FOIA Details on Polar Bear .22 Pistol Defense Failure

Details of .22 Pistol Defense Failure against Polar Bear in Norway; AndreAnita, iStock-940461304
Details of .22 Pistol Defense Failure against Polar Bear in Norway; iStock-940461304

U.S.A.-(– Detailed, official information has surfaced about the defensive use of a pistol failure involving a .22 pistol and a polar bear in the Svalbard archipelago of Norway.

One of the three documented cases where a pistol was fired to defend from a bear and failed was the sad tale of crew passengers from the tour/expedition ship Origo in the summer of 1995.  The event, as related in a travel guide, was documented on AmmoLand. There were several other sources that corroborated the event; the details were from the travel guide.

As part of ongoing research to discover documented cases where pistols were fired in defense against bears, AmmoLand filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for polar bear incidents for this correspondent.

The released data contained a redacted, English translation of the narrative of the official Svalbard report on the Origo incident.

The official version is far more detailed and considerably more believable than the skeleton version in the travel guide book. They overlap closely; the details in the official version explain a great deal which seemed almost farcical in the travel guide version.

Travel Guide version Kiepertoyo Hinlopen Strait, August 1995

Another five people of the crew set out separately with only a .22 pistol and a flare gun. After an hour’s march, the second party were met by a bear, 75m away and openly aggressive. The bear was distracted neither by warning shot nor flare and attacked one of the party. As he did so, he was shot, from a range of only 15m and turned against the man who had fired at him. This man tossed the gun to the first, who shot again. The process was repeated, with first one man being attacked and then the other. By the time the pistol was emptied and a knife drawn, one man was dead and another badly injured. The survivors retreated to the ship.


On examination, three shots to the head were discovered, none of them piercing the cranium.

The victim had three years experience with the Origo, with many bear observations, and there were sufficient weapons on board to equip everybody.

The official version offers the depth, and details render the story credible. The idea of tossing a pistol back and forth from some distance while being attacked by a polar bear seemed bizarre, yet people are known to do bizarre things under stress.

The official version shows both complacency and heroic action. If only the shooter had a little more experience with pistols and knew a little more about bear anatomy!

The official version was received as a translation from Norwegian to English, with redacted names. It has been edited to make it more readable, with false names inserted to aid in understanding the action.

First, to set the stage and make some corrections. The ship was the Origo. In 1995, on August 31, a party went ashore sightseeing.

The shore party started with 13 people and had a high-powered rifle and the .22 pistol. They split into two groups. One group of eight contained the Captain and the high-powered rifle.

The five who were attacked by the bear were not all staff; there were two tourists, who will be referred to as Sue and Joan.

There were three crew. The tour leader had a .22 pistol, a radio, and a flare gun; other crew members had signal pen flares.  The crew leader will be referred to as Harold.   The other two crew members will be called Bill and Olaf.

The Official version from the Governor of Svalbard records:

Harold did not answer his radio when the captain of the ship, who was guiding the other group, called him up to tell him not to go far.

After 1-2km they saw bear tracks in the snow. Joan and some others had seen the tracks already from the boat. Joan asked Harold if his pistol was enough against a bear.  Harold said he trusted it.

Right after they saw the tracks, they saw the bear. It was big but skinny, according to Olaf. It was at about 75m, standing still and looking at them.

People in the other group then heard two shots and called Harold on the radio. He informs them there is a bear.

The first shot was from the flare gun, and the bear didn’t react at once.

He stood still for a while, then started loping towards them.

Harold fired 2 more shots from the flare gun (crackers) but the bear only came closer. At the last cracker shot from the flare gun, the bear was about 20-30m away.

Harold then grabbed his .22 pistol and fired 2 shots at the bear. When the bear was 10-15m away it accelerated to full charge and hit Harold, knocking him down. As he went down, he threw the pistol toward Olaf.

Bill had run off at the first sign of the bear.

Sue and Joan had been watching. When Harold was attacked, they ran.

The bear was now lying on top of Harold and biting his neck. Olaf ran to the pistol, and retrieved it.

