U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)-When researching incidents of firearms used to defend against bears, the surprising deadly potential of the common .22 rimfire cartridge becomes apparent. The most famous incident involving the .22 rimfire cartridge and bears is the 1953 world record grizzly bear.
It was collected by Bella Twin of Slave Lake in Alberta Canada. From my article at ammoland.com:
On 10 May, 1953, Bella Twin was hunting small game with her partner, Dave Auger, along an oil exploration cutline south of Slave Lake, in Alberta, Canada. She was 63 years old.
They saw a large grizzly bear coming toward them. Wishing to avoid an encounter, they hid off the side of the cut.
But the bear kept coming closer and closer. The bear got so close that Bella Twin thought it less risky to shoot the bear than to not shoot it. It was probably only a few yards away. Some accounts say 30 feet. Perhaps she saw it stop and start to sniff, as if it had caught their scent. We may never know.
She shot at the side of the bears head. Knowing animal anatomy very well (she was an experienced trapper, and had skinned hundreds, perhaps thousands of animals) she knew exactly where to aim to penetrate the skull at its weakest point.
She shot, the bear dropped. It was huge. She went to the bear and fired the rest of the .22 long cartridges that she had, loading the single shot rifle repeatedly, to “pay the insurance” as Peter Hathaway Capstick said. She made sure the bear was dead, and not just stunned. My father taught me the same lesson when I was 13.
There are other stories of very large bears being taken with .22 rimfire by native hunters. Here is an anecdote from a hunting forum. It sounds plausible but is not documented as is the Bella Twin incident. From longrangehunting.com:
I just thought others might be interested in this account. A local Eskimo hunter in Wales AK took a ten foot Polar Bear with a 22LR rimfire with one shot behind the ear at 20 feet. Killed it instantly. There is no doubt as to the credibility of this story. I know the guy and he is for real. This is the largest animal I have ever heard of being taken with a rimfire. I think the 22 is the most underrated killer in the world.
Much of the research I have done on bears has centered around the use of handguns for defense against bears. One failure has been documented where the use of a .22 pistol did not stop the attack.
The case is highly unusual, and worth reading. It happened to crew of the adventure cruise ship Origo, taking tourists into the Svalbard archipelago.
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.
Those stories are the exceptions. The most common experience with bears and .22 rimfire firearms involve black bears causing trouble, who are dispatched with the ubiquitous .22 rimfire Long Rifle cartridge. Here are several incidents.
A black bear with cubs had chased Mr. Nutter up a tree. When the sow came after him, he was able to shoot and kill it with a .22 pistol.
1960 .22 black bear, Lake north of Minto, Alaska
In 1960 Francis Cannon and her two friends flew into a lake a little north of Minto, Alaska. They were on a fishing trip. After fishing, the setting down to lunch when they were attacked by a black bear, who rushed out of the brush and grabbed Francis. From Alaskan Bear Tales pages 107-108:
Johnson picked up a stick, and pummeled the brute, and the bear dropped the woman and charged him. It was waylaid by the lunch, which it began to devour.
In the meantime, Fletcher got a .22 pistol from the plane, walked to within a few feet of the animal, and killed it.
I suspect it was not a casual stroll to the plane, or a slow walk back to the bear.
Early 1960s, North Fork of the the Flathead river in Montana, .22 H&R 9 shot revolver, grizzly bear.
The worker approached a bear in a black bear snare. The bear charged the worker, who shot it with the .22 revolver. The bear died, but it took some time to do so, as told by game warden Louis Kis.
p. 276, More Bear Tales.
Walt Earl was a government trapper and hunter who also guided hunters. He had to kill a black bear and cubs in a depredation hunt. The hunter forgot his ammunition for the hunter’s .44 magnum. Walt took refuge on the trunk of a huge pine that had blown down. The sow came after him.
She climbed up and walked straight down the trunk toward me and my pea shooter.
Her head swaying and teeth popping, I held my shot. From behind the flimsy barracade of twigs, I took aim for her throat, and yelled for the dogs to take her. They moved by didn’t answer the challenge.
She stood 20 feet away, with all her attention focused on my throat. I had, in a way, brought a knife to a gunfight.
With eight rounds left in my 10 round clip, I pulled the trigger with my sights on the swaying bruin’s throat.
One. Two. Three. Four. If anything, these rounds just angered her more.
Five. Six. Seven. Eight.
On the eight shot, something happened. Rocket, that old redbone hound, charged up into the bear, sinking his teeth into the sow’s side. They both went flying. from the log, claws flying and teeth snapping in midair.
