Two Geologists, Two Dangerous Bears, One Gun, Two Outcomes

Image by Troy Nemitz, with permission.

U.S.A.-(– On August 13, 1977, Cynthia Dusel-Bacon was working for her third summer as a geologist for the Alaskan branch of the United States Geological Survey.  She was 30 years old and in excellent physical condition. She was field mapping, doing helicopter-assisted traverses of the Big Delta quadrangle. She had a geologist’s hammer, a walkie-talkie radio, and a rucksack with lunch, which she also used to stow rock samples she collected.

The project chief believed “guns added more danger to an encounter than they would prevent”. Her views became policy on the project.

Cynthia later said, in a taped interview for Larry Kanuit: “She had therefore strongly discouraged us from carrying any kind of a firearm.”

Cynthia had been dropped off by helicopter.  She was hiking along a narrow path on a ridge a few miles from the Salcha River, about 60 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska. A “small black bear” startled her with a crash in the brush. It appeared to her, staring at her, from about 10 feet away. She yelled at it. She pounded a rock with her hammer to make noise. The bear was not intimidated.  Cynthia took a step back, which was also higher on the rock.

The bear moved out of her sight, then struck her from behind and knocked her down. She had been told playing dead was the best strategy, so she did. The bear proceeded to drag her for nearly half an hour. During that time, her right arm was disabled as the bear tore and chewed on it. She was able to get her radio out of her pocket with her left arm and signal for help.

The bear managed to eat and destroy much of both her arms before help arrived. She did not resist the bear.  If she had a firearm, she could easily have shot the bear. At 10 feet, standing still, even a small pistol could have worked.

From Craig Medred:

Dusel-Bacon said the bear that stalked her also provided an ample opportunity to kill it, but she had no weapon.

It was a typical predatory attack by a black bear.  A bear, believed to have been the culprit, was later shot. It was a 175 lb sow.  It was not lactating. No one saw any cubs.

After Cynthia’s attack, the Geological Survey offered training with firearms to people who worked in wild areas.

The Second Incident Involved Marti Miller.

Marti Miller was working for the Geological Survey as a cook when she met Cynthia, two years before Cynthia was attacked. They had become close friends. Marti visited Cynthia in the hospital and was well aware of the details of the predatory bear attack.

In 1981, Marti joined the Geological Survey full-time, after she finished her college degree. She had her own encounter with a predatory black bear after she became a project leader, sometime before 1995. In January of 1995, she was interviewed by Larry Kaniut, the well-known author of Alaskan bear books.

Marti Miller’s experience was similar to Cynthia’s in many ways. One difference was she was the project leader when her event happened. She was dropped off by helicopter in a very wild area, to work on a geological survey.

The incident happened about 30 miles south of Aniak, Alaska. Miller was dropped off in the morning, to gather samples. After taking some samples on a ridge, she found a patch of ripe blueberries at the bottom of a draw she was crossing. She stopped and ate some for a few minutes. They were plump and especially sweet. She climbed back up the ridge on the other side, a hundred feet above the brush line, and looked back, at about 9:30 a.m. She saw the black bear where she had been dropped off. She noticed it was following her trail, about a quarter-mile back. She became more concerned when it continued to follow her through the blueberry patch, instead of stopping to eat blueberries.

In her 30 lb pack were lunch, some of the samples she had taken, some spare clothes, spare ammunition, and spare sample bags.  She had a .30-06 rifle in the left side ski carrier, held butt up, and a radio in an outside pocket of the pack. She was carrying her survey map and a rock hammer. She took out the radio and tried to reach the pilot of the helicopter. They had done a radio check shortly after she was dropped off. She could not make contact.

As her apprehension increased, she left her pack, took the rifle and radio, and hiked another 200 feet up the ridge to gain elevation and see what the bear did next. The bear followed her trail up the ridge. At the pack, it stopped for a moment, looked at her, then quickly moved to her right, out of sight.

Marti remembered the bear which had attacked Cynthia had moved around and behind her before the ambush attack.

In the recounting of her incident, Marti casually mentioned another bear, the previous summer, had used the same technique to stalk her and three of her associates, all together.

Marti decided to climb fast to get above the bear, to a place where she could see it approaching her.  She chambered a round in her rifle.  When she had gained elevation and space, she tried the radio again. Still no contact.  Then she saw the bear again. She moved directly upslope of the bear, and in her best command voice, yelled: “Get outta here!”

The bear was about 100 feet away. It looked at her and purposefully started walking toward her. When it was 70 feet away, she fired, aiming at the bear’s nose. The 180-grain Nosler bullet broke the bear’s neck, killing it instantly.

She remembered thinking, a bit surprised: “This thing worked.” Referencing the rifle.

She fired another shot into the bear, then missed two more as she approached it for a closer look, and the adrenaline shaking set in.

The bear was the first animal she had ever killed.  It was a 175 lb sow in good condition. It was about 10:00 a.m.

When she reported the incident to the authorities, the officer suggested she put it on her hunting license (she routinely purchased a hunting license as a precaution). If she had done so, she would not have been required to fill out a defense of life and property report. But, she could not legally hunt that day, because she had flown in a helicopter, a quirk of Alaska hunting regulations.

A significant amount of defensive bear shootings are recorded as hunting kills.

Cynthia’s and Marti’s accounts were recorded in Larry Kaniut’s popular series of books on bear incidents. Cynthia’s story is on pages 113 – 123 in Alaska Bear Tales. Marti Miller’s story is on pages 58-69 of Some Bears Kill.

