Grizzly Bear Attack in Montana Stopped with 9mm Pistols

Opinion

Gregersen's Glock 43 and ammunition

Arizona -(Ammoland.com)- – On 16 September 2019, Chris Gregersen and Donivan Cambell were bow hunting elk in Montana, in the Gravelly Mountains, when they were attacked by a grizzly bear. They had gone out for an afternoon hunt, and had hunted up steep drainage, climbed the opposite slope, and had been calling for elk on the opposite side of the ridge with a bugle call.

They were returning to their truck and camp. They stopped calling on the top of the ridge, crested the ridge, and were on a steep downward slope, moving toward the creek at the bottom, on an old game trail. There was no cell service in the area.

The weather was clear, in the 50s, with a slight breeze. It was 6:30 p.m. The sun was low in the sky. They wanted to get back before dark.

In addition to their archery equipment, both men had 9 mm pistols. Chris Gregersen had a Glock 43. Donivan Campbell had a Sig Sauer P320. Both guns were loaded with full metal jacketed (FMJ) cartridges.

Chris said he carried the Glock 43 because it was small enough to be taken every day.

Both men are professional biologists, with degrees in wildlife ecology, working in their chosen field. They are familiar with bears and bear behavior. They live and work in Washington State. They are both longtime hunters and fishermen. They are proficient woodsmen.

Donivan (face-paint, left) and Chris after successful turkey hunt

The way back to the truck was north, down a slope, through the timber, and up the other side. They were in thick timber of mature lodgepole pine with some spruce, and patches of brush and blowdowns. In the picture, the attack occurred across the creek and up the slope in the timber in the upper right.

The attack occurred in dense timber across the creek and up slope

As they crossed a small bench, they heard an animal jump up, downwind, in the brush to their left (West). It was close, within 20 yards. Their first thought was: elk!  As they turned to look, the grizzly bear erupted from the brush, charging at them, woofing and breathing heavily, only feet away. Chris ran and jumped downhill. Donivan attempted to dodge uphill, but the bear veered and grabbed him by the thigh, shaking him like a dog shaking a rat. The initial attack happened in seconds.

Chris said, even if he had a deterrent in hand, he would not have been able to deploy it fast enough.

Chris had just landed when he heard Donivan scream. He immediately drew his pistol and ran uphill toward Donivan and the bear.  The bear had shaken Donivan again.  Donivan was on his belly, the bear holding him down by standing on his back.  The bear had let go of Donivan's leg and was attempting to bite Donivan's head. Donivan had both hands behind his head, trying to protect his neck. His thumbs were in the bear's mouth, trying to hold the bear's teeth away from his head. He could feel the bear's teeth on his hands. To this point, the action had taken about fifteen seconds.

The attack was aggressive, fast, violent. Chris could see the bear going for Donivan's head when he shot.

Chris said he had no choice. He had to fire. If he did not fire, Donivan would be killed or injured more severely. He had run to within 15 feet of the bear and Donivan, the bear facing away from him, on top of Donivan. He took a snap sight picture and fired at the bear's rear. It was probably 16 seconds into the attack.  The point of aim was the bear's hind quarters. There was no other choice.  The bear and Donivan were up slope with brush on either side. There was no time to flank the bear, on a steep hill side, with considerable brush, when fractions of a second could make the difference between life and death.   Chris had a clear shot. He has considerable experience shooting under stress while hunting. He says he has “shot a lot.”  He had a brief worry about hitting his friend, so he had to do it right.  

Chris believes he hit the bear in one of the hind quarters, from the rear. The searchers reported finding a little blood, but it might have been Donivan's.  From the back, a 9mm FMJ would be unlikely to reach the bear's vitals or penetrate far enough to reach Donivan. On a large bear, with lots of fat in the fall, a significant blood trail was unlikely.

Severe wound on Donivan's Thigh from Grizzly Bear Attack

Chris expected the bear to turn on him. At the shot, the bear leaped away from Donivan and disappeared into a thick wall of brush only 5 feet away.  The bear could not have acted faster to a cloud of bear spray.

Chris did not know if Donivan was alive or dead. Donivan drew his Sig Sauer as soon as the bear jumped off him.  As Chris approached Donivan, he saw his friend was alive and armed. They immediately heard the grizzly coming back from about 30 yards out. As a snap plan, Donivan agreed to fire to deter the bear, with Chris in reserve to fire as soon as he saw it. The friends are yelling at the bear. As it got to within 5 yards, still unseen, Donivan fired two shots into the brush, toward the bear. The bear stopped, started walking away, and retreated perhaps 20 yards.

