Update of Pistol or Handgun Defenses Against Bears

Grizzly Bear

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)-– These eleven events of pistols fired in defense against bears, in combination with other items, have been found since the last update in June of 2021.

The increasing number of incidents had made checking all links difficult and awkward.

With this article, and in the future, updates will consist of the newly revealed incidents and any change in statistics. In this article eleven newly revealed cases of combination defenses are added for completeness. In our research of the effectiveness of pistol fired in defense against bears, we include all documented incidents, so readers may evaluate them themselves.

Because these incidents involve more than simply pistols fired in defense against bears, these combination defenses are not included in the statistics of the effectiveness of pistols . There is much valuable information in these accounts. The reader is encouraged to read the incident for themselves, and to extract whatever lessons they deem valuable.

The incidents are listed below in chronological order, earliest to most recent.

1935 Combination .45-70 and 9mm or .30 Luger pistol on Unuk River Alaska by Jack Johnstone, Originally from the Old Groaner 1953 story, in Bear Tales Book. Page 197 combination re-written in Bear Tales for The Ages.

The story was written 17 years after the event, by a person who was not there, “Handlogger” Jackson. Jackson was a friend of the Johnstones. He had married their sister, Ruth, in 1927. This incident about Jack Johnstone was not found in the original “Old Groaner” article written in 1936. In Bear Tales for the Ages, the 1953 article was re-written again.  It is included in the interest of completeness. It does not change the statistics.

Handlogger Jackson writes that Jack Johnstone was armed with a cut-down 45-70 and a Luger pistol. From the book:

One day on Sulfide Creek Bruce and Jack noticed a huge grizzly on the opposite side of the river. Upon seeing the men, the animal instantly charged into the stream, swimming a straight course for them in spite of the power of the water. No man could have accomplished that feat. Jack emptied his rifle into the animal, slowing it, however it reached the bank below them and hoisted itself up, even with a broken back. Jack unholstered his Luger pistol and emptied its full magazine of ammunition into the beast before it slipped into the water with a ferocious growl and the current swept it away.

Spring, 1974, Washington State, .357 magnum and snare, black bear, From Bears and Flowers, p. 3.

This incident is classified as a combination because the black bear was caught in a snare, then dragged the snare a distance. The person doing the snaring as a professional bear hunter, found the snare, slack, and thought the bear had escaped. His daughter, Jacky, was accompanying him.

The bear was not amused and charged Ralph Flowers at close quarters. From Bears & Flowers:

 Jacky was standing by my side when I reached down to retrieve the snare cable. The moment I started to lift the cable and put pressure on it, I felt resistance on the other end and heard a loud snort as an enraged bear came tearing out from a dark recess under the log pile. I dropped the cable like it was red hot when the bear rushed at us, all bristled and blowing loudly through its nostrils. Grabbing my .357 magnum revolver I blasted four rounds into him in quick succession while Jacky stood paralyzed in fear of what was happening. 

Even though all the bullets had entered the bear’s head, I quickly eviserated him,

Readers can judge for themselves if this  qualifies as a pistol defense against bears. It is not included in the statistics, because the bear was in the snare.

October 1981 Cold Bay Alaska, .44 mag, .375 rifle, .375 pistol, Grizzly bear

Here is the original, first person account in the words of Larry Kelly, from Hunting for Handgunners by Larry Kelly and J.D. Jones, p. 225, 1990.

At the shot, the brown bear then came full-bore right at us. Bob fired a second shot in the sand in front of him as we backed into the shack. He kept telling me not to shoot.

We backed into the shack and when the bear was in the doorway, head and shoulders inside the shack, I shot. 

Bob was having trouble with his gun and had backed up into the table, knocking everything over. I had backed into the stove, knocking that over. I pointed the .44 at the bear’s chest from three feet away and fired. I expected the mighty .44 to blow the bear right out of the doorway, or at least to do a little more than get his attention. He only turned his head and looked directly at me as if the muzzle blast had bothered him. 

Bob fired, then I fired again. The bear turned and I fired two more shots in his shoulder.  Bob fired at his shoulder again. I put my last two in his rear as he turned around and started running. Bob stepped out of the door and fired as the bear went bellowing down the beach. 

My Model 29 was empty and so was Bob’s .375 H&H. I ran to my cot and quickly grabbed my T/C .375 JDJ and fired my last shot into the bear. He went down.

