Father Uses .44 Magnum to Shoot Grizzly Bear off Son

Rory Buckallew
Dean Weingarten
Dean Weingarten

Arizona -(Ammoland.com)– On the morning of 24 September, 2017, David Buckallew, 63, and his son, Rory, 35, were hunting black bear. David was along as an observer. Only Rory carried a rifle, a Remington model 700, semi-customized in the wildcat 6.5mm-06 caliber. Dave carried a Taurus Tracker stainless steel 4 inch .44 magnum in a Montana Holster shoulder rig made by Norm Schertenleib. Rory carried a Glock model 20 in 10mm.

The morning was cool with a light frost in low spots at Kalispell, Montana.  There was little wind. Sunrise was at 7:28 local.  Before 9 am, the men had spotted a black bear and were attempting to get in position for a shot. They were moving through thick cover on the steep side slope east of the Hungry Horse reservoir.

Taurus Tracker stainless steel 4 inch .44 magnum
Taurus Tracker stainless steel 4 inch .44 magnum
Hungry Horse Reservoir

Then they heard it. A large animal was crashing through the undergrowth. It was moving along the side slope angling up the hill, above them. As it came directly above them, about 30 yards away, they could see bushes move. It changed direction and charged down the hill at them. Neither man knew what it was. It was coming directly at them. Both men fired a shot in front of the beast in an attempt to divert it or scare it off. David fired his .44 magnum Taurus, Rory his model 700 bolt action Remington rifle. The animal was only 7-8 yards away, but the cover was so thick, they could not see it.

In a split second, the bear appeared as it slid to a stop only two feet from and just beyond Rory. The bear lunged at Rory, and Rory jammed the barrel of his rifle into its mouth. Then, as the bear jerked aside, he hit the bears head with the barrel.

The bear slapped the rifle aside, sending it spinning out of Rory's hands. As the bear lunged for his face, Rory instinctively blocked with his right arm. The bear grabbed him by the elbow, its nose only inches from Rory's.

The bear grabbed him by the elbow, its nose only inches from Rory's.
The bear grabbed him by the elbow, its nose only inches from Rory's.

Dave had closed to within six feet of Rory and the bear. Not wanting to hit Rory, hoping to get the bear to release his son, he shot the bear in the hip.

It worked. The bear dropped Rory and spun toward him. His next round was meant for the bear's shoulder, but the situation was dynamic. The240-grain slug went through the bears neck.

With the bear coming at him, its mouth was within two feet of his .44 Taurus when he fired the last shot. The bullet went alongside the bear's head, into its neck, penetrating the chest cavity.

Dave says he doesn't know if it was the three solid hits with a .44 magnum, or the muzzle blast of the revolver into the bear's face that turned the bear. The bear whirled downslope. It paused momentarily, 15 feet away, looking back. Then it crashed off into the brush.

Dave did not try another shot. He knew he was out of ammunition. He had been taught, 50 years ago, to carry a revolver with an empty chamber under the hammer. In the five shot Taurus, that left him four rounds.

One had been fired to try to turn the downhill charge; the other three went into the bear.

Dave asked Rory “Did it get you?” Rory told him yes, and it hurt. Dave was relieved not to see any arterial spurting of blood, splintered bones, or a mass of torn meat.

He told Rory his Taurus was empty.

Most people in a deadly fight are not able to count their shots. Dave could, and did. Experienced shooters and hunters are often able to “call their shots”, and say where each shot went. Dave told me he informed the Fish, Wildlife and Park (FWP) officers where each shot had connected, and they told him he had been within a couple of inches for all three hits.

Rory handed his father the 10mm Glock to stand guard while he retrieved spare .44 magnum ammunition from Dave's pack.

Dave used American Eagle 240 grain jacketed hollow point cartridges in the revolver.

 American Eagle 240 grain jacketed hollow point cartridge
American Eagle 240 grain jacketed hollow point cartridge

Rory reloaded the Taurus. They traded pistols, retrieved the rifle, and started back toward their vehicle. They kept their pistols in their hands. The shortest route would have been straight downhill, but they did not know the location of the bear. To avoid another attack, they headed back a quarter mile along the side slope, then downhill to the road in a more open area. It took them 25 minutes to reach their vehicle.

