Update of Pistol Defenses Against Bears 123 Cases, 98% Effective

Grizzly Bear mother with cub marking cabin iStock-Mark Kostich 1342117510
Update of Pistol Defenses Against Bears 123 Cases, 98% Effective iStock-Mark Kostich 1342117510

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)-I have been researching the effectiveness of pistols when they are fired as a defense against bears for several years.  The research started as an attempt to find cases where pistols were ineffective.  

In October of 2016, a poster on freerepublic.com claimed (post 28 at the link) that there were numerous failures when people attempted to use pistols as a defensive tool against bears. The author knew there were several cases where the use of a pistol resulted in an effective defense. 

Because access to handguns, bear spray, knives, rifles, and shotguns all involve similar problems, only cases where a handgun was actually fired are considered. None of these systems do any good if they cannot be accessed in time to be used to stop an attack.

Months, then years of searching the Internet, books, and official sources for documented cases of failure found three documented failures and over a hundred documented cases of success (there were 10 cases where combinations of pistols and other potentially lethal items were used).

In June of 2021, the count of documented cases where pistols or handguns alone were fired in defense against bears stood at 104. One of those was discovered to be a duplicate and corrected. Since then, another 20 cases have been found. Those cases raise the number to 123. Of the 123 cases, three documented cases exist where the firing of the handgun did not stop the attack by driving off or killing the bear or bears involved.

When the number of cases reached 100, publishing the whole on the Internet at AmmoLand became time-consuming and unwieldy.  With this update, additional cases will be published as time permits. The statistics will be updated. The last update will be available, but not incorporated into a single article.

Readers will be able to access the previous articles to read the accounts of each incident and reach their own conclusions. The author remains committed to including all documented instances where pistols were fired in defense against bears.

Most cases are not documented. There is a strong bias against the publication of cases where no human was injured or killed. If an armed human is attacked by a bear, and the human successfully drives off or kills the bear, there isn’t as much incentive to contact authorities, seek publicity, or publish an article.  Conversely, if a bear kills or injures a human, it is almost always documented, at least since modern cartridge pistols have become available. 13 of the 20 additions noted below were not documented in the major media.

Here is the link to the previous 103 documented cases for handguns, including statistics and combinations.

Here is the link to the latest eleven additional documented combination cases.

With this update, there are 123 documented cases where pistols were fired in defense against bears, without assistance from other lethal means. Three of those cases were failures. The success rate is 98%.

Here are the latest additions to the handgun-only data set. Readers are advised to consider each individual case and reach their own conclusions.

Spring, 1961, Washington State, Grays Harbor County, .357 magnum, black bear, From The Education of a Bear Hunter by Ralph Flowers p. 115,116

I was standing in a little clearing about fifteen feet in diameter and I couldn’t see the bear until she burst out of the thicket, heading straight for me, clicking her teeth like castanets. I saw black in my sights and pulled the trigger and the old bear skidded to a halt, right at my feet. I put another bullet into the yearling, and then I sat down on the log by the trap, my heart thumping as I realized how close I had been to tangling with that mad sow bear. 

I walked over to look at the mother bear and saw that my bullet had hit her directly in the top center of the nose, just below the eyes, and had gone straight into her brain, killing her instantly.

The author, Ralph Flowers, was severely mauled twice in his professional bear hunting career. In both cases, he did not have his .357 revolver with him.

About March 5, 2000, from the guardian.com, en route to the North Pole, .44 magnum, polar bear.

But then, part of Göran’s problem was talking so ingenuously. It left him wide open to attack in his home country. I asked him again about the killing of the polar bear.

‘So you had a rifle with you?’

‘No, a hand gun.’

‘What, like a Magnum?’

‘That’s right.’ He paused. He wanted accuracy, not approximation, just as he did preparing for his adventures. ‘It was a .44 Magnum.’

Göran held the gun in his bare hands for half an hour, risking frostbite in the freezing air, calculating precisely the moment when an attack became inevitable. And at that moment he pulled the trigger.

August 18, 2002, Western Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska, 10mm grizzly bear. Personal interview with Jack Jefferson in 2021. Included in AmmoLand article on 10mm.