The friends heard the bear charge a third time. Donivan fired another shot at the noise as the bear closed to about 10 yards, still without being seen, hidden by the thick brush. Indexing on the sound, they had a good idea of where it was. The bear stopped, and the friends hear it slowly walking in the brush, then slowly walking away.  They heard the sounds of the bear's retreat faded. The only clear shot fired at the bear was the first one fired by Chris, it was effective in stopping the attack, driving the bear off of Donivan and giving him the opportunity to draw his Sig.

Chris emphasized bear spray would not have been sufficient. The spray would have been directed at the bear's backside. If the spray had reached the bear's head, it would have disabled Donivan as well. When the bear charged again, the bear spray would have been unlikely to reach the bear through the heavy cover.

Chris believed the sound of the shots and the yelling stopped the second and third charges. He thinks all three shots fired by Donivan missed the bear. It could not be seen. Donivan was on the ground, firing at the noise of the bear crashing through the brush at them. There was a lot of brush.

Chris checked his friend's wounds. The bear had torn up Donivan's thigh with six lacerations, ripped into severe wounds as the bear shook Donivan.  One of them was large enough for the doctor at the hospital to put his entire hand inside while cleaning it out.

There wasn't any arterial bleeding. The emergency “first aid” kit was useless, designed for minor cuts and insect bites. The friends improvised bandages using game bags and t-shirts. Chris improvised crutches from trekking poles.  They believed they could be attacked again at any time, as had happened in several other cases, with Todd Orr being the classic example. Chris kept his Glock in hand and put Donivan's Sig in his pants pocket. He reloaded his Glock 43 with a spare magazine.  Donivan would have both hands full staying upright and moving back toward the road.

The sun was nearly down, with deep shadows across the valley. They had to make it down to the creek, and across it, a three-quarter-mile hike. Then there was an uphill climb to the road and the truck. At the camp was a 4-wheeler, five miles away.

Chris cleared a trail for Donivan, helped him over logs, and provided security as they hobbled their way, as fast as they could, toward the road, the truck, and safety.

Once they got to the other side of the creek, they were able to make it to an area of sagebrush.  Donivan was spent. The two decided, rather than risk further injury by carrying Donivan, Chris would go and get the 4-wheeler at the camp. Chris returned Donivan's Sig P320 9 mm and left him in a relatively open area, covered with clothes, in a defensive position. The sun was below the horizon.

Chris ran upslope for a quarter mile to the truck. He drove five miles back to the camp, returned with the 4-wheeler, found a way downslope with the vehicle, and loaded Donivan on it. Donivan had his headlight out and turned on.  The evening sky glow was fading.  As they headed up slope in the 4-wheeler, it was dark.

On the road, they headed back toward camp. Part way there, they were able to flag down someone to go and call 911 from a local cabin with a land line. The call started an ambulance on the way up.  They loaded Donivan into the truck and started down the mountain. Just as they reached cell phone service, 40 miles from the attack site, they met the ambulance coming up. The ambulance took Donivan to the hospital.

Donivan's injuries after some suturing

A search party with a big crew and helicopter were organized to look for the bear.

Based on descriptions, the bear was a mature, dominant boar.  One of the searchers told Chris the chances of two dominant bear attacks this close together is very low.  Chris was told the bear was likely hit. This might cause it to den up to recover, or to leave the area. If not hit, denning or leaving would be less likely, for such a territorial, mature boar.

One of the first responders recommended Quick Clot, a wound dressing, and a tourniquet as a kit to cover most serious wounds. A warden suggested more power, and a large magazine capacity gave a better chance of hitting the central nervous system. He recommended the Glock 20 in 10mm.

Chris believes it was probably the same bear. He thinks the bear spray used in the attack 11 hours and less than a mile away, likely aggravated the second attack.

Chris Gregersen has purchased a Glock 20.  Chris bought a quick clot kit for future hunts.

Donivan Cambell is recovering. It will be months before he can hunt again. Donivan's wife is expecting their first child. Fortunately, the bear attack did not sever any arteries. A gofundme account has been set up for his expenses.

Chris says bears are highly individualistic. There are aggressive bears and mellow bears. Without legal hunting for bears, aggressive bears tend to be taken out when, or after, they attack. With a legal hunt, bears that did not fear humans would be more likely to be harvested before they attack a human.