Dave drove back to Kalispell, as they came into cell phone coverage, they called Rory's wife, Kristine. They told her to call Urgent Care, so they could have Rory's wounds treated. When they got back, Kristine told them Urgent Care said it would not treat a bear attack victim. Rory would have to go to the hospital. Rory insisted on taking off his hunting shirt. He left it at the house so the hospital staff would not cut it off him in treatment.

At the Kalispell hospital, one of the staff has specialized in treating bear attack victims. He treated Rory. Fortunately, no bones were broken. Dave had shot the bear off of Rory before massive damage was done to his arm. There were a couple of scrapes on Rory's shoulder from the bear's claws. The claw scrapes did not require stitches.

At the Kalispell hospital, one of the staff has specialized in treating bear attack victims.
At the Kalispell hospital, one of the staff has specialized in treating bear attack victims.

Dave does not know who called FWP. It may have been someone at the hospital. As Rory was being treated, Dave accompanied the FWP officers back to the attack scene.  The FWP helicopter, Two Bear Air, arrived. By this time it was afternoon. The sun had heated the slope, so infrared detectors on the helicopter could not find the bear.

The FWP officers told Dave if he had bear spray, he might have avoided having to shoot the bear. Dave noted the FWP officers were all armed with shotguns and had loaded pistols on their hips. From mt.gov:

FWP would like to remind hunters and recreationists that carrying bear spray is another deterrent option

Dave told me if he had spray and had sprayed the bear, he would have had to spray Rory as well. Then, if the bear turned on him, Rory would have been unable to help.

It is a reasonable assumption. Tom Sommers was attacked through a cloud of bear spray, three weeks earlier, near the Idaho/Montana/Wyoming border. The bear had him by the head when his friend Dan sprayed the bear again from two feet away. Sommers was blinded by the spray and the blood. When he fired his pistol, he could not see the bear. He missed. Whether it was the spray or the gunshot, the bear left the scene and did not attack Sommers again.

David Buckallew said “I will depend on my .44 magnum.”

The bear never vocalized during the attack. Dave said you could hear the loud breath of the bear, but there were no warning growls, or other sounds from the bear.

FWP found the dead bear the next day. It was a 12-year-old dry sow. It was not lactating and did not have young cubs. It was about 250 lbs, and in good shape. 250 lbs is a reasonable weight for an adult sow grizzly in the mountains. The bear did not have any tags, or previous history of aggressive encounters with humans. Unprovoked grizzly attacks have been noted throughout the history of grizzly bears.  The current fad is to always assign a human motivation.

Dave and Rory never heard or saw any other bear near them. There is no evidence that any cub, or yearling grizzly, was nearby. The sow's body was found about 50 yards from the attack location.

In the fall, bears feel a tremendous urge to eat and put on weight for the winter hibernation. Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed in an unprovoked grizzly attack in Alaska on October 6th, 2003. They did not have a .44 magnum. Neither survived.

©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.

  • 39 thoughts on “Father Uses .44 Magnum to Shoot Grizzly Bear off Son

    1. Most of us that work in the AK Back Country will carry bear spray and a firearm (12-gauge or .44 Mag). It all depends on the circumstances of the encounter which one is deployed. Under the circumstances described above, where heavy brush prevented seeing the bear until it was a few feet and a fraction of a second from attacking, the obvious & best choice would have been a firearm.

      But don’t discredit the effectiveness of bear spray in preventing many bear vs man encounters.

      Glad the two of you are OK.

    2. Many of you have pretty strong opinions of how it should of gone and what they did wrong, but have never been in a situation even remotely close to this severity and how fast of amount of time it took place. If you think that you have time to think in the heat of the moment…think again, and talk to any survivor of a bear attack. Almost everyone will say it happens so fast. I am impressed with the way these two men dealt with this situation. It is unfortunate that the bear had to die, but if the bear didn’t most likely one of them would have. I live in the area and also know these two men and they are both decent and honorable.

