Bear Spray Failure in Alaska, 46-Year-Old Killed Clearing Trail

Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)- On 29 July, 2020, Daniel Schilling went to clear trail about a mile from his cabin in Alaska. His dog returned home without him. His wife was very concerned. Searchers found his body, killed by a bear, where he was working. An empty can of bear spray, with the safety off, which had been discharged at the site, was also found.

From adfg.alaska.gov:

August 6, 2020 (Anchorage) – Employees of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) responded to the location of a fatal bear attack that occurred Wednesday, July 29, near the community of Hope, to collect samples and gather information. Hair collected during the initial investigation appeared to be from a brown bear. DNA was able to be extracted from some of the hair and from additional samples collected. Preliminary results identified female brown bear and female black bear DNA associated with the attack site and the victim, Daniel Schilling.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to Mr. Schilling’s family and friends during this very sad time,” said Cyndi Wardlow, Southcentral Regional Supervisor.

“While we may never know the full circumstances, we are trying to learn everything we can about what happened to help people stay safe around wildlife in Alaska.”

There were no witnesses to the events that led to the attack. An empty bear spray canister with the safety removed was found at the location of the attack, and it appeared that bear spray had been discharged at the site. No attractants, such as a dead moose or a food cache, were found in a search of the area during the investigation.

The attack may have been a predatory attack. Daniel Schilling was an avid hunter who had carried a revolver in a chest holster on a previous hunt.

Shilling had a dog with him. It seems unlikely Daniel was caught by surprise. It appears he did not have the revolver with him when he was attacked. From the picture in the hunt article, the revolver was a Smith & Wesson 629.

How much of his decision to take bear spray, and not a revolver, was made because of the claims of bear spray effectiveness?

Consider how researchers Herrero and Smith have treated bear spray and firearms.

Bear spray and firearms were treated much differently in the original papers by Herrero and Smith. It may not have been intentional when the papers were written.

It is misleading to compare the two studies and make the claim that bear spray is more effective than firearms.

In the study of bear spray effectiveness, only cases where bear spray was actually used were recorded. In the study involving firearms, only cases of bear and human conflict “involving” firearms were considered. Cases where the firearm was not fired were included. Cases where the bear was missed were included. Cases where there was mechanical failure were included. Many cases where firearms were used to successfully stop bears were excluded, depending on the authors determination of whether the people were at risk. No cases where bear spray was successfully used to alter aggressive bear behavior were excluded, as closely as I can read in the original papers.

When the calculations for the successful use of bear spray were done, the percentage is between the number of people injured in human-bear encounters where bear spray is used. In the firearms study, the percentage of firearms cases were those which resulted in success in human-bear conflicts where firearms are involved.

These differences render the comparison of the two studies nearly worthless. Unfortunately, Herrero and Smith invite a comparison of the two methods in their 2018 paper. Significant differences in the studies of the two methods are easily missed by the casual reader.

Human-bear encounters are defined by Herrero and Smith as:

A “human–bear interaction” (also known as an “encounter”),
occurs when a person and bear are mutually aware of each
other (Smith et al. 2005).

Human-bear conflicts are defined by Herrero and Smith as below:

“Human–bear conflict” occurs when a bear has exhibited
stress-related or curious behavior such that a person took
evasive action, a bear made physical contact with a person,
exhibited predatory behavior, or was intentionally harmed or
killed (not including legal harvests) by a person.

The percentage of success with bear spray was determined as the number of people involved in encounters where bear spray was used (75 encounters, 197 people, 4 injured) as 98% not injured. As carefully as I can read the studies, the 98% figure is for the number of people involved, not the number of people who used bear spray. Incidents, where people were not at risk, were included. Notice the large number of people involved in these encounters, an average of more than 2.6 people per encounter.

The percentage of success with firearms was determined by incident. The total number of people involved was not used. Incidents where people were not at risk were excluded.

In any fair comparison of deterrent methods, if incidents when a person who shoots at a bear and misses, or when a firearm malfunctions, are counted as firearm failures when the attack is not stopped, then spraying at a bear and missing or where the spray malfunctions, when the attack is not stopped, should be counted as a bear spray failure.

