On Thursday night, 7 November, 2019 a little after 11 p.m., at the Motel 6 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Greg Sapp was on the walkway outside of his and his wife, Vicki’s motel room on the second floor. He was getting a smoke. He did not know he would be emptying his Kimber .45 into a charging black bear within seconds.
He was facing outward from the motel. Room 240 has one wall in common with the outside of the motel, with another in common with the breezeway that connects to the rooms on the other side of the motel. Greg was at the railing, with his back to the breezeway and the corner of the room. He had left the door of the motel room open a few inches, so he could communicate with Vicki.
The temperature was about 47 degrees. He was wearing a green Columbia winter jacket. It wouldn’t be easy to get at a holstered Kimber Ultra Carry II in an inside the waistband holster, wearing a zipped up winter jacket. Greg had put the pistol, cocked and locked, in his right front jacket pocket. Greg says he carries everywhere he goes, where it is legal. Both Greg and Vicki have Tennessee carry permits.
Greg and Vicki had ended up in the Motel 6 by mishap. They were in Gatlinburg to visit a friend from Michigan, who was spending a few days in the city. They had to drive a few hours. The reservations were for a pet friendly motel. By mistake, the staff had put them in a non-pet friendly room. They had brought their dog with them. They had to scurry to find a motel which would accommodate their pet.
At the railing, smoking, with his back to the breezeway, Greg heard a ruckus behind him.
Bam, bang, crash.
He turned around, and looked. There, no more than 20 feet away, its feet on a tipped over trash can, was a huge black bear. The bear did not notice him immediately.
But Greg’s dog had come out, and peaked around the corner. It growled and emitted a bark, Grrrr..ru..ruff! The bear jumped over the downed trash can, landed with a Woof!, and charged directly at Greg.
Everything happened extremely fast, but Greg had moved into the psychological state of tachypsychia, where everything seems to slow down. This is a common effect when a human perceives a deadly threat. The effect also distorts distance, and can cause tunnel vision, focused on the threat.
Greg said: Oh f*ck! The .45 Kimber appeared in his hand and he was firing, with the bear taking up his whole field of vision. Greg told me:
“Everything went into like, time lapse.” “It seemed like it took forever!”
In Greg’s heightened state of awareness, he could hear the first three bullets hit.
Thunk, thunk, thunk.
Then his ears were ringing. The bear dropped its head down as he fired the last three shots at extremely close range, Greg said it was three feet or less.
The bear hit the railing of the walkway two feet from him, turned left, and went down the walkway away from Greg, who had the empty Kimber in his hand.
Vicki, inside the room, heard Greg scream, and heard the shots, fired very fast.
Blam, blam, blam, blam, blam, blam!
The entire sequence, from the “Woof!” to the bear hitting the walkway took about two seconds. Vicki made it to the motel door, and onto the walkway, to see the back of the bear moving down the walkway, away from them. Vicki said:
“This thing was huge. It took up almost the whole walkway!”
The bear went down the stairs and into the forest. It was bleeding profusely.
Greg is a veteran with 10 years in Marine Corps Recon. He is 53 years old. He and Vicki have some acreage with their own private range. He is about 5′ 10″ tall and 180 pounds. He shoots there often.
His speed and accuracy are the expected results from practice.
Greg and Vicki called the police. When the police investigated, neither they, nor Vicki, could find any indication any of the bullets had impacted the hotel walls, walkway, or ceiling. All six bullets had gone into the bear and stayed there.
Greg had loaded the magazine with five rounds, with a round in the chamber. He had found, through experience, a fully loaded magazine to be less reliable in his little Kimber.
The cartridges were Federal HST rounds, an aggressive hollow-point design made for defense against humans. The Kimber Ultra Carry II has a three inch barrel, which likely reduces the velocity by 10-15% compared to a standard five inch barrel.
One neighbor said they had seen the bear previously, and believed it to be 500 lbs. Greg initially thought it was 350-400 lbs. Everyone agrees it was a big black bear.
In early November, with plentiful food, it would have had four inches of fat on, under the skin.
The HST rounds probably did not penetrate far enough to reach the bear’s vitals. Two weeks after the charge and shooting, a neighbor said he believed he had seen the bear back in the area, but he could not be certain. He said one big, black bear looks much like another big, black bear.
A retired officer commented about the bullet’s performance. He said years ago, he had seen a big black bear which had been hit by a car, in the late fall. An officer had shot it with a .40 caliber, in the neck, to put it out of its misery. The .40 caliber hollow point was not sufficient, and a 12 gauge slug was used to finish the job. When the taxidermist skinned out the bear, they found the expanded .40 caliber lodged in the bears neck. It had not penetrated to the spinal column or entered the chest cavity. In a test by luckygunner.com, the HST .45 cartridge had one of the most aggressive expansion and the lowest velocities, of self defense .45 rounds.
Greg says he had considered bringing his Glock 29 10 mm instead of the Kimber .45, but he was not expecting to have to shoot a bear. He had left the Glock and took the Kimber. He thinks .45 full metal jacketed ball ammunition would likely have been sufficient to take down the bear.
When the police investigated, they followed the blood trail until it stopped. They did not find the bear. An officer asked why Greg had not retreated to the hotel room. Greg said there was no time to do so.
Greg was not cited for shooting the bear. He was cited for reckless endangerment and unlawful discharge of a firearm. The police impounded his Kimber as evidence. The Kimber, with custom modifications, is worth about $1800.
Greg has contacted an attorney and will fight the charges.
The claw marks on the cement floor of the walkway show the bear was very close. There may be surveillance video of the bear at the motel. The bear did not have to come at Greg. It was not trapped in the breezeway. The breezeway behind the bear was open, with a stairway leading down, directly from the breezeway.
Vicki said, between the time they had checked in on Thursday, until they checked out, a sign had gone up near the register, warning about bears.
Both Greg and Vicki believe if Greg had not had his .45, he would have been mauled or killed.
Gatlinburg has a lot of bears in the town. There are many stories of bears wandering about the city. The city may perceive them as a tourist draw. Many residents believe the bears pose no threat. Tennessee wildlife managers disagree. From newschannel9.com:
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency experts are asking Tennesseans to educate themselves, and their neighbors, about proper behavior in bear country. They say bears that become habituated to human food pose a much greater human threat. The smell of grease on a grill, ripe vegetables in a garden, trash and bird feeders not only attract bears, they provide easy meals for bears. Once a bear gets this easy meal, it doesn’t forget. And the experts say, “A fed bear is a dead bear,” meaning they often have to be euthanized.
The bear experts say that simply capturing and relocating a conditioned, dangerous bear isn’t an option.
Gatlinburg is a tourist town. The video of the bear on the walkway of the Econolodge was taken less than two miles from the Motel 6, and posted on 28 October, 2019. It may have been the same bear.
Many people will be interested in Greg Sapp’s legal battles. If he loses on either charge, he might lose his Tennessee carry permit.
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.