Defense Against Bears with Pistols: 97% Success rate, 37 incidents by Caliber

Bear With Salmon
Defense Against Bears with Pistols: 97% Success rate, 37 incidents by Caliber

Arizona -(Ammoland.com)- On the Internet, and in print, many people claim that pistols lack efficacy in defending against bear attacks. Here is an example that occurred on freerepublic.com:

“Actually, there are legions of people who have been badly mauled after using a handgun on a bear. Even some of the vaunted magnums.”


OK, give us a few examples. As you claim “legions”, it should not be too hard.

I never received a response. I believe the claim was made in good faith. There has been much conjecture about the lack of efficacy of pistols for defense against bears. A little searching will find a plethora of fantasy, fiction, mythology, and electrons sprayed about the supposed lack.

I engaged in a search for instances where  pistols were used to defend against bears.  I and my associates have found 37 instances that are fairly easily confirmed. The earliest happened in 1987, the latest mere months ago. The incidents are heavily weighted toward the present, as the ability to publish and search for these incidents has increased, along with increases in bear and human populations, and the carry of pistols.

The 37 cases include one that can fairly be described as a “failure”.

The pistol calibers, when known,  range from 9 mm to .454 Casull. The most common are .44 magnums.  Here are the cases, sorted by caliber:

We have found four cases where 9 mm pistols were used to defend against bears. All were successful.

1. Alaska, Russian River,  Grizzly Charged Fishermen, 9mm 17 August, 2002

But then the bear turned, looked up at Brenner and lunged, said Lewis, who interviewed the three men Saturday.

Brenner fired twice at the center of the hulking shape closing to four or five feet away. The sow, estimated at 400 to 450 pounds, went down. Brenner then put three more bullets into her head.

He used a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol. Lewis said such a low-caliber gun ordinarily doesn't pack enough punch to kill a bear. But Brenner loaded the pistol with full-metal-jacket bullets that penetrated to the bear's vital organs, he said.

2. Bear Charged  John Tiebohl, 9 mm, 31 August, 2004 Bachelor Gulch, Colorado

BACHELOR GULCH – The Aug. 31 shooting of a bear in Bachelor Gulch still echoes among residents in the upscale enclave.The Colorado Division of Wildlife continues to investigate the incident, in which homeowner John Tietbohl shot and wounded a bear outside his Daybreak Ridge home. Tietbohl told officers the bear had been trying to get into his home, then charged him as he was getting into his car that evening. Tietbohl, who had been carrying a 9-millimeter pistol as a sidearm to protect himself from the bear, shot and hit the animal, which left a trail of blood as it ran off.Earlier in the day, Bachelor Gulch security officers had repeatedly sprayed pepper spray at the bear near Tietbohl’s house, but the animal stayed around. The bear also reportedly slipped into Tietbohl’s garage in the days before it was shot.

3. AK: Guide Kills Attacking Grizzly with 9mm, July, 2016

In the last week in July, 2016, Phil Shoemaker had use a 9mm pistol to kill a grizzly that was threatening his clients and himself.  It worked.

4. Bowhunters, Spray Failed, 9mm, Grizzly October, 2017, account from two sources, Todd Orr, and Eye-witness, Beaver Creek, MT.


I interviewed both sources. The attack was reported to Fish and Game, but was not published.

It was at the end of the day, and was getting dark. Two bow hunters, were returning from their bow hunt. They both had bear spray and pistols. They had agreed that if forced into defending themselves, one would use spray, the other would back up the spray with his pistol.

The male grizzly bluff charged several times, blocking their return to camp.

Warning shots were fired in the air with a 9 mm pistol. The bear ran off, then came back. Bear spray was utilized but only extended 10 feet into a light head wind and did not reach the bear. The bear would not disengage. It kept coming back and getting closer.  The aggressive bear was finally shot with the 9 mm pistol at close range. It ran off. The report was made to Fish and Wildlife, and the bear was found dead the next day. Eye-witness believes it was one shot to the chest of the bear.

We have found three cases where .357 revolvers were used to defend against bears. Two were successful, one was unsuccessful.

1. MT: Grizzly Bear Killed After Biting Warden in Montana Forest June 26, 1987, .357 Magnum

Pictures at Field and Stream Article here

‘’I wouldn’t want to have another go-round,’’ the 60-year-warden, Lou Kis, said from his hospital bed after undergoing surgery for the bite, which was so powerful that it broke the leg bone below the knee.

Mr. Kris, a warden captain here for 22 years, killed the 400- to 500-pound bear with six shots from his .357 caliber Magnum revolver as it bit him.

2. Alaska Geologist Pistol Defense failure June 20, 2010, Grizzly Bear, .357 Magnum

Miller managed to pull out his .357 Magnum revolver and squeeze off a shot, possibly grazing the animal. Then he fell onto his stomach, dug his face into the dirt and covered his neck.

The bear went for his exposed right arm, gnawing and clawing it and chipping the bone off the tip of his elbow. The attack lasted 10 to 15 seconds, then the animal lumbered away.

As Miller rolled over and was getting to his knees, the bear, only about 40 yards away, came at him again.