The events involving Cynthia and Marti happened before the popularization of bear spray. In June of 2017, a woman biologist, Erin Johnson, was killed by a predatory black bear near the Pogo mine.

From Craig Medred:

Trainor didn’t sense the bear until it was within 10 feet, and she had no time to react. Murphy thinks her backpack, which the bear chewed on, might have saved her. With Trainor down, the bear moved on to Johnson as Trainor struggled to get a can of bear spray out of a holster on the pack’s waist band.

She succeeded in doing that, but the spray was of limited use, Murphy said.

“Ellen was able to spray the bear twice,” Murphy said, “but the bear came back….We’re trying to understand this.”

There has been some past research indicating that black bears can rather quickly recover from being sprayed.

As more field experience has been gained with bear spray, more incidents have revealed its limitations with deadly consequences.

It appears to work better with curious bears in parks than with aggressive bears in the wilderness.

There are large and growing populations of black bears in North America.  Using firearms to stop the few aggressive bears who boldly approach people has no significant effect on bear populations, except to remove those with excessively aggressive genes.

Bear populations must be managed. The defensive shooting of bears is a tiny subset of the number of bears that must be killed each year.

Bear spray can be a useful tool, in certain circumstances.

One of the advantages of using firearms as a defensive tool against bears is that problem bears are killed, and cease to be problems.

They do not come back for persistent attacks after being killed.

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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no substitute for a large caliber rifle or pistol


Where bears are hunted hard a lot of the ones that don’t have a heathy fear of humans end up as dinner and a rug.

A decent firearm is the best way to handle a dangerous bear.

Henry Bowman

Indeed! A couple years ago I bought a DPMS just because it was a good deal ($700). Today I’m glad I have that, till I can get a 10MM. Nonetheless, an AR-10 is great for stopping bears!


If you see bear scatt that smells like pepper and has little silver bells in it, you have confirmation that a demokkkrat was in the area. IN kommiefornia it would have been a seirra clubber.

The Crimson Pirate

I’ve read before that you can identify bears by their scat. Black bear scat smells like berries and contains squirrel fur. Brown bear scat smells like pepper spray and contains hiking boots 😉

Also “Bear spray; because if you are going to get eaten by a bear it is only polite to bring your own seasoning.”


LOL, thanks for the great start to my day.


Down my way we have em big and dark too. Some are furry, most are not. Thats why I dont leave home without a 10 mm on my hip and an AR in .308 in the truck.


I am looking at the springfield XDME or the 5.4 inch barrel pistol. I like the stats on the trajectory but I wonder if it might be too much for my small hands with three different problems to handle. To bad I don’t know someone that has one or there isn’t a range I can go to and rent one.


Boxer dog

Musicman, my XDME 3.8 is comparable to my xdm 9. It’s slightly wider on the grip, but it fits my 9 holster… I can’t speak to the new one, since that wasn’t available when I got mine…


Thank you. I wish I could get my hands on one so I can feel it. I once bought an SD from Sportsmans Warehouse and when I went to pick it up, I looked at it and it was bigger than my Sig P938 so I was not interested. They didn’t sell me the gun and refunded my money, no problem. I wish they had the new ones in stock. I have bad hands and they are small to boot. I want the longer barrel thinking the recoil wont be as bad and I will be able to handle it.… Read more »

Desert Rat

Convert your 1911 to .460 Rowland. 230-250gr @ 1350+fps. Barrel comes with a comp installed. Recoil about like a 4″ .357. Hits like a Mack truck.


Thanks, that sound very interesting but I don’t have a 1911 because it doesn’t have enough rounds for me. It is my favorite semi auto though. I will check it out. Ilike to learn and I have never heard of a 460 Rowland.


“Well, then, he should have armed himself!” — Josey Wales




“I need that for squirrels & such.”

uncle dudley

If you are going into a bears neighborhood you had better be prepared in case you run into one.
Spray is not the answer, but a well trained shooter with the proper firearm can get you out alive if you should have a run in with a hungry bear.
The old saying you don’t take a knife to a gun fight applies here.

Matt in Oklahoma

Well she can’t arm herself now


When it comes to black bears most any firearm that goes bang. Well work.

Why they tend to stalk there prey and prey test.

Giving one time to aim and have good bullet placement.

That said I prefer heavy for caliber bullets at 1000fps and above.

But having killed a 280lb black bear driving a 315gr 44 bullet at 950fps in one side out the other side.

A bit less velocity can work.


Actual the bears come into my neighbor hood.

There is not a bear alive that has been here longer then I have.

Had one in the yard a few days ago he decided it was wise for him to leave quickly.


was his name BOOBOO bear ?

Henry Bowman

This is precisely why I want a 10MM pistol. For now, I tote my AR10, and I don’t care about the weight. (It’s good exercise)


I am in the market for the same thing for the same reason.

Desert Rat

Better yet, 1911 or Glock 21 converted to .460 Rowland. Way more knockdown power.

Henry Bowman

10MM 1911? I have that on my short list, too.


Interesting article. FWIW I just read a Management and Conservation Note titled “EFFICACY OF BEAR DETERRENT SPRAY IN ALASKA”. The R&C Note was published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, vol 72 (3). It said no fatalities and only 3 “minor injuries” (stitches from briwn bear claws) occurred in Alaska between 1985 and 2006. They must have built a different data set than Dean W. has assembled.


Cynthia supervisor should be held accountable for her crippling injuries


Playing dead may work with a non-predatory grizzly. Not so much with a black bear once they make actual physical contact with person.


Thinning the heard from what I can see.


Of geologists who obey anti-gun liberals.