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