He managed to fire two more shots, but with his right arm badly injured he thinks he missed the bear. Then he lay still as the animal gnawed and clawed at him.

After the second attack, Miller played dead again, lying still for three to five minutes. He tried to move and realized he couldn’t. He was too badly injured.

“I was just hoping my radio was still in my vest pocket and it was,” he said. “I got it out and started radioing mayday, which nobody answered.”

3. Glacier National Park: Bear first sprayed, then shot with a .357 (July 2014)

Murphy first sprayed bear spray at the bear when it was 15 to 25 feet away, firing one shot from his .357 revolver when the bear had approached to within 7-10 feet.  The bear was charging uphill at the time.     He only fired one round at the bear, which fell back and stopped moving when shot.   Many have suggested that he should have continued firing, but it is hard to argue with success.

We have found three cases where .40 caliber pistols were used to defend against bears. All were successful.

1. Black Bear broke into Anchorage home, AK Glock .40 , 2 June, 2006

A large black bear broke into an Anchorage home early this morning, rummaged around like a burglar and feasted on a box of chocolates before the homeowner shot him dead with a Glock.

(snip)

Knowlton said the bear started back up the stairs toward his son. He shot the animal multiple times and it went back downstairs.

2. Zanesville Ohio, escaped bear, duty pistol,  20 October, 2011 .40 caliber (from Muskingum County Sheriff's Office)

But soon, he was facing another, much larger, problem. His commanding officer told him a lion had been cornered back at the Thompson home. He headed back, but instead of finding a lion, he was confronted by an angry bear.

“The black bear turned in my direction and ran directly towards me,” Merry told ABC News. “I fortunately was able to pull my duty pistol, fired one shot, killing the animal instantly. The black bear fell approximately fell seven feet in front of me.”

(snip)

Fred Polk watched in disbelief as he watched the bear charge Merry and a lion leap over a fence into his yard about 5 p.m. Tuesday night.

“One of the bears charged the deputy and the deputy shot it. After that one of the lions jumped the fence come down here and the deputy shot it in my front yard,” Polk said.

3. May 13, 2017 Bristol, NH, Officer shoots, kills Aggressive Black Bear with .40 cal Glock

Police Chief Michael Lewis said Thursday that, on May 13 at 12:25 a.m., officer Thomas Seager responded to a 911 call from a resident on Riverdale Road about a bear breaking into a garage.

When the bear advanced toward Seager, he fired a “scare” shot, causing the bear to leave the area, Lewis said.

Seager reported the incident to the state’s Fish and Game Department but, nine minutes later, the property owner called to say the bear was back and up in a tree.

The second time the officer responded, the bear came down out of the tree and advanced on Seager again, according to Lewis.

“One round was fired, terminating the bear,” Lewis said.

The animal was killed with the officer’s .40-caliber Glock handgun.

We have found one case where a 10 mm pistol was used to defend against a bear. It was successful.

 AK: Kim Woodman Kills Charging Grizzly with 10 mm 29 July, 2016

On 29 July, 2016, about 4 p.m. Kim Woodman was attacked by a sow brown bear at Humpy Creek.

Kim had a Glock model 20 10 mm pistol with him. He was able to stop the attack by shooting the bear as it charged at him. While backing away from the charging bear, Kim tripped and fell backward. He instinctively attempted to fend off the bear with his foot, while he concentrated on firing the shots that saved his life. The last shot was just short of contact. It probably hit the bear in the chest, but also took off the tip of one of Kim's toes.

We have found two cases where .41 magnum revolvers were used to defend against bears. Both were successful.

1. Montana: Bear attacked, man mauled, used .41 Mag to stop second attack April, 2008

Bozeman daily Chronicle

Then the bear attacked again, he said, moving incredibly fast, and that's when Johnson, still on his back, reached for the pistol he wore in a holster on his belt.

“I had my hand by my side,” he said. “I pulled the gun and went boom. Tell me how fast that is.”

The bullet struck the bear just below the snout and it collapsed immediately and almost landed on him, he said. Then he rose to his feet and put three more 240-grain slugs in it.

2. Clark Wy, .41 Magnum, Grizzly, 19 July, 2009

Jerry Ruth saw the grizzly for just a fraction of a second before it was on him.

Within seconds, the 275-pound animal had crushed the Wyoming man's jaw when it bit him in the face, fractured his rib and punctured his lung and left deep bite wounds in his calf and scratches across his back.

After the attack, the bear left him for her three cubs that Ruth saw for the first time as he lay bleeding on the dirt. When it reached the cubs about 15 yards away, the bear turned toward him again, “squaring off” as if to charge, Ruth recalled Friday.

Ruth grabbed for the .41-caliber magnum revolver he was carrying in a hip holster and relied on his training and experience as a police officer to save his life. He fired three times, saving three bullets in case his first shots failed.

But the bear dropped and didn't move, ending the furious encounter as swiftly as it started.

We have found twelve cases where .44 magnum revolvers were used to defend against bears. All were successful.

