Details of .22 Pistol Defense Failure against Polar Bear in Norway

Details of .22 Pistol Defense Failure against Polar Bear in Norway; AndreAnita, iStock-940461304
Details of .22 Pistol Defense Failure against Polar Bear in Norway; iStock-940461304

U.S.A.-( While searching for cases where pistols were used to defend against bears, three failures have been found. In the last published results, of 73 cases, that was a 4% failure rate. The very small sample size means a few cases can change the percentages of success or failure significantly.  It is useful to know what happened in each case to determine how the failures and successes occurred.

The three failures involved the three species of North American bears. One case involving a polar bear and a .22 pistol in 1995, one case involving a grizzly bear and a .357 magnum in 2010, and one case involving a black bear and a .38 revolver in 2015.

Reasonably detailed accounts of the failures for the 2010 and 2015 attacks have been given in the last update, where 73 cases were examined.

The failure of the .22 pistol defense against a polar bear had little information.

3.  1 September, 1995, Norway, Svalbard Island, .22 rimfire, Failure Polar Bears:  Proceedings of the Twelfth Working Group

On 1 September, 1995, two male tourists were attacked by an adult male bear on a remote island in eastern Svalbard. The two tourists defended themselves with a .22 calibre pistol which proved ineffective. One man was killed, the other injured. Police later shot the bear.

After considerable research, a more detailed account of the incident was found. The incident involved crew members of the tour/expedition ship Origo, a traditional ship refurbished and used for arctic tours since the beginning of the 1990s.  In the summer of 1995, the ship was cruising in the arctic waters near Svalbard. The ship anchored in the Hinlopen Strait. A tourist party left the ship to explore. The party had an armed guard. Five members of the crew left to explore, separately. They brought a .22 pistol and a flare gun. From Spitsbergen: Svalbard, Franz Josef, Jan Mayen, 3rd Brant travel Guide, by Andres Umbreit:

Kiepertoyo Hinlopen Strait, August, 1995

Another five people of the crew set out separately with only a .22 pistol and a flare gun. After an hour’s march, the second party were met by a bear, 75m away and openly aggressive. The bear was distracted neither by warning shot nor flare and attacked one of the party. As he did so, he was shot, from a range of only 15m and turned against the man who had fired at him. This man tossed the gun to the first, who shot again. The process was repeated, with first one man being attacked and then the other. By the time the pistol was emptied and a knife drawn, one man was dead and another badly injured. The survivors retreated to the ship.


On examination, three shots to the head were discovered, none of them piercing the cranium.

The victim had three years experience with the Origo, with many bear observations, and there were sufficient weapons on board to equip everybody.

Fatal polar bear attacks in Svalbard are rare. They are well documented. This is the same attack as mentioned earlier, with better details.

The author of the account mentions a small-caliber pistol must hit a very small target at close range. The range is not that important, as a .22 does not lose much energy in the first 50 yards.

Hitting a small target is important, and not easy from 15 meters (50 feet) away, when the target is moving. Most successful defenses against bear attacks with pistols occur at much shorter distances, often 20 feet or less.

This is the second case encountered where the person attacked threw the pistol to someone else. Both attempts resulted in failure.  In the Mark Uptain tragedy, the 10mm Glock did not have any ammunition in it when thrown; in this case, the capacity of the pistol is unknown. In 1995, it would almost certainly have been 10 rounds or less. We do not know how many rounds were expended in warning shots.

Three .22 rounds hit the polar bear in the head. None entered the cranium. This is not unexpected. The brain of a polar bear may be slightly larger than a grizzly. A grizzly bear brain is about the size of a pint jar (29 cubic inches). The head of a large Kodiak bear has a volume of approximately 808 cubic inches, based on measurements supplied by Tom Smith of Brigham Young University. The Kodiak bear measured by Dr. Smith was exceptionally large, estimated at 1,400 pounds. If we assume a 1,000-pound polar bear, and proportional measurements, the head volume would be about 577 cubic inches or 2.5 gallons.

If you have a pint jar in a 2.5-gallon container, you have to know where the jar is located to be able to hit it. It is easy to miss. There is a lot of muscle and bone in a bear head that can absorb or deflect a .22 LR bullet if they hit at a poor angle or in the wrong place.  A .22 is powerful enough to reach a bear’s brain if it hits the correct place at a reasonable angle.

According to the more detailed account, the captain of the Origo ordered the bear shot with a high powered rifle, (instead of police) as it had been hit with the .22 pistol. The attack occurred in August, while the first account stated 1 September. Those are minor variations but not unreasonable.

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.

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They chose poorly.


“Use Enough Gun” Robert C. Ruark


Any one who carries a .22 and thinks that they’ll take down any type of Bear probably is too stupid to Breed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


They should have used it to shoot themselves!


Why didn’t they try shooting it with the flare gun?

Xaun Loc

Did you miss the fact that they fired the flare gun and the pistol as warning shots?
It is unlikely that they had another flare and even if they did a flare gun is not quick to reload compared to a charging bear.

Contrary to movies, a flare is very unlikely to do serious damage except at point blank range. Hitting an aggressive bear with a flare would probably either be ignored or would just annoy the bear more.


Here is a truth about Norway. Anybody with any get up and go got up and left. This article is evidence. My relatives will never read this but they know my feelings. Uff Da.

Dr. Strangelove

Yeah, my ancestors left Norway in the 8th century and then went to Englande in 1066. We came to America in the 1600s.


Going into bear country with a .22 is kin to going bear hunting with a stick.

Popeye the Sailor Man

My question is, what purpose was the .22 supposed to serve? They must have carried it out there for some reason. Using what you have in an unexpected bad situation is one thing, but they couldn’t have possibly said to themselves “I better carry a .22 in case I come across a 1400 lb polar bear.” Makes more sense if they were preparing for attack weasels.


10mm and bigger.

Deplorable Bill

Just so everyone knows, a polar bear is an animal who 100% of the time looks on humans as a food source. They will attack people without being provoked. I know it’s obvious to most already but when you know there is the possibility of danger — bring enough gun. Had these people brought enough gun there is the possibility they would have lived and not have been mauled.

The same goes with two legged predators. Keep your firearm on your person and use the biggest gun you can shoot well. Arm up, carry on.


Norway was invaded by the Nazis in April of 1940. About a month later all resistance to the Nazis stopped. Norway was one of the countries with massive collaboration with the Nazis.
I doubt anyone wonders why a Norwegian would think a .22 was a good idea to use against a polar bear.


I see the cowards are out, again. Down check but run away without commenting.
The cadre of the weak, yellow spine.