    3. Spray? Remember the old joke about grizzly poop having little bells in it and smells like pepper? I’ll carry something that has a little more affect than OC spray, thank you very much.

    4. If the men were legally hunting bear, why would the warden admonish them for not having had bear spray to preclude shooting a bear??

    5. R. Drake
      I commend a father or anyone that would stick around to do what he could for a person being attacked by a grizzly.

    6. When in bear territory I try to carry my Browning .50 caliber with a short barrel. However, for what it’s worth!, the last black bear I killed was taken by beating it to death with an axe handle. Or at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. As important as it is to discuss grizzly bear eradication I hope you’ll all indulge me for a few minutes while I make a suggestion or two regarding the manner in which we exchange opinions on grizzly bear wrestling. Just because you might have a technique or bear opinion that differs from our own, I’m not real sure that we’re justified in slinging insults just because you’re unable to generate a logical thought due to you being dumber that a paper bag full of bricks. Even though you can’t recognize true genius and have refused to deliver the respect which I am due it’s obvious that I have the right to make extremely sarcastic comments regarding the IQ of you and your family members. As a matter of fact in serious situations such as what I like to refer to as GBDT (Grizzly Bear Defensive Tactics). If you should have the temerity to disagree with what someone has written, they are then absolutely justified in verbally attacking your parents for never having been married prior to your birth and in questioning, in a quite nasty manner, the physical appearance of your wife and children. Why is it that we, as pro-gun people, don’t seem to be mature and cultured enough to limit any disagreement to an exchange of ideas instead of exchanging insults. Hopefully, one of our main goals is to convert hoplophobes into pro-gun voters and I have never been insulted enough to reach a point of agreement with someone’s opinions just because they know three times as much profanity as I do. Let’s all stand together. Let’s all be part of a team that is protecting the Second Amendment along with our other freedoms. Let’s use pro-gun facts instead of insults. Let’s get the truth about guns out instead of hoplophobic propaganda. After all, if some one is truly a dumb a&& jerk odds are that everybody already knows it. No one needs to point it out again.

    7. I had a Pa. bear under my cabin. I did not know he was there. He came out very slow. I go about 15′ from him and took a few pictures. He was more afraid of me then I was of him. He walked away and he had no fur on his side. Later when I looked under the Cabin I saw where he pulled the insulation down and made a bed with it. He must have had one good time with that fiberglass on this side. I called the Game Warden. He gave me some rubber shot and said shoot him with this and he won’t come back. I though if I used my .03 he sure would not come back. Pa. are safe unless they have cubs.

    8. I don’t hunt Bears, but, a 250 female adult Griz seems kinda light. I would have expected a Black Bear to be that size. Have always Grizzlies were much heavier.

    9. We are so thankful you both are still alive and there was no life threatening injuries. I am postiive both of these men are aware of how to protect themselves in the wild since they have benn doing this their entire lives living in bear country. There shouldn’t be a father alive that wouldn’t have done the very thing Dave did to save his son. Thank God he thought to save his son’s life before worrying about the bear’s life. These men are relatives of mine and wouldn’t be afraid to go anywhere with them in the wild and beautiful country of Montana.

    10. Jim H is right. This is A Lesson. Learn from this and plan accordingly. If you have been paying attention to the Teaching Examples in class, you might have picked up on the fact that things rarely go according to plan… your conditioned response is what you will default to. TRAIN accordingly, and often.

    11. Carry bear spray in grizzly country? Had he had bear spray against that grizzly sow, this story woulddhave ended badly . For the two men. But common black bears kill more people in US by far than any other types of bears. We have cougars here in Virginia but no problem. But nothing against bears, but they can be very unpredictable. Just their nature.

