Outdoor Writer Re-Thinks Pistols as a Defense Against Bears

Outdoor Writer Re-Thinks Pistols as a Defense Against Bears
Outdoor Writer Re-Thinks Pistols as a Defense Against Bears

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- Many people have a difficult time changing their minds once they have formulated an opinion, especially once they have committed to the opinion on the record. I am happy to say fellow writer Wes Siler is of better material than that.

In a June 2017 article, Wes was of the opinion that firearms, all firearms, were worthless as a defense against bears. He opined that statistically speaking, a person, when attacked by a bear, was as well off without a firearm as with one. He depended on research which had some problems with selection bias. Wes, quite generously, quoted me correctly.  From outsideonline.com:

Like most tragedies, this one has become a canvas onto which various crackpots and special interests are painting their opinions. My favorite hot take has to be this one on the Truth About Guns, arguing that teenagers should pack heat while going on fun runs. “The runner was able and willing to carry a cellphone,” writes Dean Weingarten. “He could easily have carried a Ruger LCP II, which weighs about as much. Whether or not that would have been ‘enough gun’ for a black bear is not entirely germane. It would have given him a chance.”

Would carrying a small .380-caliber pistol have made a difference? A study of 269 bear encounters conducted in 2012 found that relying on a firearm (any firearm) as your primary line of defense gives you the same odds as carrying no defense whatsoever. Statistically speaking, Cooper was just as safe from bears running without a pistol as he would have been with one.

With a year and a half more experience available to Wes, as well as the salubrious effect of moving into grizzly bear territory in Bozeman, Montana, Wes has considered the evidence and changed his mind. Good for him.  From outsideline.com:

Having said all that, after completing Tactic’s training program (and others), I now carry a handgun in addition to bear spray each and every time I go somewhere there might be grizzly bears. And having completed the course, I know that gun might be the only tool I have capable of stopping a determined attack.

One of Tactic’s instructors actually survived a grizzly attack while elk hunting last year. A bear charged his hunting partner, who immediately deployed his bear spray. Unfortunately, the direction the bear was coming from was upwind, and the spray had no effect on the grizzly. Seeing that, the instructor drew his handgun and shot the bear dead. An investigation the next day ruled that shooting justifiable. The man saved his friend’s life.

The gun? A nine-millimeter Glock. It might be common to read on the internet that you need a huge revolver chambered in an impossibly powerful caliber to stop a bear, but based on real-world experience with bear attacks, Tactic teaches that it’s modern firearms and the modern shooting techniques they make possible that are most effective.

Tactic sounds like an excellent course. It is only two days long and involves direct experience with a live, 850 lb trained grizzly.  Todd Orr is involved in the course. Having met Todd at the shot show, and interviewed him, I am sure he is a welcome addition.

I sent Wes a link to my research on how effective pistols are in defending against bears. Of the 37 instances, associates and I were able to find at that time; only one was a failure.  That translated into a 97% success rate. Since then, we have found an additional 26 instances. The updated research will be published soon.

Unlike other researchers on the efficacy of firearms, my research includes a link to every incident or a verifiable source. All the incidents have been verified as published in print or video. You can read about each incident and make up your own mind. The incidents are few enough in number that a purely statistical approach is not called for.

We have found bears can usually be stopped with ordinary pistol calibers. It is very likely that Patrick Cooper, the teen runner who was killed by a predatory black bear near Anchorage, Alaska, in 2016, would have been successful in defending himself against the bear if he had a Ruger LCP. Patrick had time to get out his cell phone and text his parents; he was being chased by a bear. He would have had plenty of time to draw a pistol and shoot the bear. The bear ran from his body as soon as it had been shot at and wounded.

Predatory black bears are easier to stop during an attack than grizzly bears, although black bears seem more resistant to bear spray.  There are several incidents where black bears have been sprayed and persist in their predatory behavior.