A problem bear was becoming much too familiar with people and property at the lodge on a lake. Several cabins had been broken into and ransacked for food on the other side of the lake. Professional guide Jake Jefferson had his 10mm built by his brother on a six inch longside 1911 frame, with an eight shot magazine.  
He attempted to haze the bear away from the lodge, and fired six shots near the bear, which indifferently moved a little way away. It came back quickly and tore up a bunch of empty coolers.  
Jake looked for another firearm, but did not find any close to hand.  
Jake heard “hey bear” from the other side of the lodge.
As he came around the corner, the grizzly was quartering toward him at 10-15 yards. He only had two shots left. He fired one into the back pair of ribs, which later showed to have missed the chest cavity, and traveled through the abdominal cavity to the hide on the other side.  
The bear immediately ran off. It was nearly 11 p.m. with a fair amount of light, but getting darker. Jake decided to wait for morning to track the bear.   
Next morning, Jake found a very sick bear on top of a beaver food pile, in the lake, with only its head above water.
Jake used a rifle to finish off the bear. The boar squared at 7 1/2 feet.  
Jake had a tag for the bear. It was listed as a hunting kill, not a defense of life and property.

5 October 2010 Boulder Basin Wyoming, Grizzly Bear .44 mag birdshot! AmmoLand request via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), p. 856.

At about 9 a.m., a guide and hunter were traveling in heavy cover, on horseback. A grizzly bear charged them from close range. The hunter started yelling at the bear as soon as it was seen. He drew a Ruger .44 magnum from the holster at the same time. As the bear charged the men on horseback, the hunter fired at the bear when it was 13 steps  away. The revolver was loaded with .44 Special birdshot, in anticipation of shooting grouse for the pot. The bear ran off about 50 yards, then turned back and looked at them. It was uncertain if the bear was hit or injured, because the hunter and guide were having difficulty controlling the horses.

September 13, 2011, .38 Special, Wyoming Grizzly Bear, AmmoLand article.  FOIA Page 1144

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.

September 17, 2012, East Fork of Wind River, Wyoming. .44 mag Taurus, Grizzly bear FOIA page 276

A hunter was stalking elk on a game trail. He walked up on a sow Grizzly and cub, seeing them about 15 yards away, digging in the ground. He drew his Taurus .44 magnum as he quietly attempted to back out of the area. The sow sensed him, jumped uphill, then charged.  He fired four times and she dropped about three yards from him.

Investigators found the physical evidence was consistent with his account. Three bullet wounds were found in the field necropsy of the bear, one through the heart.

September 29 2012, .45 Long Colt, Wyoming, Venus Creek, Shoshone National Forest, Grizzly bear, Pages 36 and  1302 FOIA

Two elk archery hunters had processed a bull elk they shot at about 12:30 p.m.  At about 3:30 p.m. they were returning to camp when they saw another elk and were discussing how to approach it.  They were about a quarter mile from the processed elk carcass. They saw a grizzly sow and one or two cubs. They retreated a short ways, but the sow decided to charge them. The hunter who had arrowed the elk drew a Ruger Blackhawk revolver, chambered in .45 Long Colt.  He dropped to his left knee, as the bear charged from 25 yards away.   He fired and missed at 12 yards; fired a  second shot at 8 yards, and hit the bear.

The bear retreated toward the cub or cubs, then charged again. The hunter fired three more shots. He hit on the fifth shot. The bear fell and started spinning around. As this was happening, the hunters retreated. The pistol shooter retrieved ammunition from his pack and reloaded. The sow went back to the cub, grabbed the cub by its back and shook it.  The hunters retreated to camp. The next day they investigated and found the dead sow and a cub with what appeared to be a broken back.

September 20, 2014, .45, .44 mag, 9mm Pistols, East Fork of Wind River, Lander, Wyoming. AmmoLand article,  Page 84 FOIA

The pause was momentary; not a full stop of the charge. The lead hunter was able to start shooting from a range of six feet. The grizzly grabbed the lead hunter by the left thigh and the hunter went down with the bear on top of him.

As the bear closed with the lead hunter, the middle and last hunters had seen the bear, dropped their bows, and drew their pistols, a .44 magnum and a 9mm. They started shooting.