Chris Gregersen says they did not expect to be attacked. They believed if they acted properly, they would be safe. Now, he knows there are bears in the woods who will attack and kill you simply for being there. If it could happen to them, he says, it could happen to anyone.



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.

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JImyK
Member
JImyK

They are lucky to have done anything more than just piss the bear off with those 9mm pea shooters. Especially considering a very experienced Wyoming guide was killed last year by a Grizzly. Upon finding his remains rescuers also recovered his pistol discovering he had fired off all it’s rounds . I am pretty sure it was of a higher caliber than that of a 9mm. I am glad to hear these two fellas survived. They best get some bigger hardware prior to their next hunting excursion taking place here in Montana since the number of Grizzly encounters has risen… Read more »

Will Flatt
Member

I would’ve suggested pretty much the same thing: a 10mm pistol, carried open on the hip for quick deployment (faster than CC), and ALWAYS HAVE A FULL IFAK with at least 2 TQ’s and 2-3 Quick Clots. Quick Clot gauze is even better!

Ej harbet
Member
Ej harbet

If your gonna run a 9mm a glock that takes 33rd mags is a good thing to have.you hear him in the brush coming lay all 33 in and reload. And use 124gr nato level ball or better yet imi blacktip smg ammo

Wild Bill
Member
Wild Bill

Quick Clot really burns! The powdered form can get blown in your eyes or the patient’s eyes by the wind, when you are applying it. So get the treated gauze form.

tomcat
Member
tomcat

A few days ago there was a story about a repairman that went to a house to do some work and while he was in the house he heard a horn honking. He looked outside and the only vehicle around was his van. He went outside and found there were two bear cubs inside his van. They had crawled in there and hit the door lock so they were locked in. He looked around to see if the sow was anywhere around and she wasn’t so he opened the door and let them out. This was reported in the newspaper… Read more »

Knute
Member
Knute

Not denying that a paper somewhere probably bought such a story, but if the cubs crawled inside, why couldn’t they just go right back out the open window they used to get in? Did they figure out how to turn the key and roll up the windows too? Pretty smart bears… 🙂

tomcat
Member
tomcat

@ Knute, I took it that the cubs went through an open door in the van but the article didn’t explain why they shut the door behind them.

CMAenergy
Member
CMAenergy

The brain dead in Canada don’t want hikers hunter s fishermen etc to carry
Well this is the reason everyone should carry as this happens all to often, Why do game wardens carry is the same reason everyone else should carry !

Ironeyes
Member
Ironeyes

Good article, great comments. I watched in amazement in Yellowstone Park one day as camera nuts approached a young sow within 30 yds. for some pictures. I was sure we were about to see some tourist get eaten right then. I never left the confines of my vehicle. People have watched too much Disney and it shows. I had my .45 auto in my lap at the time, hoping I would not be pressed into using it.

Vern
Member
Vern

I have an acquaintance who is from Louisiana who claims to have killed a number of bears with a 9mm, They were black bears and much smaller than a grizzly. I carry a .357 when hunting elk, but have lately been looking at the 10mm, both for home defense and hunting. I have had bears come into camp in the past but none were looking for trouble, had they been I had a 7mm mag loaded with 175’s already leveled on them. These guys were lucky, they at least knew how to handle themselves and take the chances needed for… Read more »

Will
Member
Will

@Vern,I have many Cajun coon ass friends ! They all have one thing in common,stretching the truth !

Vern
Member
Vern

I thought I was the only one who figured that out. But he still persists in telling people that a 9mm is all you need for bear, I still carry my .357.

Deplorable Bill
Member
Deplorable Bill

These guys are lucky to be alive. There is good reason to believe this bear is also guilty of two other attacks in the area. I don’t believe the bear is dead but I do believe he is hit, he is old and he is a boar. As far as animals go there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded bear. Many times an old boar will have short eroded claws and broken teeth so he has difficulty digging for his food and he will have a difficult time running down deer or elk or moose. That makes a human… Read more »

Will
Member
Will

@DB,damn,you wrote a better article than the Ammoland contributors do. Very precise and an educational read.

Deplorable Bill
Member
Deplorable Bill

Thank you Sir.

Arm up, carry on.