We have plenty of black bears. Every black bear who shows predatory interest in a human should be shot and killed. Bear spray is unlikely to stop the bear’s next attack on a human victim. One of the great advantages of a pistol for bear defense is the high probability the bear will be killed.

Most bears, especially black bears that attack people are killed anyway, by governmental authorities. Better the bear be killed the first time it attacks someone.

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.

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I’m a decent shot, but I don’t think I’m good enough to use my Springfield against a cougar or bear. I don’t think most hunters/gun users are. Sad case, but here’s a fact and link for ya.

“A hunter attacked by a wounded grizzly in a Montana forest was killed not by the bear, but by a gunshot fired by a companion trying to save him, authorities said Friday.”


Get Out

IMOA my theory is to have a gun while wandering around in the woods away from civilization whether hunting or hiking. I’ve had 4 black bear encounters that ended with the bear running away once it figured out I was there. On the other hand, a pack of 5 feral dogs took more interest in me than the bears did in Arizona.

TSgt B

I lived in Colorado for a substantial portion of my young adult life (Air Force) and also spent several years in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Air Force, again). I ALWAYS carry a large caliber sidearm while off the beaten path, usually a Ruger Blackhawk .45 Colt. I have had a few run ins with black bears, but never had to shoot one in self defense. I am confident that should the occasion arisen, my .45 would have been quite sufficient if I did my part.


Glock 32 with 357Sig does the trick easily.

Rick D Lovett

As a retired police officer & NRA firearm instructor and competitive shooter it’s all about your own confidence to stand your ground and target acquisition. I carry the same .45 in the field when I hunt as I’ve carried on my hip for decades… Why; coz I’ve put more rounds through it then I can count and at 61 I can still hit metal at 50 yards. I see folks buying S&W 500’s or the .460’s and sure they’re incredibly power/fast but how often do you really shoot it and when you do how many rounds do you actually fire…… Read more »

Bruce Hemming

In my research for the book 4 Seconds until Impact I found a gun was 100% effective at stopping or ending black bear attacks. Even a little .22.

Don Bailey

@HoosierSheepdog1954 Hemming, Nobody likes to get shot at, even if it’s only a .22 cal. round, it will still make you put your head down. I’ve seen some awful gunshot wounds, and some I still cannot understand how the individual survived. A .22 long rifle can do some serious damage to internal organs and to the vascular system. Just the same, a Black Bear is an incredibly tough animal, and I would presume, hard to stop.

E T Gwynn

All, reread Rokflyer note on ammo above. Solids, even in the no-so-maligned-lately 9mm can do the job.


Actually in my testing I had excellent results with the Buffalo Bore 9mm loads. It is almost a toss up, I would feel okay going afield with my FNS 9L. The 45 created, maybe?, a larger terminal wound channel, but penetration was superb. I’m sure the nimrod heads will explode after reading this.


I have long supported the opinion that carrying a handgun, any handgun in bear country is a good thing. When it is mentioned the armchair outdoor experts always come out to scoff at whatever your choice may be. I travel, farm and am daily in the immediate area of black bears, to the point of them actually being inside my barn, while I was inside it also. Most individuals who comprise the scoffers have never not only been around bears, but have never actually shot or experimented with various calibers or rounds that would be in use in these situations.… Read more »

Mike O'Brien

Hi Dean;
Thanks for good research on a subject maligned by agenda based opinions.

TS the Deplorable

There is a push by “environmentalists” to disarm people in bear country, and deep down I believe it is because they believe the loss of a bear is worse than the loss of a human. The “studies” that show that firearms are not very effective include attacks where the firearm was not accessible to the victim (such as in a backpack, or leaning against a tree on the other side of the camp). And those make up a LOT of the cases of “armed’ victims. You are not really armed if you can’t get to your weapon. Instead, these people… Read more »

Michael R Stuhr

“found that relying on a firearm (any firearm) as your primary line of defense gives you the same odds as carrying no defense whatsoever.”

How funny!

Mike E.

