Wyoming: Bear Attack on Elk Hunters September, 2021

Tyler Barnard defensive shooting positions during a bear attack. The far person is where the bear was at during the first shot, the middle person is where Tyler ended up at the last shot. The person taking the picture is where the son-hunter was during the attack.
Tyler Barnard defensive shooting positions during a bear attack. The far person is where the bear was at during the first shot, the middle person is where Tyler ended up at the last shot. The person taking the picture is where the son was during the attack.

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)- On September 27, 2021, Tyler Barnard was guiding a father-son pair of elk hunters in Wyoming, near Cody, near the Two Oceans pass in the Teton Wilderness. It is part of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, a few miles from the southern border of Yellowstone Park.  Rifle season started on September 20th. The temperature in Cody was near 85 degrees, well above average. They had shot a bull elk and had followed the blood trail for a mile before it dwindled and was lost as the sun dropped below the horizon. They looked again on the 28th. On the morning of the 29th, they had given up. It was a very nice bull.

A little before 8 a.m., they were on a game trail in the area. Then they smelled it.  A hint of dead elk.

They could not see the animal, but it was likely the bull they had shot. By law, they were required to take possession. They left their rifles on the horses and decided to look over the curve of the ridge. The direction indicated was over a slope with plenty of blowdowns and young pines. Because of the terrain and the trees, the visibility was from 20 to 25 yards. The plan was to pin it with their Garmin GPS, place their tag on the elk, then return to base camp and send the recovery team in to salvage the carcass.

Elk which was eventually recovered.
Elk which was eventually recovered.

Tyler had a 10 mm Glock model 20 loaded with Buffalo Bore 190-grain hard cast bullets. The son had a .45ACP with a red dot sight, 15 round magazines, and hollowpoint +P self-defense ammunition. The father had bear spray, with “assault” in the name.

The hunters and Tyler had separated by about 10-15 yards to maximize their chance of finding the elk quickly.  Tyler had just crossed over a large deadfall. The top of the log was about three feet off the ground.  He heard the son say, calmly and distinctly:

“Hey! There’s a bear!”

The son had seen the bear from about 20 yards out. 

Tyler looked back. He saw a bear in full charge at the hunter’s from about 15 yards, and immediately said “Shoot it!”.

Many things happened in the next few seconds. People back at the base camp said the sequence of shots took about 15 seconds. To the participants, it seemed much longer.

The son fired the first shot. Tyler believes it hit the bear between the eyes, about an inch high. The eyes on a bear tend to be about the level of the top of the braincase. Later, Tyler poked his finger into the hole. He could feel the skull below it. The bullet never touched the skull. There is hide and hair, meat and fat above the eyes, but no braincase (depending on the angle). If the nose of the bear is pointed at you, a shot above the line between the eyes will miss the brain. An inch and a half, or two inches lower, and the charge would have been stopped with this shot.

One of the best ways to reach the brain of a bear is to shoot it up the nose. The nose channel guides the bullet directly into the brain. People tend to shoot high on charging bears.

The bear kept coming but was slightly slowed. The father had deployed his bear spray. The bear blasted through the cloud with no visible effect. An eddy in the breeze swirled and brought some of the spray back into the eyes of the three men. Fortunately, it was not enough to disable Tyler and the son from shooting.

Tyler had immediately hopped back over the big deadfall and started to run toward the hunters. His path was roughly parallel to the bear’s path, separated by about 10 yards.

The son had continued shooting. Tyler believes the son had fired about 6 shots by the time Tyler reached a little opening in the young trees. The bear’s charge had been retarded by the shots. The bear was about 10 yards from the clients and closing fast. It was about 10 yards from Tyler, who was off to the side. Tyler was able to shoot through the opening in the trees and hit the bear three times through the rib cage. The bear was mortally hit but did not realize it yet. It takes from seconds to minutes for lung shots to kill a bear.

Tachypsychia had set in. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion.

Tyler remembers seeing the slide on his Glock come back with every shot. He saw the brass ejecting. He did not hear his own shots, but he heard the shots of the son. Tyler was focused on the sights. They were very clear. Tyler was probably thinking, moving, and shooting faster than he ever had before.

Tyler reported the son remembered seeing the red dot of his pistol sight on the bear for every shot.

The bear continued to advance, slowed down by Tyler and the son’s shots. Tyler advanced to a position a few feet to the side of the son, shooting a couple of more times on the run. The bear was continuing the charge toward them. It had been slowed by multiple hits.

Tyler remembers he and the son shot, and shot, and shot. The pair fired a total of 31 shots.  Numerous hours at the range paid off for the son. He finished one magazine and completed a speed reload while Tyler was still shooting.

There are a few cases where a person being attacked by a bear is able to reload. This is the first one I have encountered where the reload was accomplished while the bear was charging.

As the bear got within 10 feet, its speed had slowed considerably.  Tyler was concentrating on chest shots. Tyler believes he broke one or both shoulders. The bear veered hard right into a tree. Tyler took a step forward and shot the bear in the side of the skull, through the brain, twice.  The Buffalo Bore bullets penetrated through the brain and lodged in the skull on the other side. The distance was five feet. The deadly fight was over.

No shots had hit the spine. The bear had a thick layer of fat, which acted as an armor of a sort. Two of the +P .45 hollow-point bullets were recovered under the hide, in the fat. Several hits were in the top and side of the neck going down toward the shoulders. Tyler believes the .45 bullets had not penetrated into the chest cavity, but most of the bullet paths were not followed to see which came from which caliber. They knew the side shots had been from Tyler’s 10mm. The frontal shots could have been from either shooter. The shot above the eyes had to be from the .45, because the angle would have been different as the bear closed and Tyler joined the son, shooting at the advancing bear.

The bear had been hit so many times, the investigator gave up after counting 16 holes. All of the shots were in the front half of the bear. The bear had a number tattooed on its lip. It had been handled before. It was a grizzly bear, about 500 – 600 lbs, according to the investigator and biologist.

Tyler believes his shots with the Buffalo Bore bullets were the only effective shots. I am not so certain. If the son had not shot, it seems unlikely Tyler would have been able to put shots into the bear before it reached the hunters. Both parties played critical parts. The incident shows the advantage of deep penetrating bullets.

We do not know the dynamics of each shot, because a complete necropsy was not necessary. Some of the son’s shots might have penetrated to the chest cavity. We do not know. Penetration of 11-13 inches is common with aggressive, self-defense hollow-points in a .45. A bullet into the side of the neck, from the front, angling down toward the chest, could have to travel through many inches of fat to reach the chest cavity.

Healthy bears can move much faster through rough terrain than humans can. It is unlikely Tyler would have been able to reach the hunters before the bear unless the bear was slowed down by the shots which hit it during its charge.

The clients were understandably concerned and scared of possible legal actions after being forced to shoot a grizzly in self-defense. They knew they needed to contact the authorities right away. There was no cell phone coverage.

Tyler was able to borrow a satellite phone. They were not able to contact the outfitter, but they were able to contact the owner of the ranch, who agreed to contact Game and Fish. The hunters and Tyler were assured the investigators were on the way. Tyler and the hunters were at the camp, resting when people in red shirts appeared. Redshirts are part of the uniform for Wyoming Game and Fish personnel. Tyler assumed they were the investigators. They were not. They were Game and Fish personnel who happened to be in the area and visiting the camp, only a few hours after the bear attack. When Tyler told them what had happened, they made contact with the federal Fish & Game, who gave the Red Shirts permission to do the investigation.

The investigators interviewed the participants. They returned to the site of the attack. They re-enacted the attack. Pictures were taken, a field examination of the bear carcass was done. It became obvious the attack had been real, had been reported, and the response in defense of self and others was justified. The elk was found. It had been partially covered by the bear.

The elk was found. It had been partially covered by the bear.
The elk was found. It had been partially covered by the bear.

When the hunters and guide returned to the trailhead, a federal agent was there to confirm what the Wyoming Game and Fish personnel had already learned. He interviewed the hunters and Tyler.

It is unlikely there will be a prosecution. The humans were doing what humans do. They were ethically and legally hunting elk. The bear did what some bears do, aggressively attack anything which comes within a large radius of where they are. Most grizzly bears avoid humans.

Grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have been conditioned to believe humans are not a threat, for at least 50 years. Those who are especially bold are more likely to attack humans than those in areas where grizzly bears are actively hunted. Their natural aggressiveness and natural armament make them a deadly threat to any human who inadvertently crosses an invisible line.

Tyler reported a Game and Fish biologist said it was likely the noise the hunters and Tyler were making triggered the charge. Many others have been given the advice to make noise to prevent charges.

The problem of an overabundance of aggressive grizzly bears has been known for some time. In an interview two years ago, Brian Nesvik, head of Wyoming Game and Fish, noted the departments’ hands have been tied.  From trib.com:

Lastly, grizzly bears continue to be an important issue for the state. There’s very little disagreement that grizzly bears in Greater Yellowstone are recovered, but we still don’t have state management and so work towards figuring out how to accomplish that is a priority for the department and a priority for the state.

Most of the problem comes from groups outside the state which have large financial resources, and no skin in the game in Wyoming.

Tyler Barnard knew this. It is a major reason he decided to go public with this event, rather than avoid risk and remain anonymous. It took courage and resolve to place himself in the crosshairs of the big-money groups. From his post on Facebook:

I have been considering whether or not to post this issue we deal with as outdoorsman. I have decided to tell my experience and go over a few ways we can deal with the situation at the political level. Many of you know, I have been guiding in Wyoming for the last 6 years. This year, we have had more issues with grizzlies than any other year I’ve been in the back country. It’s looking like many others are dealing with more grizzly issues as well in surrounding states like Montana and Idaho.

(snip)

Do to the pressure on our politicians by hunters, ranchers, and farmers, we were able to open a season on the over population of wolves. We need to stand up against these people and groups funding the protection of grizzlies and put a stop to it. If you have had a negative bear experience, write a story on it. Get a hold of Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Sportsmans Alliance, Mule Deer Foundation, and any other foundation that’s fights for our rights and safety in the outdoors, along with your local representatives. They do work for you. Tell them your story. The more people that reach out to share their experience, the more serious this issue is going to be taken. Contact you local and state legislation and give them your story along with your ideas about how we can go about this.

Grizzly bears moved into most of North America thousands of years after humans had colonized the continent. The competition for the spot of apex predator was settled when European humans brought their advanced technology to the continent. Humans become the dominant species, without any rivals.

With dominance comes responsibility. Fortunately, humans have the potential to be responsible, unlike all other species on the planet. It is up to humans to manage the earth. Grizzly bear populations have to be managed. Hunting is the best way to accomplish that end.


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.

Dean Weingarten

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OlTrailDog

I had the privilege of working in the Teton Wilderness for a decade, after spending previous decades in the Absaroka-Beartooth, Scapegoat, Mission, Bob Marshall, and Great Bear Wildernesses. I absolutely love the area and bears are a given part of working there. The attack is just part of what happens, as is the bear getting killed. At other times it is the people who are killed or injured. It has been that way from time immemorial, i.e. the clash between to top tier predators. This time the people won. It is understood by folks who work in such areas that… Read more »

Wild Bill

Is it SOP to leave the rifles and horses unguarded when looking for downed game in bear country?

OlTrailDog

I would say that depends. Sometimes you are unfortunate enough to harvest game in less than optimal terrain that requires elbow grease to get the game to where you can load it on pack stock. Others may not, in fact most others, do not have the option of stock, or ATVs, for retrieving game. Even in bear country. If you are utilizing shank’s mare to retrieve game a long gun makes it much more difficult. Pepper spray and a handgun of sufficient caliber, assuming the other best practices are in place, would probably be more pragmatic.

Wild Bill

Help me out with “shank’s mare”.

Wild Bill

Oh. Never heard that before. Like LPCs for leather personnel carriers. Also known as boots. Learn something new everyday!

incorrigible

I have no idea of the derivation of “Shank’s Mare”, but it is an old expression. I first learned it as a young child, in the mid 1930s. I have little hunting experience but, I cannot picture walking away from my rifle in the presumed vicinity of a dead game animal, in bear country. Especially with only bear spray!

Grim

Bears are just another part of the hunting adventure and keep your fieldcraft skills sharp. Sometimes the bear wins, sometimes the hunter wins.

CaptainKerosene

Shoot an elk. Track it on foot or horse back.
Leave your rifles and go on foot.
What could go wrong?
A qualified guide would always carry a rifle for the most dangerous threat. Some guides carry a .458 Magnum. But a 45/70 lever action with 300 to 500 grain modern ammo would do.
Hungry bears can smell a dead meal and will protect their weeks food.
Humans behaving stupidly.

Wild Bill

I find it unsat to leave the horse behind, unguarded and the rifle on the horse. Wouldn’t the horses split to avoid any bear that showed up?

StLPro2A

Maybe the horses were on over watch with the rifles?!?!?!?!

DDS

A couple of commenters have come close to the root of the problem on this one.

The best gun for any situation is the one you have with you when the situation occurs. People going on foot into bear country without the means to deal with a bear that won’t back off are the reason “The Darwin Awards” site exists.

https://darwinawards.com/darwin/darwin2021.html

And Grizzlies, even among bear species, are famous for not backing off.

Be like a Boy Scout.

BE PREPARED!

Last edited 10 months ago by DDS
Duane

I always find it amazing how many perfect people there are after the fact.

StLPro2A

Those featured in the account were your perfect people before the event, and therefore still were afterwards. Mama always said, “Better to have and not need, than to need and not have.” Mama was the best Mama bear….none of her cubs have been eaten by Grizzlies. Words to literally live by around Grizzlies.

Duane

In actual bear defense cases the 44mag dominates. Far more bears have been shot in self-defense with 44 mags then the 10mm. Having shot several bears with handguns 41 and 44 mag. What is far more important is bullet selection and placement. I prefer bullets that give 18 inches or more in 10% ballistic gel. My 44 mag load 315gr WFN hard cast at around 1300fps. has shot through 4 feet of black bear. My 210gr wfn hard cast 41 mag load at 1100fps has had no trouble blowing through the heads of several bears. One a 535lb black bear.… Read more »

CaptainKerosene

Bear spray is for NYC or Chicago/ St. Louis.

StLPro2A

In St Louis as I type….I’ll still take the bear caliber…….

None

That would be a hair raising few moments trying to put that bear down, lucky they kept the hand guns on them while looking in the bush for the Elk.

Montana454Casull

I live where the big bad bears roam and I pack a .44 Remington magnum or a 454 Casull . Both are revolvers as I don’t want to chance a fail to feed with a auto loader in the woods during a self defense situation . I had a wounded 5 point bull get up and charge me this past hunting season . I killed it at 7 feet with my Ruger Blackhawk .44 Remington magnum .

Hazcat

The most important facts I received from this excellent report are:

1 Bears are dangerous and unpredictable
2 Always carry a side arm when hunting
3 Range time is important
4 Bear sprays give a false feeling of security and therefore should not be touted as effective defense by government agencies and sellers.

The rest can can be Monday morning quarterbacked (caliber, would have, should have, etc.) but # 4 needs to be repeated loudly and often.

None

A person got killed this year after using a whole can of bear spray
I grew up in Alaska and wouldn’t dream of being in the bush without a gun on me
I would never trust bear spray
But thats just me

Last edited 10 months ago by None
Nurph

If you’re one of those “granola” types of people that “DoEsN’t WaNt To HuRt AnYtHiNg” that carrie’s bear spray in the back country you’re just adding spice to the bear’s meal.

Last edited 10 months ago by Nurph
Deplorable Bill

A really good thing they were armed. Bear spray is suspect when encountering ticked off bear. In this case it was no help at all. I don’t know what the laws are in Wyoming but I think I would have a rifle present no matter who says what and add to that a really good, powerful handgun. This is because it takes “forever” to un sling arms during the stress and maybe terror of an attack. An attack can happen fast and un holstering your hand gun is faster than a rifle. I was not aware there was a medical… Read more »

Nurph

Agreed. If you attempt to run from a bear, any bear, you’ll just die tired. Their prey runs from them & they chase it down. How do you think they view us? That’s right. Dinner.

StLPro2A

In bear country, I always carry a bear caliber straight-pull scoped long gun (with alternate QD red dot/EoTech at 45degrees) via a Booney Packer Sling…..two-point, scope up, sling over one shoulder and around neck. Instantly bring to bear, pun intended, yet leaves both hands free as situation requires. Probably a bit faster than a handgun draw from chest holster. Allows protection of scope under arm pit in heavy brush, unsure footing. Worked in Nam, works in bear country.

Doug G.

Really good article Dean. I hope it works. A forensic re-enactment with necropsy results, showing bullet trajectories, would have been a valuable learning experience and could be used to train other guidesmen & hunters on their response to attacking bears.

loveaduck

Yep, that bear spray sure worked fine, didn’t it?

StLPro2A

Yeah, it is a great condiment to a bear’s hunter snack.

GJF.Jr

I had the same thing happen in September of 2009. I was the only one of 3 of us that seen the bear. In the same area. It only took 9 month’s to clear the federal charges. It is a life long memory. I am glad everyone is ok.

Last edited 10 months ago by GJF.Jr
Stephan

Question: this writeup says one man had his handgun loaded with hollow points.
Won’t that lessen penetration in a bear ?
I would have more confidence in ball ammo.
Thanks for clarification.

Henry Bowman

More proof that 10MM is the only common handgun cartridge to stop a bear. 9mm doesn’t cut it, nor .40S&W, or .45ACP. A hunter’s mistake is to leave rifles behind, unless hunting laws in one’s area outlaw the shooting of attacking animals. Bottom line, you need a firearm chambered in a more powerful cartridge to drop that attacking bear, cat, or whatever. I’m glad to see no one was hurt this time!!

swmft

it is not the 10 vs 45 it is hollow points vs ball i had a run in with a grizzly with a 44 desert eagle 8+1 had mixed hollow points (power ball, golden sabre,hydro shok ) i think only reason i survived is 4th and 8th round were ball my backup when i hunt is now a 50

Last edited 10 months ago by swmft
Sisu

Dean, All due respect; you lost me with this narrative. I am all for the sport of hunting. But, … Private land, inexperienced guide, and “father / son clients”. How many hours and nights past between the attempt (incompetent/reckless, or not) to harvest the bull elk and recovery of the carcass ? … And, all three “hunters” left their long guns with their horses (?). Perhaps there is a problem with the “law”, but seems to me: i) the shot should not have been taken; yet, ii) once the trail was lost the “harvest” should have been left to the… Read more »

Montana454Casull

Troll

Grim

Huh???

StLPro2A

Feed Sisu to the bears…..bears fed, this site purged of buffoonery. Win-Win.