Popular writer about bears in Alaska, Craig Medred, had these comments.

He is reluctant to call this a case of bear spray failure. From craigmedred.com:

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today revealed the safety trigger on the spray had been removed, the canister itself was intact, and there was evidence of pepper residue in the area.

All of those things would lead to the conclusion Schilling discharged the spray, but there is no way of knowing whether the spray hit the bear or how much aerosol was in the can to propel the active ingredient – capsaicin – toward the animal.

Canisters of bear spray, like fire extinguishers, can lose pressure over time. Some companies now put expiration dates on their containers. A woman in the Yukon Territory, Canada, a few years ago reported a nasty experience with an expired canister that oozed fluid instead of spraying it at the troublesome black bear she encountered.

Consider if the situation involved a revolver instead of bear spray. The analogous situation would be if Daniel Schilling was found with a revolver with a cylinder full of discharged cartridges, and there was evidence of shots fired in the area. Perhaps Craig Medred would be as reluctant to call that a firearms failure.

Researchers Herrero and Smith, whom Craig cites, are not reluctant to place the widely different results from the previous papers, next to each other, inviting comparison. From the 2018 paper's insights, page 11.

11. Bear spray was highly effective in Alaska, with 98% of
persons using spray avoiding any injury.

12. Firearms were effective 76% of the time when used as
bear deterrents. Only skilled firearms users should rely
primarily on firearms for bear protection.

In the insights, the 76% figure of effectiveness for firearms is mentioned.  it appears these figures apply to human-bear conflicts.  In the insights, it is claimed 98% of persons using bear spray ( not simply involved) avoided injury.  It appears these numbers apply to human-bear encounters. It is not clear if there are different definitions for bear spray and firearms encounters/conflicts.

Herrero and Smith need to explain the differences. The differences make bear spray appear more effective and firearms appear less effective.

In the firearms numbers, handguns are somewhat more effective than long guns. (84% v 76% in the 2012 paper, 81% v 75% in the 2018 paper)

AmmoLand has published the latest collections of all cases which we have been able to document, where handguns were used to defend against bears. Those numbers show 93 cases. Handguns were 97% effective. Only cases where a handgun was actually fired were included. Those cases were not limited to Alaska.

Only cases where a handgun was actually fired were included. Those cases were not limited to Alaska. Both of those differences could explain the difference between the AmmoLand figures and Herrero and Smith data.

The 2018 study tells us 328 of the 682 incidents involved firearms, but only 246 are listed as successful or not successful for long guns or handguns. Perhaps the numbers did not vary much for the other 82 cases; perhaps they were inconclusive, or the type of firearm was not mentioned. It would be nice to know.

Bear spray is a useful tool, for those areas where people are not allowed to defend themselves with firearms. It is better than hands and feet for those people unwilling to carry firearms. It can be effective in hazing bears which are not a threat.

Bear spray has not been shown to be more effective at stopping a human-bear conflict than firearms, particularly handguns.

A significant problem with bear spray, in human-bear conflicts, is the bear is not killed. The bear is free to go on to the next human-bear conflict, or when the bear spray can is emptied, the bear may simply attack again.

Bears in North America are not endangered. There are plenty of bears. Bear populations are expanding. The small number of bears that come into direct conflict with humans can be shot and killed without any danger to the overall bear population, whether it be black, grizzly or polar bear.


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 retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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Arny
Arny
25 days ago

Sure is a pretty picture of a Grizzly. Make one hell of a pet. LOL

h87111
h87111
25 days ago

“Hair collected during the initial investigation appeared to be from a brown bear. DNA was able to be extracted from some of the hair and from additional samples collected. Preliminary results identified female brown bear and female black bear DNA associated with the attack site and the victim…”
Since two bears were detected, perhaps he used the spray on the first bear and then was attacked and killed by the second bear.

uncle dudley
uncle dudley
25 days ago

Why would an experienced outdoorsman leave his home to work in bear country and not have his firearm with him.
The bear spray and dog were both good to have with him but neither one would have finished off a mad or hungry bear.
There is no room for mistakes when you are not at the top of the food chain whether it’s in the woods or the ocean.