With the lead hunter down and the bear in his lap, he put the .45 against its head and shot his last rounds. The bear went limp. The lead hunter was able to crawl out from under the big bear.

Shortly afterward, the bear was seen to move, and the hunters fired two more rounds into the chest cavity from the side. The hunters estimated they had fired 19 cartridges at the bear; 8 rounds of .45, 6 rounds of .44 magnum, and about 4 rounds of 9mm.

May 16, 2016, 10mm  Black Mountain in Wyoming East Fork WHMA Grizzly. Included in an AmmoLand article. FOIA page 426.

On May 16, 2016, a man was looking for shed antlers on Black Mountain in the Wyoming East Fork Wildlife Habitat Management Area. A sow grizzly with two cubs of the year charged him. He fired several warning shots at the sows feet, but the bear kept coming. He shot seven or eight times, and emptied his pistol, as the bear rolled past him and hit a tree. He left the area. The grizzly bear was never found. Rain had washed away the evidence. No blood or hair was found.

May 28, 2016 Bear Creek Drainage 16 miles N. of Dubois, Wyoming, .40 cal Grizzly bear, AmmoLand article, FOIA page 432

The son yelled at the bear and drew his Springfield sub-compact. He did not have a round in the chamber.  The Springfield comes with a 9 round and a 10 round magazine.  He chambered a round and checked to be sure the safety was off. The pistol was new. He had never fired it before. His father had owned the same model for some time.

The son noticed, as the bear continued to run at him, that it appeared to be in full charge mode, with its ears laid back. He noticed a cub was with the sow. As the sow came within 30 yards of him, he started firing at the bear and moving to put a small tree between him and the charging grizzly.

The son fired his final rounds as the charging bear approached within feet. The bear went down and slid downslope about five yards where it died. In the investigation which followed. Ten .40 caliber brass were found at the scene. The brass was within 2-3 yards of the dead bear.

September 14,  2016 Ennise, Montana, sow grizzly, bear spray in left hand, .44 mag Ruger Super Blackhawk in right hand. FOIA Page 246.

A guide and three clients were returning from a day of hunting. They observed a sow grizzly and cub on the trail. The guide instructed his clients to dismount their horses and ready their bear spray. He held bear spray in his left hand and a .44 magnum Ruger Super Blackhawk in his right hand. The party made noise. As they did so, the sow stood up, then charged the group. There was a strong head wind, so bear spray was not used. The guide fired four shots, then the sow ran off.  The guide believed he missed the first two shots, and may have hit on the third and fourth shots.  At the third shot, the bear veered off the trail.
During the investigation, no blood trail or bear carcass was found.
October 28, 2016, Squaw Creek North and West of Cody, Wyoming  .44 magnums, Grizzly bear. Page 299 FOIA

Four men hunting were hunting elk and deer in the Squaw Creek drainage. They had killed a nice elk and a deer, and were packing them out on horseback. They were all on foot, walking the horses through the heavily wooded creek bottom. At a narrow point in the creek, one of them saw a bear coming through the heavy woods. As the bear charged, the horse he was leading took off.

Two of the hunters shot at the bear as it approached to within 5 feet of one of their party.  Both shot .44 magnum revolvers.   One shot first, from about 15 feet. The bear turned, retreated, then stopped and came back. The second hunter had been able to draw his .44 mag.  He fired two shots at the bear from close range.  The bear ran off. Investigators did not find any bear carcass. One of the hunters had been mauled by a bear in 2010, and had $30,000 in medical bills.

May 31, 2020, 9mm, black bear  Sevierville, TN

Witnesses said the bear swatted the dog out of the way and continued to approach the woman. A man who lived in the home came out on the porch and fired several rounds from a handgun towards the bear to stop it.

He said he was aiming at the ground in front of the bear and didn’t realize he had hit it until the bear was found dead behind the home the the next day.

More information confirming 9mm as the caliber of the pistol

September 14, 2020 unknown pistol, Montana, Grizzly bear,  Archery hunter, bear wounded

More than a week after a grizzly bear was injured by a pistol-packing archery hunter in the Madison Range, searchers have been unable to find the wounded bruin.

The bear charged two hunters on Sept. 14 at the head of Eldridge Creek, according to a Custer Gallatin National Forest press release. One of the hunters fired his handgun several times in the direction of the bear as it charged within a few feet.