Truth
Member
Truth

Werner Hertzog, a famous German director, made a documentary on Treadwell titled, “Grizzly Man”. Treadwell filmed himself for many years claiming to be protecting the grizzlies in Alaska from hunters. His descent into madness is there to be seen. He believed bears to be his “brothers” and was a consultant in Disney’s cartoon, ‘Brother Bear”. His flight of fancy from reality was his own demise. The film should be viewed by everyone as it is exactly what NOT to believe and do. He took huge risks filming grizzlies. One of the footage shows him only a few yards from the… Read more »

Dave in Fairfax
Editor
Dave in Fairfax

Truth, What is sad is that his GF was killed as well. If he wanted to feed the bears that was on him. As usual a fool got another person killed.

Will
Member
Will

That Treadwell fool use to live with these bears ? It really is sad about the g/f having that moron around,and costing her life.

Dave in Fairfax
Editor
Dave in Fairfax

Will, You should dig up the movie and watch it. Check the library, maybe, or on-line. Lots of good footage from WAY too close. That was one raggedy bear that ate him. Everyone should watch and HEAR the video. You’ll never look at a Teddy bear the same again. Stupid [email protected]@rd.

Knute
Member
Knute

From my perspective, fools that follow fools made their own decisions, and faced their own consequences. Probably out of ignorance, but whatever their reasons, they still had the chance to wise up and stop being foolish. That she did not is a shame, but it’s hardly the leader’s fault, so long as he did not use force to make her follow along.
On the brighter side, it still makes for a funny story:

Dave in Fairfax
Editor
Dave in Fairfax

Knute, I understand what you’re saying, but I’m a dinosaur. As far as I’m concerned, HE was responsible for HER safety. Yeah I know I’m a chauvinist, I don’t care. It’s the way I am, and at this point, I’m not going to change. Biology IS destiny. That’s what makes sheepdogs different from wolves.

Deplorable Bill
Member
Deplorable Bill

Truth, I saw it on TV also, but the audio of the attack I got off the net. All I can say about the sound track is it sure sounded like Treadwell. The woman was on her period and for some reason it triggers bear attack. The bear was hungry enough to not likely survive the coming winter. Very low salmon run that year. It is sad that Treadwell got so comfortable with the bears that he dropped his guard. But worse than that the woman also died, murdered by a bear that was egged on by Treadwell’s lack of… Read more »

Will
Member
Will

Damn,looks painful as hell ! I’m just really happy they weren’t killed !

Knute
Member
Knute

Living in MT, I’ve seen grizzlies before. They’re the size of a pickup truck. Two 9mms don’t even get you close to even odds. Yet here they did the trick. Proving, yet again, that undergunned is a hell of a lot better than no guns.

Will
Member
Will

@Knute,they were lucky with 9mm. I would prefer at least 00buck ! The main thing is they survived.

ras52
Member
ras52

Will, yes they were lucky, that was one bad ass bear!

Will
Member
Will

ras52,yep,I’m just really glad they survived,A very close call!

Northern_Michigan
Member
Northern_Michigan

Everything is tradeoffs. Long guns are harder to deploy and generally have a lower round count than handguns. In some places, they are also illegal to carry if you are archery hunting. Larger caliber handguns (like the 10mm suggested) maybe more effective, but can introduce other issues if the recoil is not manageable by a specific user. How would the guy that shot first have felt if he had a larger caliber handgun and the bear had turned it’s attention to him, rather than running off. Would he have fired more shots and followups in a higher stress situation (the… Read more »

Dave in Fairfax
Editor
Dave in Fairfax

No MI, Depends on shot placement. If he’d hit the spine the game would’ve been over ‘cept dressing it out. Where do you live, UP? How close to the GWN? That you Steve?

Knute
Member
Knute

N Mich; Also one is lot less likely to have a rifle on one’s person. They get leaned up against trees (like while field dressing, the MOST likely time to draw a bear’s interest…), and left in camp, and slung over the back, etc. A handgun in a holster is always there.

Knute
Member
Knute

Do you think they would’ve been just as lucky…. WITHOUT the 9mms? 🙂 It’s always seemed to me that one makes his own luck.

Tionico
Member
Tionico

Massad Ayoob is famouly known for his very accurate saying: ANY gun will do if YOU will do”. They had nines, they used them well, they did well. Could haev been far worse… such as suppose the bear, once being poked in the hinder parts with a nine millimeter “rod”, reacted by taking out his anger at being hurt on the man he already had underneath him. How many more pinpricks would it have taken for the bear to change his mind at that stage? “enough gun” is always better than “not enough’, but ANY gun is better than none.… Read more »