22 September 2005, Cow Call Grizzly Attack,  Crossbow and .44 Magnum, obtained by FOIA, published in AmmoLand.

As the guide was returning to the hunter, he noticed the hunter was watching something. The guide thought it was probably elk. When the guide was about 50 yards from the hunter, the hunter yelled “Look out!” The guide looked and saw movement through the trees. He suspected it was the bull. A different sow grizzly with two large cubs burst into the clearing. The guide attempted to warn the bear off by making himself large, yelling, “Hey Bear, get out of here!” and waving his arms. The bear charged straight at the guide, roaring.

The guide attempted to draw his .44 magnum revolver, but the pistol hung up on the trigger guard. The bear was very close, so the guide dodged behind an eight-inch birch tree, to avoid the bear. The guide estimated he spent 40 seconds dodging the bear around the tree, until the bear grabbed him by the right side, and threw him to the ground.

It is common for time to appear to stretch out when in a life and death situation.

With the guide on the ground, the bear worried him for a short period, then left him and ran at the hunter, who was armed with a crossbow. At ten yards, the hunter shot the bear in the chest with his bow. At the impact of the bolt, the bear stood up, and started back toward the guide, then lay down.

The hunter shouted to the guide, “She’s dead, I’m all right!” The guide got up and asked where the bear went. The hunter said “She is right next to you, about 6-8 feet away.” The guide determined the bear was still breathing, so he shot her in the back of he head with the .44 magnum. Then he looked around to see what was happening with the two large cubs. (estimated two years old) The cubs were not seen.

14 August 2010, WY: Fish Creek Bear Attack: Savage 99 .308 and Taurus Tracker .41  Obtained by FOIA, published in AmmoLand.

As the two people walked down the road toward the creek, there appeared a slight gap in the trees on their right as they approached the creek. One of them said that “looked like a good place for bears”, just before a grizzly erupted from the woods, coming at them at “90 miles an hour”.

The person in the lead shouldered his Savage 99, chambered in .308, loaded with five rounds of reloads with 150-grain Game King bullets. The bear appeared only 15 feet from them. At 8-10 feet, he fired. The bear stumbled and went down, slightly to his right, at the edge of the road. As the bear started to get up, he fired a second shot and his partner opened up with the .41 magnum. The .41 magnum was loaded with reloads and lead bullets. Both people emptied their firearms at the bear, which managed to crawl a few feet away and collapse next to a pine tree.

October 19, 2010 .44 Mag and 12 gauge at the North Fork of North Crandal, Park County, Grizzly Bear  Obtained by FOIA, published in AmmoLand.

Guide and Hunter were carrying packs and dragging hind quarters. Wrangler was carrying a pack, the head and cape, and the shotgun. They took a route on the far side of the drainage to maximize the distance from where they had last seen the bears. Hunter was in the lead, Wrangler in the middle, with Guide bringing up the rear. Guide had a walking stick to help on the steep terrain. Guide was having difficulty keeping up while dragging the hind quarter. Wrangler kept looking back to check on Guide.

They had traveled about 200 yards when Wrangler yelled “Guide!” 

Guide believed it was a warning about the bear, but did not see the bear.

Wrangler yelled, “She is right behind you!” 

The guide said the hair stood up on his neck and he swung the walking stick as hard as he could behind him, looking as he did it. The guide said he just missed the grizzly bear, and the bear retreated a step.

Wrangler said “moving left”, presumably to get a better line of fire at the bear. The hunter drew his .45 but did not have a clear line of fire at the bear.

The bear turned and came at Guide from nine feet away. The guide drew his .44 magnum and fired one shot. Wrangler fired the shotgun with the 00 buckshot round almost simultaneously, but slightly later than Guide’s shot. The bear took a couple of steps, dropped, and rolled downslope.

October  8, 2012 Grizzly bear Pinyon Ridge of Pinedale, WY Combination 6mm and .44 mag. Obtained by Freedom of Information Act (FOIA page 371)

Two wolf hunters walked into timber on a ridge. About 300 to 400 yards in, they saw a grizzly bear above them on the ridge. The bear charged from about 40 yards. Both hunters shot at the bear from about 15 to 20 feet. They shot at the bear twice with 6 mm rifle and three times with .44 mag pistol. Nest day they came back, but could not find the bear. They contacted Wyoming Game and Fish, who investigated and eventually found the dead bear. A letter of declination of prosecution from the United States Attorney’s Office was dated December 20, 2012.

September 9, 2014 Combination .40 caliber and bow, Grizzly Shedhorn Ridge Montana  Obtained by FOIA, published in AmmoLand.

