Could a Pistol Have Made a Difference in the Fatal Bear Attack on Mother and Child?

Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear

U.S.A. -( On 26 November 2018, a young Canadian mother and her 10-month-old child were killed by an adult male grizzly bear. It was a horrific tragedy. Two sides quickly emerged in the discussion that followed. One side suggested that the woman “got what she deserved” because she and her partner were trappers. The other side suggested she could have been saved if she had a gun to use for protection. Lost in the push from these sides were the suffering of the father, the young couple's friends, and the Yukon community they were part of.

The coroner's report has now been released. It has worthwhile information about the terrible events that occurred last November.

Valérie Théorêt was the mother and partner, and Adèle  Roesholt the 10-month-old daughter, of Germund Roeshot.

Gjermund Roesholt found his dead family after being attacked by the same bear that killed them. He used a 7mm Remington Magnum to stop the bear attack with multiple shots, including a shot to the head of the grizzly bear. The bear was stopped only six feet from him.

From reading the coroner's report, and from my researches of actual incidents where people used pistols to defend themselves against bears, it is plausible that if Valérie Théorêt had been carrying a holstered pistol, she, and her baby would still be alive.

Bear attacks are rare. Pistols do not guarantee survival, of course. Bear attacks are very dangerous, and often fatal. Perhaps the most dangerous is the surprise attack with predatory intentions, which it seems, is what the attack on Valérie and Adèle was.

The coroner's report states the bear had hidden two meters (six feet) off of the small trapline trail Valérie was walking down while carrying ten-month-old Adèle in a backpack like a carrier.  The coroner's report does not state how far the bear was from Valérie and Adèle when it started to charge at them. It could have been as little as two meters. It could have been more.

The bear started its charge at Germund from fifteen meters (50 feet).

If the attack started from 15 meters, and if Valérie had been armed, she would have had a chance to stop the attack before the bear reached her and Adèle.

If the bear impacted Valérie before she had any time to react, she might still have been able to defend herself, if she were carrying a pistol.

Bears generally do not kill adult humans quickly. The death of an adult human attacked by a bear usually takes some time. It is seldom instantaneous. It is usually from blood loss and shock due to multiple injuries. From the coroners report:

I therefore find that Valérie Théorêt came to her death on November 26, 2018, from Unnatural causes, to wit: Multiple Injuries due to Grizzly Bear Attack and classify her death as Accidental.

Further, I find that Adèle  ROESHOLT also came to her death on November 26, 2018, from Unnatural causes, to wit: Head Trauma due to Grizzly Bear Attack and classify her death as Accidental.

As little as one to two seconds are necessary to draw and fire a pistol decisively.

Valérie Théorêt's body was found near to where the bear was killed. The 10 month old girl, Adèle Roesholt's, remains were found lying nearby.

I and colleagues have been able to document 63 instances where pistols were used to defend against bears. The defense was successful in 60 of those instances.

In the 63 instances I and colleagues have been able to document, most defenses were successful without any injury to the human, or another human used the pistol to defend the person being attacked by the bear.

There were six cases where the pistol shooter was impacted before being able to shoot the pistol. The pistol carriers were still able to successfully stop the attack. One more case was found since the original article was published, making seven in total.

It is worth noting there were two victims in the Yukon attack. In one of the following events, when the bear turned its attention from one victim to another, it gave the opportunity to use the pistol effectively.

The Yukon attack was in broad daylight, between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

Here are summations and links to the seven attacks where the pistol was not in hand before the bear impacted the victim:

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

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.

 16 July, 2002, Seneca Lake, San Carlos Indian Reservation, Arizona, .44-40 Ruger Vaquero, black bear.

My name is Rod Black. Last month I was fishing with my brother at Seneca Lake Arizona, on the San Carlos Indian Reservation. Just after midnight on the 16th of July, 2002, a bear wandered into my camp and attacked me while I slept. He clawed my head open, severing a small artery, and bit me on the back before throwing me off my cot onto the ground.
I found myself on the dirt, in the dark, with blood gushing and literally squirting from my wounds. I was in a state of absolute panic and horror. I had a Ruger Vaquero by my cot, but in the chaos and confusion I could locate neither the revolver nor my glasses, and could see or hear nothing. I was paralyzed by fear and terrified that the bear would come back from out of the darkness and resume his attack on me at any moment.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was perhaps less than a minute, my brother could see the dark form of the bear moving and began to scream. I realized that we were going to die if I didn't come to my senses, and I fell to the ground and located my shooter in the dirt. I asked my brother to try to make it to the pickup and turn on the lights. (He could not find the flashlight, as the bear had knocked it on the ground before the attack.) Without my glasses and in such darkness, I was nearly blind.