1. AZ .44 Magnum used to stop black bear attack, AZ Republic, page 39 -Newspapers.com, July 1996

Comprehensive article from Gun Watch published in 2017

Jul 28, 1996  The 16-year-old counselor, Anna – Knochel, was in critical condition. Brett Kramer drove away the 340-pound male bear by shooting it twice with a .44 Magnum pistol.

2. Muldoon Alaska, Hiker Kills Charging Brown Bear from 20 feet with .44 Magnum,  24 September, 2004


Original story from Anchorage Daily News

“I fired the first shot, and I aimed at its shoulders. When the first shot didn't faze it, I fired the second time, and it turned into the ditch, and I shot three more times, and it went down,” said Boyd.

Boyd was down to one remaining bullet in his .44-caliber Magnum when he called Anchorage police for assistance. State trooper Kim Babcock helped Boyd finish off the bear with her shotgun.

3. Grizzly attacked Moose Hunters, 7 September, 2006, Alaska, .44 magnum, The Longest Minute

 When Reed distracted the bear from its attack on me, I had time to concentrate on the holster. I saw a buckle with a strap running through it. I could not figure out how it held the gun in place, so I grabbed the buckle and attempted to rip it off. To my surprise, the buckle was actually a snap and the strap peeled away. As I pulled the revolver out, a sudden calm came over me, and I knew everything would be fine. I looked in the direction of Reed only to once again see the bear charging at me. He was about ten feet away coming up and over the initial log that I had tripped over. That was when I pointed the revolver and fired at center mass. The .44 magnum boomed in the night and the boar fell straight down, his head three feet away from where I stood. As he fell, he bit at the ground and ended up with a mouthful of sod. I stood in a dumbfounded stupor. I had no expectation that the pistol would kill the bear. My hope was that the shot would sting the bear and help scare him away along with the flame and loud report. As his head sagged to the ground, I shot him three more times in quick succession, out of fear and anger.

4. Wyoming, Flying H Ranch, Bowhunters Attacked by 600 lb Grizzly, Stopped Charge with .44 Magnum 17 September, 2007

Byrum started to pull his .44 Magnum pistol out of his holster. After bumping into Byrum, Hambelton dove to the ground and curled into a ball, with his backpack facing the bear.

“I just gritted my teeth expecting the bear to bite me,” Hambelton said.

With the bear closing to within six feet, Byrum fired a shot into the bear's neck.

“I kept telling myself, don't shoot in the head,” said Byrum, fearful that a bullet to the head would glance off the bear's skull.

As the pistol fired, Byrum tripped over a tree stump behind him. With Byrum on his back, the bear fell in front of his hunting boots.

“I thought, ‘Oh no, this is going to be bad,'” said Byrum, who could see smoke coming out of the bear's fur where he had shot him.

5. From bozemandailychronicle.com: October 6, 2007 MT (Tom Miner Basin), .44 Magnum

It attacked a pair of bow hunters early Saturday afternoon. One of them used bear pepper spray and halted a charge within nine feet, but the grizzly turned and charged a second time. That’s when the second hunter shot it twice with a .44 magnum pistol.

6. British Columbia: A Grizzly Bear, a .44 magnum, and a brush with death  June 2010

Link to video on Youtube

He kept one hand on the tripod and drew the other to his holster, pulling out the gun he'd never had to use. The grizzly zigzagged toward him, roaring the whole time.

Mr. Lorenz lifted the gun and set it off, just four feet above her head. The shot was enough to startle the bear and make her turn in the opposite direction.

“This was something that she wasn't expecting, to get blasted in the face; that was enough to put a damper on killing me,” he said. “If I didn't have the gun, I would have been dead.”

7. Wyoming, Paint Creek, Shoshone National Forest, Bow hunter shot Charging Grizzly with .44 magnum, 2010

Paint Creek reenactment

A bow hunter reenacts for investigators how he fired a .44 Magnum revolver at a grizzly bear near Paint Creek in the Shoshone National Forest in 2010. Investigators followed a blood trail for half a mile, but could not located the wounded bruin.

8. AK: Details on Charging Kodiak stopped with a .44 Mag Revolver (July 2015)

The bear was roughly 9 feet tall and started its charge at about 20 yards away. The man shot the bear by the time it moved half that distance, Svoboda said.

“It all happened in really tight quarters,” he said. “He shot at it five times before it finally stopped and then once it was on the ground, it was still moving. So he shot it one more time and then it died.”

9. Grand Teton National Park: Fisherman fires warning shots with .44 Magnum, Deters Bear Attack, August 15, 2015

According to the angler's report, he was fishing when he heard a noise behind him. He turned around to see three grizzly bears, one adult and two cubs, coming toward him. The adult bear stood on its hind legs, at which point the fisherman fired one shot into the ground to the side of the bear. The bears then turned around and departed the area. The fisherman noted that he was near the “worm hole” area of the Snake River located approximately three quarters of a mile downriver from the Jackson Lake Dam.

10. Idaho: Bear Attacked Bow Hunter, Could not Reach Bear Spray, Drove off Bear with .44 Magnum pistol shots,  31 August, 2015

The hunter reportedly was carrying bear spray, but apparently couldn’t access it when the attack occurred. Fish and Game officials said the man was able to scare the bear off after he tried to shoot her several times with a .44 magnum revolver pistol at point-blank range.