As a bow Hunter, I’ve always carried my 1911 .45 as a backup. I’m confident that round could kill a bear as easily as a 300 lb home invader high on PCP. The key to success in each engagement however is shot placement. The 9mm shot in the story sounded like the bear presented a broadside target so the dude put one (probably more) in the engine room behind the front leg to end it. About where you’d shot a deer. But where is the shot placed when faced with a charging bear coming right at you? Doubtless very little… Read more »


No news here. If bear spray is so effective on stopping attacks of the largest land predator ON THE PLANET (Grizzly/Brown bears) then why isn’t there tiger, lion or leopard spray in other parts of the world where they have been dealing with smaller predators for hundreds of years before North America was ever settled? Nice to see at least one person has finally “seen the light”.


Very good point I would say. But the folks who argue against armed self preservation never include real world facts in their arguments. But yes a good point.

Robert Lee

Mainly lions tigers and the big cats hunt movement not relying on a super sensitive olfactory system (nose).Now I do carry a .357 smith or .40s&w when in the woods but mostly dealing with black bear here usually can run them off jumping up &down acting crazier than there they’re hungry but have had one come up my tree.used the guns more on hogs rushing me outta the brush.


I have had run ins with probably 20 or so black bears in my time. ( that I was aware of) Only twice have they done anything other than walk on water or fly to get away from me. Once, west of Lander in the Fitzgeralds, a cinnamon followed me and my crew for a day. Probably just curious. Second one was scary. Southern Colorado, an old fella paralleled me for a day while I was elk hunting. Kept probably 100 meters off to my side the entire day. Only thing I can think of was that he was waiting… Read more »

Jack Mac

I have had run ins with some 20 or so black bears also. I ate about half of them, the rest got away.


I would rather go down shooting than just letting the bear have me for lunch.

Sean Ebra


Roy D.

Instead of settling for second hand stuff here is Siler’s article on bears: https://www.outsideonline.com/2390732/how-survive-grizzly-bear-attack
I have had my say concerning bears here before so no more of that. I find Mr. Siler’s life history germane to his take on things. And not in a good way. But, that’s his life.


Well, we all know the .45 is the place to start, the dude got lucky with a 9.


Recoiless rifle, when you want to be sure.


Nuke bear from orbit.

To be sure.

Wild Bill

@Mike, Nonsense! Social justice demands that the bears have an preferred outcome with any caucasian, Christian male that they encounter, to make up for past discrimination.


@ Wild Bill
That’s funny and soooooo politically correct. It makes as much sense as nuking them.


Do we “all” really understand that. Would you really prefer a 230 gr. FM. 45 acp over a .357 mag 158 gr. jsp. Might need to study up some on ballistics.


If i ever get the opportunity to fo to grizzly country i will be carrying my FNS 40 with underwood extreme penetrators as my defense, but that is me.

Jerry S.

When I was in school as a child, I read of a guy in Africa killing a Cape Buffalo with a 1911. He was ran up a tree and the animal wouldn’t leave. It stayed at the foot of the tree just waiting on him to try to escape. He unloaded the 1911 into the animal and it finally succumbed to the wounds. He escaped with his life.

Witold Pilecki

In August of 2016, my wife and I embarked on a three week, cross-country RV trip to Glacier National Park and back. We were going into big bear territory, and while we were not going into the back country, bears were abundant west of Minnesota. I did not want to find myself unarmed with a hungry bruin tearing his way through the thin walls of a travel trailer looking for food while we were asleep. I felt perfectly safe with my trusty Dan Wesson Model 15 and substantial .357 Magnum rounds. One night we camped in South Dakota, and our… Read more »


Bears are only one type of predator out there, 4 legged and 2 legged of all sorts. Would be nice to carry both spray and a firearm. I often do, when flyfishing in Bear, Moose or Cat country. Don’t know for sure if spray works on Cats or Moose but am willing yo try, if the time/ situation allows. However, if I can only take one, either a gun or spray, i’ll choose the gun.