As the dogs fought the sow, Earl reloaded. Then, as the sow came at him again, he fired 10 more shots from his Ruger .22 pistol. The dogs distracted the sow once more. The fight moved into a thicket. The sow was found there, dead from two .22 rounds that had reached her vitals. There were 14 .22 caliber holes in her. A bio of Walt Earl is included at the end of the book.
In a bizarre case from 1992 in Alaska, the .22 pistol was only used as a noisemaker to scare off the bear. When the husband left to get help, taking the pistol with him, the bear returned and killed his wife.
Thirty-three-year-old Darcy Staver and her husband, Army Capt. Michael Staver, were vacationing at a cabin off the Glenn Highway about 160 miles northeast of Anchorage near the community of Glennallen when they were confronted by a black bear in 1992. It broke a window to get into the cabin where they were staying and drove them out.
The couple sought safety on the roof. Michael fired several shots at the bear with a .22-caliber handgun to try to scare it away. It left. When it did, he jumped down from the roof and took off to get help. He took the gun to defend himself, thinking his wife would be safe on the roof. She wasn’t. While he was gone, the bear climbed a spruce tree next to the cabin, got onto the roof and killed Darcy.
When Michael returned with help, she was on the ground dead with the bear trying to eat her. The animal was shot and killed.
Larry Kanuit reports that Michael was very careful *not* to hit the bear, for fear of enraging it. P. 251 “Some Bears Kill”
In Missouri, a man defended his dog with his .22 rifle. The man/dog/rifle combination is deadly.
The man said the bear stood up on its hind legs as the man’s dog advanced. Standing up, the bear was 6 feet tall.
“He was afraid the bear was going to tear up his dog,” West said. “So apparently he shot the bear three times.”
The man used a .22-caliber rifle. The wounded bear ran into the woods, West said, and the man called the Bollinger County Sheriff’s Department, which contacted the Department of Conservation.
The bear couldn’t be located that night. The next morning, the man called the agency and said he’d found the bear dead 150 yards from the shed.
Monday morning, conservation agents retrieved the bear, a male, and stored the carcass in the walk-in freezer of a Fredericktown, Mo., taxidermist.
In Ohio, a “tame” bear escaped. A neighbor shot the bear with a .22, above the eye. On a bear, that shot will miss the brain. The bear ran off.
November 24, 2008/Marengo, Ohio:One of three pet black bears escaped a chain-link enclosure and went to the home of a neighbor, who encountered the bear on his porch. The bear’s owner shot the bear with a .22 caliber rifle when the 300- to 400-pound animal reared up and charged him. The bear was hit above the eye and fled into the woods. Deputies and an Ohio Division of Wildlife officer using night-vision goggles searched for the bear, who was shot and killed approximately an hour and a half later.
In Arizona, a black bear invaded a tent and attacked a man who was inside with his family. Fortunately, another camper was armed, and drove off the bear with his .22 handgun.
The bear had entered the man’s tent and attacked him. His fiance’ and a one-year-old child were also in the tent and were able to escape unharmed and sound the alarm to other campers in the nearby area.
Reports indicate that another camper at a nearby campsite shot at the bear several times with a handgun at close range after the attack. The bear left the area, and it is unknown at this time if or how many times the bear was hit.
.22 caliber mentioned at fox10phoenix story
A week later, on the other side of the country, in New York State, a father protected his family from a black bear. The bear was killed.
A Stony Point resident hosting a family barbecue shot a black bear he deemed a threat to his guests when the bear would not leave his property Saturday afternoon.
The incident took place at approximately 1 p.m. at 567 Willow Grove Road, Stony Point Police Sgt. John Wood told Patch. Guests, including children, were outside when the bear came onto the property and at the time of the shooting, but police did not know how many.
More details were revealed in “The Bullet” read by Firearm Pop in a video.
The bear was killed with one shot, and weighed about 160 to 175 pounds.
A year after the black bears were shot on opposite coasts, another black bear was shot with a .22 in New York State.
A surprising number of people shoot at bears with .22 rimfires to scare or harass the bears. They are surprised when the bears die.
The retired New York State Trooper in the story does not have much respect for the .22 rimfire.
According to court papers, Hazimof told game officers he shot the bear outside his home because he wanted to scare the bear out of his yard. Hazimof shot the bear with his .22 caliber rifle.
Ralph Huebner lives near where the big black bear was found dead. The retired New York State Trooper says killing a bear with a .22 isn’t easy.