After repeatedly asking my brother to go, he somehow made it to the truck and turned on the lights. (Later, I realized that by asking my brother to go into the dark to turn on the lights, I might have sent him to his death – that will haunt me forever.)

The lights came on and revealed my worst nightmare: Not three to four feet away and looking straight at me was the bear. The bogeyman. The thing that goes bump in the dark. This thing had come to kill me and eat my flesh that night… and I knew it.

When he turned for an instant to look at the light, I wiped the blood from my eyes and fired my first shot from the caliber .44-40 Vaquero. I was painfully aware that if my first round was not a good one, I may not have a chance for another. In all my life, I will never forget the sound of the blast or the acrid smell of the gunpowder. The bear was knocked from his feet and hit the ground hard. He thrashed about while I fired again and again – and cursed him while I did – until I was hammering on empty cartridges.

Article from The Blue Press November 2002 Issue #125.

Last week of June, 2003,  Montana, .41 Magnum: Bear attacked, man mauled, used .41 Mag to stop second attack

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.

7 September, 2006, Alaska, .44 magnum,: Grizzly attacked Moose Hunters,  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.

19 July, 2009, Wyoming: Clark, .41 Magnum, Grizzly,

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.

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

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.

May 22, 2016, Oregon,  Shane Thomas, 30-06 Rifle, and semi-automatic pistol, black bear

Finally, Thomas said he was able to kick the bear hard enough to knock him back and grab the pistol. Just as the bear went for his leg again, he fired two shots: the first did nothing, but the second pierced the animal’s gut and forced it to retreat.

Battered and bloodied, Thomas got to his feet and scrambled back to the top of the ridge where he could use his cellphone, which still worked despite being damaged.

There are two other cases that are relevant. In the case of Craig Medred, it is not clear if he had the pistol in hand before he was impacted.

About 1993, Alaska, Kenai peninsula, .454 Casull, Craig Medred Grizzly Field & Stream February, 2003 Letters. (numerous mentions in Medred's columns)

And here I thought the Kenai Penisula brownie I shot off my foot with a .454 Casull about 10 years ago got the worst of it.

In this last case,  Bridger Petrini had shot at the bear with the pistol, before it contacted him. He was able to continue the fight and eventually kill the bear that was attempting to kill him. This illustrates how a pistol can be effectively used while under attack.

25 July, 2018, New Mexico:  Man stops New Mexico bear attack with 10mm Glock 20, black bear

Bridger Petrini is attacked by a near 400 lb cinnamon Black bear. He kills the bear with his Glock 20 10mm during an extended fight. I interviewed Bridger. The case is detailed at the link.

Valérie Théorêt and Adèle Roesholt were found on the trail of a small trapline that could be easily be checked on foot, in about 20 minutes, from the cabin. They were about 275 yards down the trapline trail, heading away from the cabin, when they were attacked.

The bear that killed them was in bad shape. It weighed  300 pounds. It had no body fat. It was recovering from a severe abdominal wound. It had numerous internal injuries from porcupine quills.

Bear spray is not as effective in cold weather. The coroner's report makes note of “their effectiveness/limitations in winter environments” The coroner does not mention the effectiveness/limitations of pistols or rifles. If bear spray could have been at all effective, a pistol could also have been effective.

Bear spray would not have deterred this bear. A porcupine had not deterred this bear. The bear was so desperately hungry it had killed and eaten a porcupine. To quote the coroner, the bear had: “..multiple porcupine quills penetrating its digestive system from mouth to stomach.”

This bear was in such bad shape it was not going to survive the winter. This is not unusual. It is how old bears die, most commonly. They become too old to defend territory and gain enough food to hibernate. Then they die.  Many are killed and eaten by other bears. Most people do not know that bears are cannibals. The biggest mortality factor for bear cubs is likely being killed and eaten by a mature boar.

In Alaska, trappers often carry handguns while checking traplines. In Canada, this option is severely limited. In a search of the trapping regulations for the Yukon, I did not found any potential to allow the carry of a pistol on the trapline.

