76% of Documented Handgun Defenses Against Bears Happened Since 2000

76% of Documented Handgun Defenses Against Bears Happened Since 2000

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)-– As I collected documented incidents of handguns fired in defense against bears, a pattern emerged. The recorded incidents of pistols being fired in defense against bears overwhelmingly occurred from 1960 onward.

I’ve found 125 documented cases where handguns have been fired in defense against bears, from 1890 to present. Two of the 125 cases were considered to be indeterminate as to success or failure. An additional 20 cases, where handguns were used with other lethal means, are considered combination defenses. They are not included in this analysis.

The total numbers include indeterminate cases, but not the combination cases. 95% of all the documented cases occurred from 1960 onward. 76% of all cases occurred from 2000 forward.

Three phenomena have contributed to create this lopsided effect.

First, while pistols were used against bears prior to the development of the cartridge firing handgun, (about 1840 – 1870) much of the use was in hunting. There the handgun was used as an ancillary device to long guns.

Bears tended to be hunted hard on the outskirts of settled areas. They were considered pests. Bounties were offered for them. Bears had no legal protection. Bears, of necessity, became wary of humans, and seldom attacked humans other than when hunted and wounded.

Second, few records were written of handguns being used against bears during this period. Some hunts were recorded, as were a few incidents involving bears. Most involved long guns. What few records there were are difficult to find. Records became more common after 1960, and much easier to find after the Internet information explosion in the 1990’s.

Third, while human populations continued to increase, bear populations declined, then started to increase, with the greatest increase from about 1960 onward.

To sum up, an increase in effective handguns, record keeping and the ability to search records, and increasing populations of humans and bears do much to explain the rapidly expanding number of documented cases of pistol defense against bears.

After the cartridge revolver became dominant, about 1870, the concurrent increase in the expansion of literacy and handgun use started to produce records.

In Meet Mr. Grizzly, by Montague Stevens, there are examples where a revolver was used to finish off a wounded bear.  It is clear from the examples shown in Stevens work, that by the 1880s, bears, even in the wilderness of New Mexico, were extremely wary of people. The number of bears were declining with unlimited hunting. Bears which survived did so by keeping far away from humans.

The first documented case of a cartridge revolver being fired in defense against a bear occurred about 1890, documented in the book “Colt on the Trail”.  In 1906 there is a case of a revolver being fired against a bear. It is unknown if the revolver was a cartridge or percussion firearm, or what caliber it was. It could not be determined if firing the revolver was successful or unsuccessful in driving off the bear. Between 1890 and 1959, we have recorded six documented cases, about 1 per decade.

Record keeping has increased enormously since 1960.

By 1960, several events had changed the landscape to increase both defensive uses of handguns against bears, and the recording of those incidents.

Alaska became a state. The population of humans was growing rapidly. The .357 and .44 magnums had been introduced and were gaining in popularity. Effective, reliable handguns were common. Conservation movements were calling for the management of bears as a game animal. Bear populations were starting to increase.  The 1973 listing of grizzly bears as an endangered species started to create a population of bears that did not fear humans. More people were documenting their experiences with bears. When the Internet became widely available in the middle 1990s, those incidents became significantly more accessible.

In the decade from 1960 to 1969, we have discovered five documented cases where a handgun was fired in defense against bears, nearly as many as the previous seven decades! The trend continued for the next three decades. From 1970 – 1979, five cases; from 1980 – 1989, five cases; from 1990 to 1999, eight cases.

The Internet changed everything. Several trends came together for a large increase in the documented cases of handguns being fired in defense against bears.

By 2000, a great many publications were being recorded on the Internet, making a discovery of documented defensive use of pistols exponentially easier. Bear populations of all three North American bears (black, grizzly, and polar) were increasing and thriving. Human populations were increasing and thriving. Bears were so well protected, that many had lost the fear of humans. By 2000, the trend to restore the right to bear arms was well underway. More people were carrying handguns.

For the decade 2000 to 2009, 30 documented cases of handguns being fired in defense against bears have been discovered.

For the decade 2010 to 2019, 55 documented cases of handguns being fired in defense against bears have been discovered. In 2020 and 2021, nine cases have been documented and discovered.

The national ban on carrying firearms for defense in national parks was removed in 2010. Three of the 64 documented cases since 2010 have occurred in national parks.