June 25, 2021 South Lake Tahoe, California Black Bear pistol unknown

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – More details have become available on the shooting, and subsequent death, of a bear on June 25 in the county area of South Lake Tahoe.

A person renting a vacation home on Pioneer Trail last week returned to the house after going out for dinner with the other occupants of the home. Upon entry into the home on the bottom level, this person heard noises coming from the second-floor living space. Not knowing if it were human or animal causing the noise, he grabbed his pistol and went to investigate, according to California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) Captain Patrick Foy.

July, 2021, unknown handgun, near Nome, Alaska, Grizzly

Richard Jessee says he was riding his ATV with a trailer attached to it to it in Nome last week when he says the bear ‘came out of nowhere’, picked it up like ‘a toy’ and tossed it

He fired a shot from his pistol to scare the bear then escaped to his cabin where for four days, he cowered while the bear ‘stalked’ him.

July 19, 2021 Chena Hot Springs, AK, Grizzly, .44 magnum

Jul. 21—A man shot a grizzly bear sow Monday morning after it charged him and his son in a remote area off a trail near Chena Hot Springs Road northeast of Fairbanks, Alaska State Troopers said.

The injured bear had not been located by Tuesday afternoon.

The man and son happened upon the sow and cub around 11:12 a.m. while walking in a remote area near Smallwood Trail off Chena Hot Springs Road, troopers wrote in an online statement.

“Once the adult male and the sow made eye contact the bear charged,” troopers spokesman Austin McDaniel said.

The man shot the bear with a .44 Magnum revolver, troopers said. The sow was believed to be acting defensively to protect her cub, McDaniel said in an email.

September 23, 2021, Island Park Idaho, Grizzly Bear 10 mm from AmmoLand article on 10mm defenses

Then, on 23 September, a sow grizzly, reportedly with cubs in the area, was shot and killed when it attacked archery hunters near Island Park. The hunters deployed both bear spray and a pistol. The incident is still under investigation, but it appears the bear was shot at very close range. It is elk archery season in Idaho. A source inside the investigation informed this correspondent the pistol was a 10mm.  From idaho.gov:

On Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, Idaho Fish and Game received a report of a sow grizzly bear that charged two elk hunters in the Stamp Meadows area near Island Park. As the bear charged, one of the hunters deployed bear spray while the other discharged a firearm at close range, mortally wounding the bear. Neither hunter appeared to be injured during the encounter.

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.

October 17, 2021, Alaska Baronof Island Grizzly Sow .44 magnum, had tag for bear

By this point, Hammock had made up his mind: He would shoot the bear if she got within 20 feet of him and his kill. He had a valid brown bear tag in his pack, after all.

“This whole time she’s weaving through trees trying to sneak up to me, and I’m standing next to my deer trying to move around and keep something between us while also staying where I can still see her,” Hammock said. “I get this log in between me and her, and she’s coming directly for me. When she was about 20 feet away, I yelled as loud as I could again and threw a rock in her direction. My spot was that log. I was like, if she reaches right here I’m gonna have to shoot her. And so once she put both front feet on that log, I shot her right in the heart.”

Of these 20 cases, 15 involve a single, known, pistol caliber. Here are the current numbers of cases for those calibers:

  • 9mm – seven documented cases, all successful
  • .38 Special –  four documented cases, three successful, one failure
  • .357 magnum – nine documented cases, eight successful, one failure
  • .40 S&W  – five documented cases, all successful
  • 10mm – six documented cases, all successful
  • .44 magnum – 37 documented cases, all successful
  • .45 Long Colt – 2 cases, successful, this includes the .45 Colt/.410 revolver.

Caliber seems far less important than the willingness to use the firearm and kill the bear.

If a reader knows of a case that is not in our records, please send the information to AmmoLand. Most cases of handgun defenses against bears have probably not been documented.

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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A great article. Thanks for that research and excellent writing.


Has we have been seeing handguns are very useful for defending oneself form two of 4 legged predators.


Really hate the idea of being in that 2%


You might hate more going against a bear unarmed.


If you read what happen with the 3 failures.

You might be hard pressed to say.

I could be one of the 2 percent.