    12. Roy reminds me of a experience that I had I was building a building and I guy next to my worksite was clearing some ground burning a brush pile as he was putting logs on this Pile with his escalator I hydraulic line burst and sprayed into the brush pile and back end of the escalator catching everything on fire the guy was able to get out of the escalator unharmed as it was burning and I heard experts say so-called experts well he could’ve backed up or he could’ve did this or that. The interesting part is none of them have had ever been in a burning escalator as I doubt Roy had ever been attacked by a grizzly bear enough said

      1. You’re right, I have never been attacked by a bear, grizzly bear or black. However, I spent much of my summers between age 12 and 17 in the Lignite and Savage River area of Alaska. And then there was all the rest of the time I spent in the woods around the Fairbanks area. You see I learned what to do and not to do while in that environment. Been within 25 yards of bears but never without a suitable firearm and almost always knowing the bear was where it was before seeing it. If a bear is charging at close range you it should be considered a deadly attack and you should respond accordingly. Firing into the ground is stupid and foolish. But, people are free to do stupid and foolish things and get their just rewards. Of course all you “Monday morning quarterbacks” knew all that didn’t you.

      2. I’m pretty sure you are talking about an “excavator” not an escalator. You ride an escalator in the mall to go from one floor the other instead of taking the stairs.

    13. as we say.
      all the Monday morning quarterbacks ext.
      and for one FK BEAR SPRAY and any game warden who thinks that should be a hunter’s FIRST CHOICE IS JUST A DUMB ASS.
      you have only ONE LIFE, SO PROTECT IT ANY WAY YOU CAN.

      1. You would think anyone carrying a revolver into harm’s way would know all the ins and outs of his revolver. How could that person not know about the transfer bar safety feature? Rather strange.

    14. I agree all preparations should have been made prior to the hunt. Having extra ammo in backpack is ok except when you need it immediately. I carry extra ammo in front pocket of my hunting jacket. Now to speculate how to handle a surprise bear attack really.
      Until it happens to you, you will never know. If you go
      Into the wild always prepare for the unexpected. I personally always carry a revolver my rifle and a large knife plus extra ammo I can reach immediately in case I need to reload. Never go hunting alone, very bad idea which is another thing they did right.

    15. I also carry a similar Taurus Tracker in .44 Mag when I hunt anything (OK, not when dove hunting). I used to carry the same model in .357 Mag, and had a close encounter of the PO’d kind with an angry 250 pound feral hog. She charged me from about 10-12 yards away, I pulled my .357 and shot her behind the ear – instant kill. She still almost reached me, plowing up dirt about 2 feet in front of me when she died. I immediately went to the monthly gun show and traded in my .357 for a .44. Figured while shot placement may be most important, a bigger hole is always better – and I carry it with all 5 chambers loaded and a speed-loader in my pocket, just in case.

    16. So the 50 year old advice about carrying on an empty chamber could have cost one or both their lives. This guy should not have been carrying a gun he didn’t know enough about to load properly with all five. And therefore should not have voluntarily been in a position in which he might have to use it. Having said that it sounds like they both behaved incredibly well given the situation, and were lucky rather than smart.

    17. Treadwell is not a good example. I live in Kodiak and know his story well and the people involved. He got himself and his girlfriend killed. He was a dumb ass.

    18. I have an Idea when you put the barrel of the Rifle in the Bears mouth how about you pull the trigger, but that’s just me.

      1. he had fired a round out of his BOLT ACTION rifle as the bear charged. I guess he isn’t as quick cycling the bolt as you would be and it appears that he was on an empty chamber when the bear emerged from the brush.

    19. It seems having the revolver fully loaded while in the field is a good idea. As well as having a quick reload at hand rather than in a pack. Bear country is not the place to be careful about how many loads you have.

    20. Well, the FWP should have their bear bug spray up front on their duty belts also. And it should be used 1st always. Just like they are reminding the rest of us. Then and ONLY then, when the bear is at less than arms length may they upgrade their defense.
      To remind us that it’s good for us, surely then REALLY good for them.
      Or they hiding behind a badge as a bunch of flaming hypocrites?

      1. Forest service staff are the most righteous about telling you not to shoot their animals but they will dispatch one in a heartbeat if threatened. the sad thing is most of them train a lot less than most people I know, including my daughters.

    21. With all due respect there is not any Woulda Coulda Shoulda. My point being as in a situation like that my bear repellent is not in my hand and my firearm is especially if I’m trying to save my son’s life I’m not going to make a decision other than to pull the trigger as many times as I can.

    22. So much fail by those two, especially the father. Trying to avoid the bear while leaving was the only thing they did right.

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