Olaf fired four shots at the bear’s head from three to four feet away. Some of the shots hit the bear. Blood showed on the white bear’s head. The bear then attacked Olaf, who threw himself down on the ground on his belly and put his hands over his head to protect it.

The bear bit his arm, neck and almost bit off his left ear. The pistol fell to the ground.

Harold was now back on his feet and the bear switched attention to him.

Olaf knew Harold had a knife and shouted at him to use it, but Harold was unable to draw it.

The bear bit Harold in the neck and threw him in the air a few times.

Olaf found the pistol.

Harold, earlier, had yelled that there were 7 or 8 rounds in it.  Olaf fired one more shot at the bears head, but the bear did not react.

Olaf realized he was severely injured. Harold appeared to be dead. Olaf had nothing left to fight with. He retreated toward the boat.

Two members of the other group, one armed with a rifle, met the retreating survivors.  They were informed a polar bear took Harold.

Olaf was taken to the ship for treatment; two crew attempted a rescue mission for Harold.

They see the very bloody bear at 55 yards. The rifle man is afraid to shoot because the bear is walking among rocks, and he might miss.

He fires four shots from a flare gun instead.  The bear walks slowly away. The follow the bear, in visual contact. The bear slowly walks past Harold’s body, and disappears.  Harold is clearly dead. They turn over the body and put a jacket over it.

Later, police track the bear and kill it.

End of the official version


After the first two pistol shots, at about 50 feet, Harold, the owner of the pistol, never fired it again. The two shots may have hit the head or elsewhere on the bear. They may have missed it.

It appears the bear broke into a flat-out charge just as or after the first two shots were fired, from about 40 to 50 feet. The bear was already moving. The time to cover the distance was probably less than a second.

No mention was made of any other wounds from a .22 than the three head wounds.

It appears Olaf had never fired the pistol before. He had no idea how many cartridges it held before Harold yelled out the information.

Olaf may not have fired any pistol before the polar bear attack.

While it seems difficult to miss a bear’s brain from 4 feet away, he may not have known where the brain was located in the polar bear’s head. Stress makes everything more complicated.

The brain is about the size of a pint jar. It sits inside a head of about 2.5-gallon volume. Firing an unfamiliar pistol at a possibly moving head of a bear at close range, Olaf managed to completely miss at least two of five shots. It is likely none of the other three shots which hit the head hit in direct line with the bear’s brain. If they had, they likely would have killed it. One of the problems with a soft lead .22 bullet is they can be deflected by heavy bone, especially if they strike at an angle less than about 23 degrees from the bone’s surface. If they strike a bear’s cranium at close to 90 degrees, they are likely to penetrate it.

A .22 can kill large animals, such as polar bears, quickly, but there is little room for error.  No one recommends a .22 for self-defense against bears if there is a more powerful choice.

As it was, the four .22 shots fired by Olaf got the bear’s attention. When the bear was hit, he stopped mauling Harold and turned on Olaf.

We do not know if he was hit with the last shot fired, as Olaf had been seriously wounded by that time.

The bear was probably very hungry. This was a predatory attack.

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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WHY would ANYONE carry a .22 pistol and think it would protect them against anything- except perhaps a baby seal….????FOOLS…


The old adage is the .22LR is good for shooting your wife/buddy in the knees while starting to run, or yourself in the temple while being eaten……

Matt in Oklahoma

Couldn’t shoot because of rocks
Lol uh huh
Shaking like a dog sh… a peach seed and couldn’t shoot at all cause of fear more likely


You’re probably right. I cannot imagine seeing a polar bear toss a human around like a rag doll. I would also never, ever venture out in to polar bear country with just a .22, a knife and flare guns when more suitable defensive guns were available. That seems incredibly reckless to me.


Why not carry a tube of K-Y and hope for a romantic outcome?
Being stupid sucks, but being stupid while leading people is criminal.


If this was a predatory attack due to hunger, why would the bear slowly walk past Harold’s body instead of sating its hunger?


Yes, you definitely need a bigger gun. Or, run faster than your buddy… lol


It is good to know that a 90% angle shot can penetrate a bear shill even a .22!


Well underarmed fouls – at least a 10 mm hand guns or my choice would be a AK pistol 10 “ barrel