The archer sustained injuries to his hand and wrist, but hiked out under his own power and was transported by ambulance to Madison County Hospital in Rexburg.

11. AK: Successful Bear Attack Defense with .44 Magnum (Aug 7, 2016)

“We immediately found ourselves in a confrontation,” Kluting said. “She ended up turning around and for a split second we thought she would leave – but then she turned back and came at us full charge.”

Kluting fired off a warning shot into the creek. At that point the sow was 15 yards away.

“She ran through that without even flinching,” he said.

So Kluting aimed in the middle of the brown blur, now about 3 yards away.

“I barely had time to get the hammer back for another shot before she reached me,” he said.

She collapsed in the river about 5 feet – two steps – away from them.

12. MT: Father Uses .44 Magnum to Shoot Grizzly Bear off Son (Oct. 2017)

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. The situation was dynamic. The 240 grain slug went through the bears neck.

With the bear coming at him, the bear's 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.

We have found four cases where .45 caliber pistols were used to defend against bears. All were successful.

1. Grizzly shot with 9 rounds of .45 from a Glock 21 from gunnerforum.org reported August 22, 2009

There was not much news coverage of my friends incident up on his place in Marias pass area here in Montana. The proper agencies investigated and found him to have defended himself against this 400 lbs sow grizzly with 2 cubs.
Roy was up on the edge of his property tending his fence line, when out of the brush she was a coming straight at him with her ears back. Roy drew and put 3 rounds of 230-gr FMJ in her neck shoulder area, then took off away from the trail about 5 yards. Roy said the bear was still coming at him, and he fired 3 more rounds into her frontal area. And again took off another 5 yards off in another direction. The sow continued to follow coming at him, so Roy fired 3 more rounds into her frontal area and she dropped taking a dirt nap.

Roy called to report the incident, and they came out and brought a metal detector to locate spent extracted shell casings. Roy was found acting within his right to protect himself against the grizzly bear attack. But they said, they wished he would have used Counter Assault Bear Spray. Roy did not have any, so they gave him a can, plus some 12 ga cracker shells, and some other 12 ga shells will rubber bullets in them.

Roy came into town and purchased a Glock 20 10mm auto now.

I'm glad Roy is okay.

2. AK, Denali National Park: Backpacker Stops Grizzly attack with .45 pistol, May 28, 2010

A grizzly bear that emerged from a thicket and charged two backpackers in the backcountry of Denali National Park and Preserve was shot and killed by one of the two who was carrying a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol, according to park officials.

The killing Friday is believed to be the first instance of a hiker killing a grizzly in the park's wilderness. The killing occurred in the original Mount McKinley National Park portion of the Denali, which was expanded by two-thirds in 1980.

3. AK: .45 vs 9-Foot Brown Bear (July, 2014), .45 semi-auto

Many people claim that handguns are useless for protection against bears.   Numerous examples have shown that this is a false notion.   Handguns may not be ideal as defensive weapons for bears, but they can be effective.  In a defensive situation, you have to use what is available.   In this case, a homeowner in Alaska used a .45 against a brown bear that was trying to get into his house on July 7th of this year.  He and his son were in the home.   He had scared off the animal with some warning shots just three hours before.

4. ID: Bear Attack on Sleeping Man Stopped with a .45 Pistol (Oct 2015)

Steven Vouch reached for his gun when he realized he was being attacked, but it wasn't there.  That is when his friend shot the bear with a .45.  Vouch is on the left in the Cowboy hat.

We have found one case where .45 Super pistol was used to defend against a bear. It was successful.

WY: .45 Super Stops Grizzly Bear Charge (Oct. 2017)

The hunters jumped up and separated. The bear momentarily halted. Kelley fired a warning shot from his .45 Super. The bear moved away a little, behind some fire killed trees and brush, then came in again, fast. Kelly fired again, and the bear went down, rolled down slope and came to a halt, motionless.

We have found one case where .454 Casull revolver was used to defend against a bear. It was successful.

AK, Kenai Peninsula, Charging Brown Bear Stopped with Ruger .454 Casull, 2 August, 2009

Because of many bear-related incidents in this area, Brush always has brown bears on his mind…even when walking a well-maintained road. On just such a road, less than 500 yards from his house, Brush stopped when he heard a twig snap behind him. Turning his head toward the sound, Brush saw a monstrous brown bear charging toward him. “There was no warning,” he stresses. “None of the classic teeth-popping or woofing, raising up on hind legs, or bluff-charging that you read about. When I spotted him he was within 15 yards, his head down and his ears pinned back. He was coming like a freight train…in total chase-mode.”

Brush instinctively back-pedaled to avoid the charge, drawing the Ruger from its holster. “I fired from the hip as he closed the distance,” Brush recalls. “I know I missed the first shot, but I clearly hit him after that. I believe I fired four or five shots. ”

Brush finally fell on his back on the edge of the road. Miraculously, the bear collapsed a mere five feet from his boot soles, leaving claw marks in the road where Brush had–only seconds before–been standing. The bear was moaning, his huge head still moving, as Brush aimed the Ruger to fire a finishing shot. “By then my gun had jammed,” Greg says. “I frantically called my wife on my cell phone and told her to bring a rifle. When she arrived I finished the bear.”

