard cast bullets for penetration. That bullet must defeat hair, hide, and a lot of fat and strong muscle fiber before it gets to the good stuff – the internal organs. Also the sheer size of a grizzly is much more of a challenge compared to the more commonly encountered black bear, so match the firearm accordingly. Bear behavior – look big and aggressive is recommended for black bear but grizzly bear will not be run off easily and probably just be even more aggressive by a display..

      1. I’ve read plenty about how long a grizzly can keep attacking even with a heart shot. A head or snout shot should be the goal. If the grizzly raises his/her head with a snout shot, it becomes an upper chest or neck shot. But, a mouth to base of skull shot would be good.

    4. I am close to his age maybe older. My combat experience, Law Enforcement experience has taught me to always have a backup handgun. I went steps further with complete total ambidextrous abilities to shoot, hand to hand, and edged weapons. I carry a 10 MM strong hand and a S&W Model 19 2.5 inch barreled (.357 magnum) weak hand when in the back country way from my rifle. In Northern Michigan we don’t have Grizzly’s but we have had a few rather nasty unprovoked black bear attacks in the last 10 years and the DNR has yet to make any sense of it beyond speculation. The ones caught and killed have no diseases that might cause them ( Mother and 2 young ones) to climb a tree to attack a tree stand Bow Deer hunter and other situation where the human was in no way a threat to a normal black bear.

      Situational awareness is paramount as Joseph pointed out. Have more than spray it is a coin toss solution only. Learn instinctive shooting and CQB/CQM shooting tactics please don’t face off a bear in an isosceles stance, they bear will swat your handgun or arms off.
      Learn to shoot effectively with the handgun close to your rib cage when the bear is charging you and close..
      Sometimes behavior is not predictable as it is in humans sometimes.

      1. One of the biggest holes in observational understanding of bear attacks, is a simple one of psychology: just like humans, they are individuals.

        An individual can wake up one morning and just simply be pissed off. They might not be feeling good health-wise, or a combination of those two!

        At some point during the day they could have had a bad encounter with another bear, or an elk, or a moose, and they lost that battle with the other animal!

        Bears are individuals!

        No, I’m not being anthropomorphic here, I’m simply stating a fact: individuals of any species have their own psychological, physical, and emotional makeup.

        These facts have to be taken into consideration when attempting to understand any Behavior, either animal or human!

        One morning a bear wakes up on the wrong side of the bed so to speak, and it’s just pissed off! Later in the day he or she happens to encounter a recalcitrant herbivore that pisses the bear off even more! Then, perhaps the tree stump that the bear spent 20 minutes to a half an hour tearing apart attempting to get it some grubs and door Critters, did not yield enough food to satisfy the output of Labor!

        Basically, the bear woke up pissed off, had a bad encounter with someone else and that pissed the bear off more, and then the bear didn’t get enough grub at some point in the day and is still hungry!

        When such a bear happens to encounter a human, the Critter pretty much just wants to tear anybody a new a-hole!

        I’m worked around horses, cattle, even fowl, and let me tell you they all have individual personalities!

        So when we’re talking about why bears do whatever it is they do, let’s not forget that one size does not fit all!

        Bottom line, large caliber sidearm, and or large gauge shotgun, and the ability to understand that either a Blackie, or a Grizz, can cover 30 yards, much less 30ft, in the blink of the proverbial eye!

        Others hear of said it very loudly and very clearly: situational awareness can keep you alive!

    5. Hey, didn’t Hugh Glass stab one in the neck with a damn big knife?
      Oh, wait, that was DiCaprio and it was a movie.
      At the very least if you’re alone, have a .44 mag or a 12 gauge really handy.
      In this type of a situation a thing called “situational-awareness” comes into play along with a little practice in quick response.
      Don’t take a leisurely stroll in bear country it doesn’t make any sense anyway.

    6. When I was working in Grizzly country (Northern Idaho & Northwestern Montana) I was told to either carry pepper spray or a bell or something to make noise so the bears will hear it and get out of the way. My noise maker was a Ruger Blackhawk in .45 Colt loaded hot! There is an old joke that goes: If you’re in Grizzly country how do tell grizzly sh*t from black bear sh*t? The grizzly sh*t is full of bells and smells like pepper spray.