Oldvet
Oldvet
25 days ago
Reply to  uncle dudley

I understand there is a soft tissue found between the teeth of a bear …it’s called the slowest runner !

Old Vet
Old Vet
25 days ago

You bring “mouthwash for bears” to a bear fight and you will lose. Nothing says safety like a .44 mag, .500 Smith, or even a Glock 10mm.

Joe
Joe
25 days ago
Reply to  Old Vet

Exactly !!

musicman44mag
musicman44mag
25 days ago
Reply to  Old Vet

I am supprised that the bear spray didn’t work this time. It didn’t work a few days ago when that mother was killed by a bear in another article and her husband used bear spray and pissed the bear off more. I thought that maybe the first one was a bad can. Wonder if this can was from the same batch. They should check the made on date and see if they are the same because we all know that bear spray works, that’s why they make it. NOT

StLPro2A
StLPro2A
25 days ago
Reply to  Old Vet

Bears apparently enjoy a little pepper seasoning with their human.

OlTrailDog
OlTrailDog
25 days ago

My preferred option would be have both, i.e. redundancy. Having spent a career working trails and as a wilderness manager and outfitter-guide administrator often working alone I had a number of bear encounters. I spent much time and effort working to encourage the Forest Service to incorporate the ability to carry a firearm in addition to bear spray as needed in the back country. Training would have been through Montanas Nine Mile wilderness training programs with LEOs. Alaska allows such training and use. I retired before I was able to convince the FS. I still believe this will happen after… Read more »

Buster
Buster
25 days ago

The bear spray was probably effective at keeping the dog ineffective.

ALL GUN LAWS ARE INFRINGEMENTS
ALL GUN LAWS ARE INFRINGEMENTS
26 days ago

U can’t fix stupid!! All the articles of bear perfume spray by anti-gun leftist who would rather see ur family brutally killed by bears than have a gun is void of basic facts.

Dave in Fairfax
Editor
Dave in Fairfax
26 days ago

Condimentus ursi

SEMPAI
SEMPAI
26 days ago

Best bear spray = 10 mm.

SEMPAI
SEMPAI
26 days ago
Reply to  SEMPAI

Just ordered another glock 29 10 mm yesterday for my girl..cause she AINT GETTIN MINE

loveaduck
loveaduck
25 days ago
Reply to  SEMPAI

Mine’s a Kimber 10 mm. That’s for black bears. Them big brown critters earn a 44 mag. Taurus Raging Hunter.

SEMPAI
SEMPAI
26 days ago
Reply to  SEMPAI

Sorry that was supposed to be for will

Joe
Joe
25 days ago
Reply to  SEMPAI

Better yet a .44 Magnum !!

musicman44mag
musicman44mag
25 days ago
Reply to  Joe

Nice choice!

musicman44mag
musicman44mag
25 days ago
Reply to  SEMPAI

I thought bear spray was a 12 gauge and that a 10 was a hunk a hunk of burnin love.

Finnky
Finnky
25 days ago
Reply to  musicman44mag

@mm44m – Is that a bear lullaby you are singing?

WI Patriot
WI Patriot
26 days ago

“Daniel Schilling went to clear trail about a mile from his cabin in Alaska. His dog returned home without him. His wife was very concerned. Searchers found his body, killed by a bear, where he was working. An empty can of bear spray, with the safety off, which had been discharged at the site, was also found.”

Anyone who ventures into the bush in Alaska without a firearm is just a fool…Just ask Timothy Treadwell

RoyD
RoyD
26 days ago
Reply to  WI Patriot

Having spent time in the Alaska wilderness from age 10 to 24 I have had a few “encounters” and one “conflict” with bears there. Now this was primarily in the Healy, Lignite, Savage River area. My cousins and I always carried at least a 12 guage single shot with buckshot and later in life I carried my Super Black Hawk. The one “conflict” was while my family was fishing along a creek near Clear AFB. And I don’t remember if it was a grizzly bear or a big black bear. I just remember it was big and coming at us… Read more »

Joe
Joe
25 days ago
Reply to  WI Patriot

Anyone that ventures into the woods, bush, wilderness without an APPROPRIATE firearm is a FOOL, in this situation you are NOT on top of the food chain !!