We have found three cases where the handguns used to defend against bears were not identified. All were successful. 

1. On the same day, another bear attack (Tom Miner Basin) and pistol defense of Roman Morris From mtstandard.com: October 6, 2007

‘‘It charged down the hill and just drilled me,’’ said Morris, 21, of Whitewater.

Over the next 30 to 45 seconds, Morris fought with the bear as it bit and clawed, severed his left hamstring, punctured his shoulder, chomped at his head and tossed him around.

‘‘I thought the whole time, This is so messed up. I’m going to die, I’m going to die,’’’ said Morris, a pre-med major.

The bear ran off after a friend fired a pistol. Morris underwent surgery at a Livingston hospital and was recuperating Monday at his brother’s house in Helena.

2. Massachusetts: Handgun Defense against Black Bear (Nov 2014)

 WEST SPRINGFIELD – A Sikes Avenue man shot and killed a black bear with single pistol-shot to the head Friday night after it started to go after his small dog, police said.

3. AZ: Bow Hunter Uses Handgun to Stop Unprovoked Bear Attack In Sept, 2016

PAYSON, AZ – Authorities found two bear cubs after an archery deer hunter fatally shot an adult female bear with a handgun when it charged him in the Payson area.

There were three cases where combined arms were used to defend against bears. The two with both rifle and pistol calibers are included in the interest of complete data reporting but are not used in the determination of the success rate. The one case with .357 and .44 magnum pistols is included in the 35 pistol cases. All three cases were successful.

1. Black Bear, wounded with .338 rifle; Glide, Oregon 31 May, 2008 .45 pistol and .44 magnum revolver

GLIDE, Ore. — Aaron Wyckoff didn’t start to panic until his .45-caliber pistol quit firing, and the bear kept chewing on his arm.

So, he recalls, he tried to pull the bear’s jaws apart. Then he tried to roll down the ridge where he and the bear were wrestling. But the bear grabbed his calf, pulled him back and went for his groin.

Wyckoff said he countered by shoving his pistol and his hand into the bear’s mouth. But by then, the struggle in the Cascade Range in Southern Oregon attracted the attention of Wyckoff’s party, and other hunters rushed over.

Justin Norton fired a round from his .44-caliber pistol into the black bear’s stomach, to no avail. He approached the bear, put the gun behind its ear and fired again. It finally rolled away.

“I walked right up to his head, and he didn’t even look at me,” said Norton, 26.

With the dying bear still struggling, a final round finished him off.

“He was dead. He just didn’t know it,” Wyckoff said. “It was just all adrenaline.”

Wyckoff was helping friends track a wounded bear May 31 on the last day of the hunting season.

Fifteen-year-old Chris Moen of Glide, who had drawn the tag, hit the animal in the shoulder with a .338-caliber rifle round, but he and his father couldn’t pick up a trail of blood.

In this account, the pistol is revealed to be a Llama .45 with a 3.25 inch barrel. From shootersforum.com.

2. September 2010, Elk Hunters at Bruin Creek, Thorofare Country, Wyoming .44 magnums, .45-70 rifle

Ten minutes later another grizzly approached.

“The grizzly bear appeared to be heading towards the elk carcass and them, but they did not shoot at the time, instead they watched it in the hope it would go by the three of them,” the investigation said.

But the second grizzly, also a boar, didn’t veer away, the hunters reported. When it got within 10 feet of one of the men the entire party opened fire, letting loose nine rounds from two .44 magnum revolvers and the .45-70 rifle.

Only two of the shots connected, a necropsy would later determine.

3. Thorofare Country south of Yellowstone, Grizzly at 10 feet, .44 magnum and .357 magnum, September, 2013 (report from 2015)

Then at about 2:45 p.m., a collared boar grizzly identified as bear No. 764 came uncomfortably close. The group’s canister of bear spray was in a backpack by their horses. A warning shot went off, but the big grizzly didn’t turn back. “The bear stood up and growled, like something you would see in a movie,” an eyewitness later told investigators. From less than 10 feet away, the guide and camp worker drew their .44 and .357 magnum revolvers and together fired four times, ending the 17-year-old bear’s life.

To summarize, we have found 37 verified cases where pistols were used to defend against bear attacks. Included, for complete data reporting, are two cases where bears were shot at with both rifles and pistols, making it difficult to determine the efficacy of pistols alone.

Of the 35 strictly pistol defense cases, one was a clear failure. That is the use of the .357 against an Alaskan grizzly by a geologist on 20 June, 2010. It is likely the bear was not hit in that incident.

There are four successful defenses with 9 mm pistols. The three grizzly bears were killed, the black bear was wounded and ran off.

Two of the three uses of the .357 were successful. One was against a grizzly that was stopped with one shot, but then escaped. The other grizzly was killed with six shots fired.

There were three uses of .40 caliber pistols, all against black bears, all successful, all of the bears were killed.

There was one use of a 10 mm pistol against a grizzly. 4 or 5 shots were fired.  It was successful and the bear was killed.