    7. It sounds to me like we have a situation where bear spray will work on a passive bear but not an aggressive bear. That being said, we now need to be able to determine in the 30 foot/2 to 3 seconds of time, if the bear coming our way is passive or aggressive or passive aggressive. I guess until such time that bears can talk or otherwise transmit their intentions, I will rely upon lead and gunpowder to determine the best intentions. If it’s walking past and continues on its way, good for both of us but, if it continues to come my way and doesn’t turn, flesh and lead will collide.

    8. From what I have read, clouds of spray do not work. It takes a good shot to the nose to deter a bear. It impacts their breathing, their smell and overwhelms their senses.
      Just as a 44 mag shot needs to be properly placed. Shoot an ear off and the bear will chew your off.
      Sounds like Tom should have spent some time and money on some practice cans of bear spray to get quick with the safety cap just as one also needs to practice pulling their 44 from its holster.
      Practice may not make perfect but it improves the result.

    9. I must point out that in such instances I do believe I would consider one of those Serbu short barrel shotguns, or, not wanting to go through the idiot atf’s bovine fecal matter, I would go ahead and buy one of those Mossberg ‘firearms’ classification models, with the 14 inch barrel and the rounded pistol grip.

      Then I would load up appropriately with double-ought and alternating slugs and that should allow me to get off two shots before he/she is on top of me!

      That is the big thing that we must all understand; when we were out and about in Bear Country: if a bear charges us For Real, chances are he or she is going to be on top of us and exceedingly pissed off!

      The whole point is to minimize the injuries we’re going to receive and to stay alive: that’s why I would argue that one needs to carry a good short-barreled shotgun, and a sidearm in addition to whatever one is hunting with.

      I used to bow hunt forever and a day and I dearly loved it and I miss it, but whilst in the woods, I was always prepared to Chuck the bow and pull the sidearm!

      1. I wouldn’t rely on a Mossberg to defend myself from a one eyed chicken much less a Grizzly. If you’re going to be in Grizzly country and you intend on carrying a shotgun for protection the extra $500 you spend on a quality shotgun might end up being the best investment you ever make.

        1. I can just imagine a bear saying. “Hey buddy. Look at this guy. He thinks he can shoot me with a Mossberg. Doesn’t he know that the Winchester PDX Defender slug fired out of a Mossberg just rolls out of the muzzle and falls to the ground? If he had a Browning Citori or Benelli, all he would have to do is show us the name and we would end up leaving a hot pile as we ran off.”
          Yeah right.

    10. Bear spray is like tear gas a fraud. It gives you a false sense of security. Anyone who believes that they will work are badly mistaken. Sometimes but not always do you want to place your life with them. I have a 44 mag with a 3″ barrel that I would put much more trust in

    11. I’ve been trying to wrap my wits around one particular scene in my head. Okay, the bear is outside the 20 foot range of my spray. Let’s say he’s ten yards or even twenty yards. If he gets up to speed at around 30 miles an hour, that means he’s (or she’s!) in the spray for less than a second, and I’m one second from the cloud I just sent up. How am I not toast at this point? You get that ATTACK! trigger pulled in a bear that close, I don’t think they have the time to stop their charge even if they wanted to. I’m going to need to have something that closes fast and gives me the best chance of surviving. An icky mist? That’s not going to do it. My last thoughts are going to be “Huh! I should have sprayed myself!”

    12. I had a dog that had been sprayed by skunks several times. The smell, always obvious in the middle of the night, told me what my first chore would be in the morning. One morning, as I stepped outside with the vinegar to bathe him, there was a full grown striped skunk torn to shreds, dog standing and stinking proudly over it. I expect that if we spray enough bears with this taco sauce we will eventually have some that regard it as a condiment instead of a repellent.

      1. @Grieg, That is a great dog! I also note that the skunk did not have a legal staff regulating the potency of his spray, to conform with various statues and to avoid liability.

    13. The idea that pepper spray is more effective than firearms is akin to the idea that no one “needs” a firearm – that is until you do. It sadly reminds me of the joke about the way to determine bear scat in the wild is if it smells like pepper and has a whistle in it.

        1. Doug, Even then, a high powered handgun doesn’t always stop a bear, but it is certainly better than nothing at all. Never take bears for granted. Once a bear decides it is going to attack, spray will not stop it.

            1. Doug, also, in the heat of the moment, that bear spray can be just as much of a detriment to you as anything else out there too. Like you, I would rather take my chances with the overwhelming firepower.

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