The trend indicates we should expect 5-6 new cases each year, on average, to be documented and discovered. Populations of bears and humans continue to increase. More people are carrying handguns for defense of self and others. The ability to communicate and record events continues to expand as never before.

A countervailing trend is the demonization of people who defend against animal attack.  This motivates people who fire a handgun in defense against a bear to keep their experience private, to avoid documentation out of fear of reprisal.

There is a strong bias against reporting when a handgun is fired defensively against a bear, and no human is hurt or killed. This is countered, in the case of grizzly bears, by federal law which makes it a misdemeanor to fail to report the defensive act. No such federal law exists for black bears. This implies a bias toward reporting grizzly bear incidents and against reporting of black bear incidents.

The bias against reporting black bear incidents is somewhat countered by increased ability to communicate, and by the understanding that factual knowledge of bear behavior is necessary for effective management of bear populations. As communication improves, more cases will be documented.

The number of cases remains insignificant compared to bear populations.

The discovery of 55 documented cases from 2020 to 2029 is a reasonable prediction.

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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Don’t feed the bears , when in bear country pack accordingly, Smokey the bear and Yogi say your on the menu. Mr Ranger is not going to like this Yogi. Hey Hey Hey he’s got a gun run BOO BOO


food is never on the ground but hanging by a rope at least 20 feet up , and camo rope bears figure things out pretty fast


Officials issue periodic warnings advising outdoors people to carry bear spray, but rarely mention carrying a handgun. Be wary of this advice. Bear spray is a good defense, but a magnum caliber handgun is better. Don’t bring a pocket knife to a sword fight. After all, most Officials that deal with bears carry a handgun in the field.

The author mentions “Bear populations of all three North American bears (black, grizzly, and polar) were increasing and thriving.” I assume he meant to write, black, BROWN, and polar, as the grizzly bear is actually a subspecies of the brown bear.

The Crimson Pirate

If one is going to join a bear for dinner it is only polite to bring your own seasoning 😉


And don’t go camping or backpacking if you’re menstruating! It is like hanging a bear dinner bell out and clanging it all night long!


Here in South Florida, we don’t have much of a bear problem yet, but we are seeing the same thing with the alligators. 50 years ago gators were so afraid of humans that they were no trouble. Now, however, people feeding them have taught the gators to equate people with food. Everyone around here has either lost a dog to gators or knows someone who has. Controlled harvesting seems to be helpful, since the gators taken are often unafraid of humans. We’ve all seen the videos of gators strolling across golf courses, and those gators should be the first ones… Read more »


Troy Landry is always looking for them gators visits Florida regularly South Florida its them pythons you got to watch out for hiding under your sofa while watching TV. On the serious side some folks from Kentucky were here visiting Georgia little boy and girl got in the water throwing marshmallows at a little gator while I was bass fishing. They never saw the one eye 8 footer that was slowly moving in for a snack I told those kids to get out of the water. The mother said dont tell my children what to do the father just stood… Read more »


Here in far northern California, the black bear population has increased in the past 20 years, especially since hunting them with dogs was outlawed. The mountain lion population has increased substantially since hunting them was outlawed in the early 1990s. As a consequence, the deer population has dwindled due to more predators.

The urban liberal politicians in Sacramento would run out of sand in a few years if they were in charge of the Sahara Desert. They ruin everything they focus on.


They stopped dumps years decades ago several bear generations at least. Bears have more then gained their natural instinct back if they had ever lost them.. I do not think they never did. Protected bears loose their fear of man because of over protection. As they are not hunted and the over aggressive one live to breed more. Having a hunting season on bears keeps them in fear of man. Allowing the more aggressive ones to be killed off first. As the more timid bears learn to hide and survive. Having shot bears with rifles, shotguns and a couple calibers… Read more »


shot placement.


As bear populations continue to increase more and more human, bear conflicts well also.


I wonder if they prefer white or dark meat.


Hahaha, you owe me a cup of coffee, I laughed so hard I knocked it over, glad I was on the throne and not at my desktop!


it’s a shame that in the information age we can’t get a tally for at least2 decades of bear defence results for both bear spray and handguns. this article couldn’t even handle the latter


Bear spray is not a good defensive tool.

Bear spray ism a half way decent harassment tool.

Meaning it is useful to haze non violent bears away from areas.

Even when used as that it is always backed up by lethal means.