“Pretty unlikely he had to make a specific shot in a very vital spot in order to hit it because a .22 doesn’t have that penetration, doesn’t have the impact,” said Huebner.
A Montana man was having trouble with young grizzly bears killing his chickens and presenting a danger to his children. He says he shot at them to scare them off, with his .22 rifle. All three grizzlies died.
Bartos interviewed Wallen about the second dead bear, and Wallen stated that he had chased away and later shot at the bears during a previous night when the animals had approached his chicken coop while family and friends were around. Wallen stated two grizzlies had arrived and he first drove them off with his pickup truck. After they came back, he told Bartos he fired several shots at the bears and they fled. Another grizzly later emerged to pursue the chickens and Wallen said it was the bear he shot at and Clark eventually killed.
On June 4, another neighbor of Wallen’s returned home from vacation and discovered a dead grizzly bear that had decomposed in the grass near her home. Bartos responded to the report and an investigation discovered the animal had been dead for roughly one week.
Court records state that investigators determined each of the three grizzlies was killed by bullets from a gun consistent with Wallen’s rifle.
A year later, in New Mexico, a husband who was defending his wife and their dogs, said he fired a shot “in the bear’s direction”. The bear collapsed after running a short distance.
The startled cubs bawled out for their mother, which came running around the corner. The woman fled into her house, but her dogs slipped out the open door. A fight ensued between the adult bear and the dogs, during which the woman attempted to scare the bear away. The woman’s husband arrived armed with a .22-caliber pistol and fired a single shot in the bear’s direction, Peralta said.
The bear ran off and collapsed about 40 yards away, dead from the gunshot wound, Peralta said. One of the cubs was found near the house and the other was found in a tree.
Another shooter in Wyoming claimed he was only trying to scare off a grizzly bear by shooting it in the rump. The bear turned, the bullet went between the ribs and into the liver. The bear died.
Attempting to scare off a grizzly bear with a gunshot turned out to be a costly mistake for a Casper man, as the round from his .22 caliber rifle wound up killing the animal.
“I had multiple encounters with the bear that day and the last time it came in, it started circling me,” Stalkup said in court. “And rather than trying to kill it, I tried to scare it off with a .22 by shooting it in the rump.”
However, according to Stalkup, the bear turned when he fired. The bullet went through the grizzly’s ribs and fatally injured the animal, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department concluded, after Stalkup called the agency to the scene.
On 24 June, 2020, Alejandro Castellano, in Florida, broke a bear’s back with a .22 caliber rifle. From clickorlando.com:
Castellano grabbed his .22 caliber rifle and fired what was meant to be a warning shot but accidentally struck the bear, according to the report.
Records show the bear collapsed to the ground, unable to stand, and dragged itself into the wood line.
Officers said they went into the woods with an FWC biologist and found the bear but determined that its back was broken and it wouldn’t be able to recover, so it was euthanized.
On 22 September, 2020, a man tried to scare a black bear in Connecticut. He shot at it with a .22 rifle. It died. From apnews.com:
The two cubs climbed up a tree and the black bear stood facing and making noises at the dog, the police said.
O’Connor got a .22 caliber rifle and shot at the bear to scare it.
“The shot struck the bear, which moved about 30 yards to a neighboring property’s driveway, collapsed, and eventually died,” Will Healey, a spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, told the newspaper.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Lee Anderson does not recommend hazing bears with firearms. From mt.gov:
“I don’t recommend shooting towards bears with firearms or even BB-guns to scare them out of your trash,” FWP Warden Captain Lee Anderson said. “It is often an ineffective hazing tool and depending on the circumstances, it can be illegal. We have investigated cases of people intending to scare bears and inadvertently killing them with small caliber rifles (.22), birdshot from shotguns or ricochets from other firearms.”
For many years trappers have used .22 firearms to dispatch trapped bears and other animals. Here is a video of a trapped black bear shot with .22 pistol on Youtube.
A persistent joke on the internet is a .22 or .25 pistol is sufficient for bear defense.
The jokers say, “just shoot your partner in the leg, then you can run faster to escape the bear”.
It is a bad joke. As seen from the above examples, a .22 rimfire has enough energy to kill bears, if the shooter does their part.
I do not recommend .22 rimfires as the preferred firearm for defense against bears. However, a .22 rimfire is much better than a pocket knife, a stick, or a rock. It has enough energy to do the job, if the shot placement is precise and/or the shooter has a means of preventing the bear from getting to him while the shot/shots take effect.
Do not underestimate the lethality of .22 rimfire.
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 retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.