Eva Holland, a writer based in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, has many people in her circle of friends who knew Valérie Théorêt. She refrained from writing about the incident until the coroner's report was released. She came to a different conclusion than I have.


The investigators’ reconstruction of the attack made it clear: even if, somehow, Valérie had had a loaded gun in her hand when the bear made his move, she wouldn’t have had a chance. The only thing she could have done differently, I realized, was not be there. Not have gone for a walk with her child in the freshly fallen snow, not have been in the backcountry to begin with.

With all respect, Eva, it is a common human characteristic to rationalize events after the fact.

People who do not wish to learn about or to use handguns often find rationalizations as to why they would be ineffective or of no use. In Canada, handguns are so severely restricted,  speculations about their effectiveness are politically incorrect.

In this case, we know Germund's rifle was very effective in stopping the bear attack. If Valérie Théorêt had carried a handgun, and known how to use it, she and Adèle might still be alive. There is no certainty, of course. But, it is entirely plausible she could have used such a defensive tool to survive the bear attack. Several other people have done so.

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.

  • 24 thoughts on “Could a Pistol Have Made a Difference in the Fatal Bear Attack on Mother and Child?

    1. Sirs:
      As a Geologist in Canada I have had an “ATC” (Authority To Carry) in connection with my work, but not in town, since 1954. I also must have the accompanying “ATT” (Authority To Transport) which allows me to transport my pistol from my home to my place of work in the bush. While working I must put the pistol in a holster on my hip exposed as it must not be “Concealed”. I am not allowed to fire the pistol unless it is to “save human life”.
      I have shot 6 Black Bears in total, the first three with a 357 Magnum 158 grain bullet in a Colt Revolver, and the last three with a Smith and Wesson Model 629 in Remington 44 Magnum caliber with 245 Grain hard lead bullets. All the bears were only shot once at distances for most from 5 to 20 feet and one at 100 feet. The one at 100 feet was because that Black Sow was chasing the Cook who gone to the garbage dump too quickly before I could load my pistol. Most Bears fell upon being shot, then getting up and running away before dying and falling. Two of the Bears In different instances were actually stalking me and I did not become aware of each until I looked over my shoulder to my rear and saw each 20 feet way. I was able to aim and fire my revolver at each from 5 feet. Co-incidently both immediately fell down and before I could get a second shot into them they jumped up and ran some distance away before dying. The one with broken and black teeth was thin yet was able to climb up to the big branches in a Quacking Aspen before it died up there. Sometimes I have fired a shot towards the side of a bear when it was up to 40 feet away (My tolerance level) and added several old Anglo Saxon words not often used in polite society to send the bear on its way. Black bears are more likely to attack a person as they are sneaky and unpredictable while a Grizzly (unless surprised) will not attack a determined person who threatens them by standing tall, fires a shot near them and yelling at them.
      Unfortunately in Canada now we have a “Liberal” government who seriously displease me with their new draconian gun bill. I do not and will not go to work in the bush without my gun.

    2. I have been around more grizzlys than blacks while in the back country of states and Canada. Except for Canada I always carry a .44 on my hip. In Canada we arm ourselves with long guns. We never trust any bear but pray what we have will be “big” enough to save our butts. You must be ready ALWAYS because you never have time for anything else. Stay safe.

        1. One should never carry a firearm in bear country. Once the bear kills you, the bear will then be armed with a firearm!!! It’s all down hill from there. That’s how the Indians got firearms.

    3. Just a silly question, why do conservation officers carry guns,and,do they carry bear spray?
      I’ll take a boat horn and 44 mag,dog helps too.

    4. A gun can be the difference between survival or certain death. But being armed does not guarantee survival, it only gives you a chance. As brutal as these stories depict, the variables are innumerable and the outcome unpredictable. Not being armed is an automatic death sentence.