There were two uses of .41 magnum revolvers. Both were against grizzly bears, both were successful and the bears were killed.

There were twelve uses of .44 magnum revolvers. All were successful. One was against a black bear, it was mortally wounded but finished off with shotgun slugs. Eleven were against grizzly bears.  Two were driven of with “warning shots”. One was driven off, without evidence of being wounded.  One was wounded and not recovered.  One was wounded and finished off at the scene with a shotgun slug. Six were killed without further assistance.

There were four uses of .45 caliber pistols against bears. All were successful. One was against a black bear, which was killed with additional shots, probably from another handgun. The other three were grizzly bears killed with multiple hits from the .45 caliber pistols.

There was one use of a .45 Super pistol. It was successful. The grizzly bear was killed with one shot.

There was one use of a .454 Casull revolver. 4 or 5 shots were fired and the grizzly bear was finished off at the scene with a rifle brought by the defender's wife.

There were three cases of pistol defenses against bears where the pistol caliber was not identified.  One was a grizzly, which ran off. It was not determined if the bear was wounded or not. The other two were black bears that were killed with the pistol fire.

There was one case where both .357 magnum and .44 magnum revolvers were used. The grizzly bear was killed.

In total, there were 8 defenses against black bears and 27 defenses against grizzly bears.

One pistol failure out of 35 cases translates to a 97% success rate for the use of handguns against bears.

Successful bear defenses with a pistol are probably under-reported, much like successful firearm defenses against criminals. If a predatory black bear is shot and runs off, there are strong incentives for the shooter not to report the incident.  Incidents, where no human is injured, are seldom considered news. This creates a strong selection bias against successful pistol defenses against bears.

Predatory black bear attacks are the most common fatal black bear attacks in North America.  Only 8 of the pistol defenses listed above are defenses against black bears or 23%. It is reasonable to believe there should be about twice that number.  Black bear predatory attacks often give potential victims good opportunities to use a pistol effectively.

I have two reported instances of successful bear defenses with a .38 special revolver. One against a black bear, and one against a grizzly. I have not been able to verify either. I have found two more reported cases of the successful use of the 10 mm pistol, and one more for the .357 magnum, but have not been able to verify them.

Even in the age of the Internet, reports can become difficult to find after a few years. I recall an incident where an Alaskan State Trooper killed a grizzly bear with his duty pistol, while an associate with a 12 gauge shotgun did not fire. I have not been able to find that report. It may have been the 2013 incident where unarmed Thomas Puerta was killed and eaten. I am not certain.

If anyone has sources for that incident, or of others not recorded here, either successes or failures, please let us know.

Pistol defense failures against bears should be widely reported. When humans are injured by bears, it is news.

In this compilation of incidents, one was a failure. The .357 magnum was fired three times. The shooter was mauled after the first shot and after the second and third shots. It seems likely the shooter missed all three shots. It is the only bear defense with a pistol, that failed, that we have found.

One failure out of 35 incidents is better than a 97% success rate for pistol defenses against bears.  Using a pistol to defend against bear attacks seems to be a viable option.

The often cited Efficacy of firearms for bear deterrence in Alaska by Tom S. Smith, Stephen Herrero, and others, included 37 instances of a handgun being present when a bear attacked a human.  The instances collected were from 1883 to 2009.  They recorded 6 failures to stop the attack out of the 37 instances. That is an 84% success rate. Pistol and ammunition technology have greatly improved since 1883.

The authors of the Efficacy of firearms have not released their data.  There could be as many as six instances of overlap between the Efficacy of firearms data set and our collection, so a combination of the data is not useful unless the Effficacy of firearms data set is released. We cannot know how many of the six “failures” of the efficacy study might be because the handgun was never attempted to be used, was unable to be accessed because it was buried in a pack, or for other reasons.

All of the instances cited in this article can be verified independently.

©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.

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About Dean Weingarten: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.

  • 34 thoughts on “Defense Against Bears with Pistols: 97% Success rate, 37 incidents by Caliber

    1. Back in 2002 or so, a float plane pilot in Seward, Alaska took his two dogs for a walk; he carried a Ruger .44 Mag just in case. His dogs managed to find a couple of brownies which chased them back to him. Both bears charged him. He fired an ineffective warning shot, then began shooting at the larger of the two, which he managed to kill. The other ran off. Fish & Game figured they were a brother and sister from the same litter, and weren’t good at finding food yet. BTW, if you’re alive after the encounter, it’s a WIN even if the bear runs off.

    2. We have recently noticed a midsized male black bear that was in our driveway n backyard twice in a 3week time span, n i’m thinking of getting my pistol permit, and prolly a .45acp or Glock 40 handgun just incase it tries to break in it hasnt yet, but it ripped throgh our recycle bucket, what one should I get n what would be the most Lethal ammo to get incase of this plus now I cant let my lil dog go out back by herself now incase hes around also make sure whatever recomendations you give me fit with CTs damn crazy gun laws, because dumbasses who shouldnt touch a Gun that dont know proper use of it ruin it! Also does anyone else think a Machete of some sort would be a decent idea to get as well. I appreciate your responses.

      J

    3. I lived on the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound for 15 years and (informally) kept track of fatal bear attacks on people. Several things seemed of note, most attacks were from very close ranges, with 15 to 20 feet being common. These close attacks happen incredibly fast, and if the victim had a rifle, they typically only got off one shot before they lost it when the bear hit them. If they did not have a handgun on them, they died. If they had one, they still (usually) got chewed on, but either killed the bear or drove it off, and managed to get out of the brush to help. My favorite bear attack true story is from the Soldotna area, where a sweaty jogger had what LE estimated was a 4 year old brown bear charge out of the brush beside the gravel road he was jogging on, run up behind him and chomp down on his butt. The jogger must have tasted bad as the bear spit him out and ran off.

    4. There was the case of mr chris sanson in west virginia who was attacked by a black bear with aids, mr sanson fired his pellet gun to no avail, and was viciously raped, and then chewed to pieces, several days later it was revealed mr sanson also had aids.

    5. If the bear “runs off” before dying that is a FAILURE. It chose to run off. You could also ask it nicely and it might run off. In fact, it probably would. A shooting is a “success” if a bear charging with every intention of ripping your head off is STOPPED before it can do so, and immediately rendered incapable of finishing the job. A wounded bear, even one that is mortally wounded, can kill you ten times over before it’s done.

      1. This is not correct. If the firearm causes the bear to leave without mauling you, this is success. Your definition is why Park Rangers everywhere claim guns don’t work against bears, and encourage us to use bear spray instead (because this is such a foolproof alternative… [sarcasm])! Don’t encourage this trend.

    6. I believe that Mike McNett from Doubletap Ammo has a DGU against a grizzly with a 10mm pistol. Need to double check with him.

    7. I think the reason you have less defenses against black bear attacks is that more people carry in Grizzly country, for obvious reasons. You have to weigh the frequency of black bear attacks with the probability that the victim is armed. People underestimate danger in black bear country.

    8. Hmmm. . . .be careful of sampling bias. How many of the unsuccessful pistol defense against bears lived to report the failure? It’s like the old saw about dolphins helping a swimmer in distress back to shore. Of course, you never hear about the ones they helped get further out to sea. . . .

    9. About 2002 while guiding a raft trip down the Yukon River for group of military teens from Youth Services, Fort Richardson Alaska we were charged by a 3/4 year old brownie after it lost a moose it was chasing.We bluffed off three charges but on the fourth charge the bear kept coming. I and a fellow guide shot the bear at point blank range. I had a 44 mag and my partner was carrying a 12 gauge pump loaded with slugs. I fired 3 rounds from the 44 and my partner fired three slugs. We turned the bear and it ran off about 35 ft, turned and charged again. We shot it two more times and it then ran off mortally wounded. Larry Kunalt that writes the Alaskan Grizzly Tales has included this story in his next book that should be published soon. At the time of the attack we were the second documented attack on a large group of humans. The incident was covered in the Fort Richardson paper and the airmen that bluffed the bears first two charges received the Airman’s medal for heroism for his actions that day. He actions gave us time to get the weapons out.

    10. Interesting stuff. Would you happen to know of any similar compilation for long guns? It’d be interesting to see if the power and accuracy advantage they afford is worth the slower deployment of a slung rifle.

      Also, why do you think handguns might be so effective? Logic would say that if humans often soak up so many bullets, then we shouldn’t expect pistols to work very well against animals several times our size, but clearly practice shows that they are adequate the vast majority of the time.

      1. I was told several years ago of an Alaskan using a .25 ACP to finish off a downed grizzly with a shot to the ear. I have used heavy rifles shoot four bears north of 60, but I can see using heavy handguns for defense. Probably the bigger the handgun, the better, though, especially something like a quality .475 Linebaugh.

    11. The FEAR in the human
      probably has a lot to do with the outcome.
      I would go for a brain shot and then
      aim for his heart but if he is charging
      then the best option is keep shooting
      at his head.
      Maybe that is why the man with the .22
      LR ? downed the bear.
      Doc Rio
      I used to hunt North Koreans/CHinese/ and
      later Vietcong with a machine gun. “Pray and SPray!”

    12. Hi Dean,

      Thanks for this article in particular. I carry a snub nosed 44 mag Alaskan in a tanker’s holster. Based on what grain size are mentioned, I’m sticking with +P 300 to 340 grain flat nose. We have ferel cattle, bear, lion, elk, deer, all kinds varmits, hybrid canine, blah blah blah, mountain goat, etc., and I’m not out hunting. Just doing my chores. The tanker’s holster, along with a regular ammo belt really helps keep me balanced. A friend mentioned keeping it on my stomach. Each hand might have a chance and the 2.5 inch less easily snagged. Thanks again about including grain sizes.

      Jim

    13. A few years ago the Morrow County Ohio Sheriff’s Office had a Sheriff’s Deputy forced to kill a black bear that was an exotic pet. The bear had escaped its enclosure and Sheriff’s Deputy responded to a 911 call. The Deputy had a half eaten apple in his hand and the bear bit his hand, going for the apple. When the bear came at the Deputy again, he shot and killed it with a S&W M&P .40.

    14. I was in a state campground sleeping in a pup tent near my pickup. Colorado about 1987. I was awakened by noise from my truck. As I eased out of the tent I saw a black bear with it’s head stuck in my cooler. I was only about 25 feet away. When it saw me it began moving away. When the bear was about 50 feet away from me it turned around a came straight for me with its head down and running fast. Fortunately I had my Ruger 45 and fired two quick shots just over its head. This stopped the charge and the estimated 250 lb bear ran off and didn’t return. If the warning shots hadn’t worked I was aiming center mass for the next volley.

    15. I had to shoot a black bear with a snub nosed .38 one time. It kept coming into camp and harassing us. We fired in front of it, threw rocks and it, but it just kept coming. It starting digging our equipment out of my truck (we were packing up to leave because it ruined out tent) and I finally shot it in the shoulder. I remembered reading in Outdoor Life that the shoulder shot would prevent a bear from attacking. The bear roared and charged me, I fired again but hit a spent casing (I had cocked the gun once and didn’t fire and dropped the hammer once) but I jumped behind my vehicle and the bear turned and ran off on three legs.

    16. Dean, thanks for posting this. Good update. Have been sharing these with a friend in Alaska who runs into grizzly bears fairly frequently while fishing. Has lost at least one creel of fish to aggressive bears.

      I told him the prevalent solution according to the news and at least one political party is to post “bear free zone” signs along the streams and forests, and make sure outdoors men and women are unarmed. Then dial 911 if a bear violates the sign. What could go wrong? (OK for someone who doesn’t understand, this is satire.)

    17. I live on Kodiak, where it gets REAL real fast. You sit in AZ with an agenda and you cherry pick stories to support it. A well placed round from most large calibers will stop the bear. AR’s are fun to shoot and law abiding citizens do not need you pushing your agenda on them. The vast majority, 99.99% of us dont use them illegally. Find the .01% and get them some help, they wont stop because a certain looking gun isnt available. Stop being naive.

      1. Phaedrus What the heck are you talking about? This is about using a handgun to defend your life against bears. Take your insane agenda somewhere else.

      2. I had to use a fake email but if you think about what the AKs and ARs can do it is remarkable how many good sane people like to shoot them. Now in CA they want their drug use plus some rights over no drugs and more trustworthy folks. Thank you Madison for explaining the Second in Federalist 46 with HAMILTON and Jay in agreement as to what was meant. Dopers and gangs screw it all up. There would be less rape at colleges if they had more effective policing too.

    18. What generally happens when revolvers jam is caused by the bullet in one or more cylinders getting pulled from the cartridge due to heavy recoil.ive had 44 magnums do this if crimp is not folded in enough to hold the bullet !be aware of short barrelled revolvers in 454 or short 500 Smith and Wesson you may get three shots then jam up this doesn’t seem to be a problem in the longer models say six inch Barrell Ruger alaskans in 454 and very short Barrell will due this as will s&w model 29 in light weight back packer with themalloy frame !

    19. The one that amazed me was the guy here in Alaska that used an AK-74, that’s right the one that shoots 5.54×39.
      He fired around 13 rounds into the bear before it retreated. He reported it in to Fish & Game and they went looking for the bear but could not find it. I believe stories like this does not make it to the statistics. Read a report from the Alaska State Troopers that concluded with that 83% of successful self-defense with handguns was done with 357 magnum.

    20. I’m a tad confused, I didn’t know that revolvers jammed. Ok, anything mechanical can mess up, got that but the bigger badder revolver crowd says they are ‘perfect’. Even the lowly 9mm seems to be rather effective, plus you can get 16+1 in them and get then out way faster than a DA.

      What I get out of this is, something beats nothing by 100%. and shot placement is necessity.

      1. A couple of reasons that a revolver might “jam.” First, a bullet might move out of the case due to recoil. In this case it is the most likely cause. The second one is a high primer. Not likely with factory ammo but not impossible. If one is going to use a revolver as a self defense gun it would be wise to make sure the cylinder will turn a full 360 degrees after closing it.

        1. Some times the timing in the revolver is off too. Ive got a range toy llama like that. Good gun accurate, but has timing issues once in a while, a trip to a smith would probably solve that, but it’s hard to build confidence in a gun like that.

          i keep a 3 inch taurus that eats 180 grain hot loads for breakfast, 100s of rounds through it never had an issue and the small jframe size is easy to carry.

      2. Yes, revolvers can jam. Bullets in factory ammo is usually crimped in good enough not to back out when shot, but not always. However, failure to crimp or crimp insufficiently is a common cause of revolver (and other firearms) jams. One can also fail to seat the bullets deep enough and start out with this problem. One should always test fire their loads, reloads or factory, to be familiar with their operation; especially if they are being used for protection.

      3. One of our local folks here in Anchorage had a 454 jam when he fired an over charged home load at a charging bear. The bear chewed on his leg a while he eventually got the cylinder to turn allowing him to shoot again. Probably woudln’t happen with a standard lost.

        In 1964 my father was stalked by a black bear for 15 minutes and ended up shooting it from about 15 feet as it charged him. Ruger 44mag that I carry to this day. He tried really hard to yell asnd

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