By Dean Weingarten
The first shot was ineffective, with bird shot. The second shot was a perfectly placed slug in middle of the nose. The third shot was to the shoulder. It is likely both would have been fatal. There were powder burns on the bears mouth from the third shot. The fourth shot was an insurance shot after the bear was down.
PENDROY – A bird hunter shot and killed a grizzly bear five miles east of Pendroy Saturday. Pendroy is about 80 miles northwest of Great Falls.
According to Mike Madel of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the hunter shot the adult female grizzly in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun.
The bear ran off. Then next day, the bear was found, dead.
Shotguns are powerful firearms. A 12 gauge bird load is commonly 1 to 1 1/4 of an ounce of shot at close to 1300 feet per second. Some bird loads have up to 1 3/4 ounces. 1 1/4 ounces is a standard 12 gauge pheasant load.
It seems a unlikely that a pheasant hunter would have slugs in his bird gun. To be effective on big game, bird shot has to be fired from very close range. The pellets have to be close enough together to reinforce each other and act like a single, pre-fragmented projectile.
My father taught me this when I was about 11. I suggested that bird shot was useless for larger game. He said it didn't matter when you were very close. He then recounted killing a doe with a 20 gauge as she came up to him on a trail, within a few feet. He said at five feet, the shot pulverized the deer's skull.
Even at those ranges, choke matters. A cylinder bore gun's pattern will disperse faster than a full choke. A full choke keeps a tighter pattern. Here is a test I did with a full choke 12 gauge and 1 1/8 ounce of #8 shot.
The top hole is a pattern five feet from the muzzle. The very top hole is from the wad. The hole below that is from the shot charge. Almost all of the shot is in one hole about 1 inch in diameter. This will act as a pre-fragmented projectile and penetrate about six inches into flesh. It will smash through skulls unless the shot is at a very oblique angle.
As a pellet in the front of the shot string encounters the target, it starts to penetrate and slow down. Then the pellet behind it hits it and pushes it ahead, then the pellet behind that one hits it, and so on. The mechanics can get pretty complicated, but you get the idea. That is why a closely packed shot string will penetrate much further than individual pellets.
The middle hole is from 10 feet from the muzzle. While the pattern has increased to about 1.5 inches with a few flyers, it will still penetrate about five inches into flesh and smash into a bear skull if the angle is not too oblique.
The bottom hole is patterned 15 feet from the muzzle with a full choke. Over half of the shot is still in a 1 inch circle in the center of the pattern. Penetration in flesh will still be about 5 inches. Beyond five yards, the pellets are starting to penetrate as individual projectiles, instead of reinforcing each other. Pellet size and density become very important after five yards.
Shotguns with bird shot inflict incredibly destructive wounds at very close range.
The grizzly ran off and died. If the face shot missed smashing into the brain case, it could have cause massive damage to arteries, or enough damage inside the brain, from the concussion, to cause a delayed death. Not all brain shots are instant killers. There is also the possibility of secondary projectiles from bone fragments.
If the investigation determines that bird shot was used, a conclusion of justifiable self defense is likely.
©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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.