The bowhunter yelled at the bear. Instead of running, the bear dropped to all fours and charged at the hunter.  The bowhunter loosed his shaft at the charging bear, aiming for the chest when the bear had come within 20 yards. The arrow struck the bear in the skull, on the snout. The arrow impact caused the bear to veer to the side, then retreat.

The bowhunter had a defensive firearm holstered, with him, a .40 caliber Taurus 24/7. He dropped the bow and drew the pistol, chambered a round, and fired about five shots at the wounded bear as it fled with a yearling cub of the previous year. The cub was estimated to weigh about 130 – 140 lbs.  The hunter believed he heard bear noises from what was probably a second yearling cub in the brush.

The bowhunter noticed the arrow had been broken off. He estimated the arrow had penetrated about 3 inches.

As the bear charged at him for the second time, the bow hunter fired his .40 caliber Taurus, hitting the bear in the chest with the first shot, at about 20- 25 yards.

This disrupted the charge as the bear spun in reaction to the shot. The hunter fired again as the bear spun. He believing he hit the bear with the second shot.

The bear continued to close the distance, as the bowhunter fired several more rounds, emptying the magazine on the Taurus. He believed he had hit the bear 3-4 more times, with the subsequent shots from 15-20 yards.

When he had emptied the magazine, the bear was still alive but stopped. As he retrieved his bow, to nock another arrow, the bear got up and fled out of sight, over the hill.

September 10, 2015 Pass Creek Grizzly .340 Weatherby Mag and 10mm   30 miles SW of Cody, Wyoming, Page 310 FOIA

Bear had taken a sheep carcass. It charged the guide and hunter from about 10 yds. At 7 yards it was shot with the .340 magnum, then twice more. The hunter shot at the bear four times with the 10 mm Glock. The charge was stopped and the bear rolled down the slope.

Investigators found pistol brass and bear carcass, which was consistent with the hunters’ statements.

Combination 13 May 2021, Grizzly .338 ultra mag and .454 Casull Alaska

He found his spot, 470 yards away, totally exposed on an open expanse of snow.

He aimed. Steadied his breath. And shot.

Once, twice and a third time. The .338 ultra mag (a large magnum cartridge good for long-distance shooting) pierced the bear’s lung, the second high left on the animal’s shoulder and the third through the bear’s neck.

He tried to fire again, but his gun had jammed. Oh well, he figured, he’d fired three good shots on the bear.


They ducked behind one of the boulders and Schneider pulled out his revolver, which held five .454 Casull rounds. He had five more rounds on his hip. Schneider, trying to stay crouched behind the rock, waited until the bear got closer.

He fired, aiming for the animal’s face, but crouched as he was, he missed. He had four bullets left.

He stood up. Took aim.

“OK, I have four more shots,” he said. “I have to make it count here.

“It’s coming to us mouth open, huffing at a dead sprint.”

His second shot hit the animal in the chest. At 5 yards he shot again, hitting the bear in its front shoulder.

That shot turned the animal, and it angled away from Schneider and his sister. He shot once more, hitting it broadside.

Spring of 2020, Combination bow and pistol, XDS pistol, .45 ACP Black Bear Youtube

The hunter was archery hunting for black bear. The bear was arrowed, tracked, arrowed again. Then it charged and the hunter dropped his bow, and shot it with his handgun at 7 feet. The bear dropped dead on the hunter’s bow at 5 feet.

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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Thanks!Its amazing how bears can absorb powerful rounds!


Handguns have been proven to be highly effective for defense against bears.

Many of the old time myths about handgun use against bears have been killed off also.

J Gibbons

Including 9mm, especially if you use hard cast non-lead, non-expanding ammo. Buffalo Bore has a particularly good product with real-world experience behind it.


I guess that “stopping power” is of little importance when defending myself from a 400+ lb bear running at me. Since I spend more than 50% of my time in bear country, I carry a 5″ 38 super loaded for penetration. 38 super isn’t the most powerful handgun, but I can usually hit what I aim at with it, and I figure a hit with that is better than a miss with anything else.

Deplorable Bill

Bullet placement with the right type of bullet, of sufficient power, in a timely manor can and will save your life. I am amazed at how much damage a ticked off bear can take. At least one of the rifles used in this article might be enough gun for elephant. A 340 Weatherby mag and a 4570 are nothing to sneeze at. With proper bullets and bullet placement either will soundly kill anything that walks the earth these days. Elmer Keith, the man who invented the 44 mag and his famous bullet, used to test his loads on something he… Read more »