    5. I spent 4 years living in Alaska working on fishing boats .My captain and I were the only ones on the boat. He was always getting pissed because I liked to walk where no human have walked before. Well I leaned a little bit about grizzles .Apparently I was eating Logan or Nonan Berries in his patch . I was attacked .but the bear grabbed me and picked me up and battered me back and forth while roaring in my face . He then threw me down in the muskeg and wandered off . I got up and took the dingy back to the boat as my Captain was getting his rifle out of the bunks in the in the bow of the boat. I was not hurt at all a couple of scratches where he threw me down . Cured me of the wander lust I have for a while . I had a 454 Cassel on my hip but could not get to it in time .What seemed like an hour to me was less than 30 seconds.
      Had it been an 800 pound black bear .I would be dead as they will kill and eat humans . We got back to the dock,.my Captain kept up needling me about going as shore , a man was attacked in the city limits of Anchorage by a black bear. He somehow got away but he received over 1800 stiches and a lot of staples .and had to be hospitalized do not know if the bear was ever found and killed . This was in July around the 4th because I remember fireworks around that time. I nearly starved to death that year as I was in the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the fishing was banned for salmon and Halibut.PS . I never smelled worse breath in my life
      and had to be hospitalized

    6. The whole point is people venturing into the wilderness should have whatever they choose for defense against aggression. Shot placement is key and practice is essential. I debated between .44 magnum and .454 in the Ruger Alaskan. I settled on the .44 because I know I can shoot it well enough to practice with bear loads. The ammo is available and quite a bit cheaper in .44.

    7. I live in Grizzley country and I pack a 44 mag and I hope I never have to use it . I would rather have it and not need than need it and not have it . Being turned into bear scat does not appeal to me !

      1. I have to agree. When hiking in Cascade Foothills, always carry said wheel gun as in a 45LC and a Bull 357Mag as a back up. Keep a Hunting knife on the side too for quick access. Razor sharp.
        – One of the worst thing that can happen is getting between Mamma and her Cubs. Spend enough time outdoors, in their backyard and eventuality there will be an encounter. Odds are stacked against humans. Carry a wheel gun and Bear Spray. I have seen and HEARD enough over the decades, to know better. Experience helps as well.
        -Then comes the issue of distance. How close will the encounter be? So best go prepared, and aware.

      2. Simple common sense. What was that woman doing out there unarmed, never mind with her baby? I guess it’s the same reason people go everywhere unarmed and call those of us who do paranoid, they want to believe they live in some utopia where nothing bad can happen-until it does. How many times have we heard a person on the news saying “Who would have thought such a thing could happen in this neighborhood?”.

        1. She was working the TRAPLINE. Its how people in the back country support themselves. Hunt, fish, trap, grow. But you still need money, so trappi,g provides furs which are sold

    8. Dean, these bear attack stories are proof that folks should go armed in bear country. Thank you and keep them coming.

    9. Having a defensive weapon with you when defending yourself from a violent attack is almost always better then not having one.

    10. Could a firearm have made a difference? We will never know. One thing is for sure. It couldn’t have hurt. No bears in my neck of the woods. Big Cats are being spotted more often. I Never go into the woods without a firearm. As I EDC something. Kinda fond of the Remington 870 Tac 14 on a sling.

    11. There’s no such thing as a .44 magnum revolver pistol. Obvious fake news left wing reporting. Lotsa situational awareness missing. Common sense, and functional cause and effect genes would dictate a constant state of awareness, and readiness, in bear country. And if you are going to sleep there, fishing line with tin cans and pebbles, ate cheap, easy, and a great bear intruder alarm. Or better yet, bring your dog.

      1. “There’s no such thing as a ….. revolver pistol.”

        Unless you use the Oxford English Dictionary,”NOUN 1 A pistol with revolving chambers enabling several shots to be fired without reloading.”
        Or use the same terminology as the Webley Mk VI revolver, “Pistol, Revolver, Webley, No. 1 Mk VI”.

        Really you are making a technical distinction with no relevance to the layman. But it allows you to rant about “fake news”, so know yourself out if it makes you happy.

    12. Once, while leading a pack horse, the horse I was riding jumped about six feet laterally. This was on a trail in Mount McKinley National Park circa 1970. I don’t know what he saw or smelled that scared him but when it happened I was expecting a grizzly attack. And this was after five other riders, some of them also leading pack horses, had already passed the spot. His eyes were about to pop out of his head and it wasn’t until several minutes later and further down the trail that he settled down. The only firearm in the group was a Ruger 44 Mag that my uncle had in his saddle bags. When my cousins and I went out from the ranch proper venturing we almost always brought at least one of the ranch dogs. As an early warning system for one reason. Needless to say there was no dog along on that particular trip.

      1. Thats always fun! I had one spook like that goi,g across the top of a dam, 100 feet down on obe side and 2 feet down i,to a lake on the other. Guess which way the horse wanted to go! Still cant believe i didnt die that day!

    Leave a Comment 24 Comments

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *