.38 Special Effective Against Wyoming Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)-– This article is part of a continuing series of defensive bear shootings discovered through a Freedom of Information Act request by AmmoLand. It appears these events were not reported in other media.

On September 13, 2011, two bowhunters were hunting for elk in a wild part of Wyoming, on the boundary of the Shoshone National Forest and the Bridger Teton National Forest. The location was on the Continental Divide between the Salt Creek and the South Fork of the Fish Creek drainages, about an hour north of DuNoir Junction, southwest of Dubois, Wyoming, near the boundary of Fremont County and Sublette County, at an elevation of about 9442 feet, according to the map contour lines. It is in the middle of the west edge of Wyoming.

The weather was cool in the morning and warm and dry in the afternoon. Temperatures varied from 35 to 70 degrees F in nearby Big Piney-Mableton at about 6,000-foot elevation.

Two hunters were involved. Their identity is deleted in the FOIA document. They will be referred to as Hunter One and Hunter Two. Hunter One had a holstered .38 Special revolver as well as his archery equipment.

At about 10:00 a.m., the two hunters were crossing a large area of downed timber, with numerous blowdowns. This type of terrain is very difficult to traverse, because you are constantly climbing up, over, and down large tree trunks. The pictures give an indication of the complexity. It is not a walk in the park.

Hunter One was “about to cross a big piece of downed timber” when he saw a large bear jump up and toward him. He ran up a downed tree, and the bear was “spooked” and ran north into the timber. Hunter One waited until the bear was out of sight; then he used his cow call to communicate with Hunter Two, who was 30-50 yards away.

Image from Hunter One’s perspective at end of attack

Hunter Two came closer when he saw Hunter One up on the downed tree trunk. They communicated and decided to leave the area because of the danger of the grizzly bear.

The two hunters had traversed about 300 yards upslope to return to their vehicle. They heard a crash. Believing it might be an elk, they saw two bears running at them. Hunter One was climbing another downed tree trunk when he saw the larger bear change direction and attack Hunter Two.

Hunter Two had seen Hunter One darting up the downed timber, and the bears coming at them. Hunter Two ran to climb a downed tree near Hunter One, tossing his bow to facilitate his ascent. Hunter Two slipped and landed on his back, looking up to see the larger bear looming over him. He brought up his foot to kick at the bear, and the bear grabbed his right ankle. He yelled at Hunter One to shoot the bear!

At this point, Hunter One had drawn his .38 revolver. He fired two shots as the bear attacked Hunter two. The bear disengaged from Hunter Two, fell down, and started to come up toward Hunter One. Hunter One fired another shot at the bear, and it went down for good. Hunter One reported all shots were fired from six feet or less.

The photographer appears to be at the position of Hunter Two during the attack.

The entire sequence of shots probably took less than five seconds.

Hunter Two got up and checked himself. Because of his heavy leather boot, and the quick action of Hunter One, the bear’s teeth had only punctured his skin at one spot. After checking Hunter Two, Hunter One reloaded his revolver.

The two hunters finished returning to their truck. Once there, they hooked up their travel trailer and drove to Dubois, where they contacted Wyoming Fish and Game. Wyoming Fish and Game received the information and were able to meet with the hunters at DuNoir Junction about three p.m. From there they went to the shooting site and did a field necropsy on the bear.

The Wyoming F&G personnel recovered three fired .38 Special cases at the site. They recovered three .38 caliber bullets. None had exited the bear. From the picture, they appear to be 150-160 grain jacketed bullets. Two of the bullets were relatively undamaged.

One bullet was significantly deformed, apparently from hitting the bear’s spine. This was probably the killing shot. All bullets had entered the bear from the front half.

Hunter One said he was “shaking so bad” and “was so scared”. He was not shaking or scared bad enough to keep from scoring three solid hits with three shots, killing the attacking bear and stopping the attack on Hunter Two. The shaking reaction is a common occurrence following an adrenaline dump when involved in a deadly fight.

The investigators looked for a yearling cub; they did not see one, but all reported hearing a bear “woof” and “pop” its jaws.

The hunters’ verbal statements, the physical evidence, and their written statements were all consistent.

The bear was tattooed with the number 497. It had been trapped as part of management action in 2005, and again in 2008, for depredating on cattle, not far from where the attack and defensive shooting took place.

On January 9, 2012, the United States Attorney for the District of Wyoming determined the case was clearly self defense, and declined to prosecute for the illegal take of a grizzly bear.

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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Well placed handgun bullets saves the day.

This bear did not cause any more problems after it was shot.

One of the reasons handguns are better then spray.


I prefer my Ruger Blackhawk 44 mag as I live and hunt in grizzley country . I hope to never encounter one , but if I do its loaded with 6 – 240 grain bullets . A 38 is a little light for bear defense but it worked with one well placed bullet ! Luck was on his hunting partners side that day !


a 454 cassull would work better

Deplorable Bill

Looks like a good 38 saved a mauling and maybe, some lives. I can think of better, higher powered, higher calibered firearms that I would have been carrying instead of a 38. Noted in the article is the fact that two bullets did not expand and did not exit the bear while the third round impacted the spine and did expand but did not exit the bear. We see penetration similar to what we would expect with a f.m.j. bullet. Given enough time, it’s anyone’s guess if the first two bullets would have killed the bear but the only visible… Read more »


Here’s the scariest line in the whole article:

“On January 9, 2012, the United States Attorney for the District of Wyoming determined the case was clearly self defense, and declined to prosecute for the illegal take of a grizzly bear.”

Do you think that another US Attorney, appointed by a leftist president, would not have prosecuted the hunters for being in the grizzly’s territory in the first place?


This also depends on if that state allowed a handgun to be carried on the bow hunt.If not the US Attorney would have prosecuted the hunter, In question is State WMA or Federal WMA both are different. You must read the rules as some conversation officers do not have all the information and will write you a summons. I always carry the Hunting Book rules and regulations for that year comes free with my licence in my backpack and have a extra back at the truck.

Wild Bill

If the state allowed. I don’t think that I have ever heard more ominous words.
Also, I see that you have been victimized by the spell check turning conservation officers into conversation officers. Humorous, but we know what you meant!

Last edited 11 months ago by Wild Bill
Doug G.

Imagine being under the government’s thumb for 3 months after a righteous shoot. Of course, that’s SOP when it comes to defensively shooting humans but for a lot longer. Some PETA liberal AG from Calif. might have a different perspective and decide to destroy your life for good, just because he can. In that sense, I’d take the 3 months happily.

Matt in Oklahoma

I can’t see carrying that light a caliber. For me it’s 10mm with 220gr hardcast or Extreme Penetrators


extreme penetrators would be best hollow points are a NO, a 50 ae is my woods backup or bfr in 500 sw

Matt in Oklahoma

Very lucky


Here is the real story of Belle Twin who killed the large grizzly.

Also written up by Dean.


Deplorable Bill

Thanks Duane, I was a bit off.

Arm up and carry on


Well having shot bears with rifles, shotguns and handguns. Bullet penetration and placement is far more important then caliber. 158gr 357dia FMJ or LRN at standard 38 velocities normally give 20 or more inches of penetration in 10% ballistic gel. Plenty to get to a bears organs. Granted lower velocity bullets to not have the bone smashing power of higher velocity well constructed ones. I have shot dozens of deer and other critters with 125gr 357 JHP mag it works but penetration often is lacking. I prefer well constructed 158gr bullets for larger game. Even those can have a problem… Read more »


I am told the Lewis and Clarke journals made note that shooting the grizzly’s “Seemed to anger them”.
I have no idea which arms they were equipped with.


They carried an air rifle. I wonder if that’s what they shot bears with. It would probably make them upset.


54and 36 caliber black powder, the ball may have been soft


These hunters were lucky in some states you can not carry a handgun afield while Bow Hunting Big Game even with concealed carry license. A 38 cal handgun was better than no gun at all. Having had a bear encounter while deer hunting one morning while still dark on the way in I heard movement to my left I knew it was not a deer. I guess it was not meant to be the black bear walked off I called it a morning went for breakfast.

Doug G.

Yet the government switched away from .38’s because they didn’t work at stopping Philippine warriors 100 years earlier. Especially FMJ rounds. What was he thinking?


That’s because they really don’t want you to be hunting. Alot of DFG in OreGoNE are tree huggers and Sierra club members and those are the people they look for whenever they start a new group in order to preserve whatever game it is so they don’t go extinct. Their excuse is that they are making sure we will always have game to hunt or fish for. In the meantime, we lose the right to fish for some fish for years, we lose land because of more game preserves in order to protect populations, we lose rivers to fish, and… Read more »


A bit of luck was had here. Hunter2 owes Hunter1 bigtime.
I like it that Hunter1 had & carried a revolver for protection, but I’m pretty sure Hunter1 will reassess his ammo choices.
Three (3) shots were enough, but what if they weren’t? I think I would stoke my revolver with 125grain JHP .357 magnum cartridges at the very least.
Personally my self-protection bear gun would be a Glock 20 with hot 165grain HP’s or a Glock 21SF with 185 JHP’s.


I have always been told that to use HP rounds against something as big as Grizz, is to take a big chance of just pissing it off. I would rather be shooting hardball and have a better chance of deep penetration into it’s skeletal and vital regions.


I agree. The field necropsy showed that the bullet that hit the spine was only slightly deformed. That’s s good indicator that you need DEEP penetration to be able to shutdown the CNS. If those bullets had expanded, it’s likely three shots would not have been enough. Agree with the statements by others that higher performance caliber would be more desirable in grizzly country. But, at least Hunter 1 had the foresight to go armed with something that could do the job on most 4 legged and 2 legged attackers. 38 special IS a capable round when loaded heavy enough… Read more »

Desert Rat

In bear country my preferred sidearm would be a steel frame 1911 or Glock 21SF converted to .460 Rowland with handloaded 230 grain Hornady FTX bullets at 1350fps or a good hardcast LRN.

Doug G.

What happens to the meat and hide? I imagine some or most is spoiled before anyone gets to the carcass to confirm the story but that wouldn’t affect the hide.


Ron White said if you’re going to grizzly country and carry a. 38 for self defense, file the front sight off so you don’t chip a tooth when you shove the barrel in your mouth.