Realistic Defensive Shooting Drills for Bear Attacks

Realistic Bear Defensive Shooting Drills iStock-1281962973

U.S.A.-(– Realistic bear defense drills can help prepare gun owners for actual situations.

The success of Eli Dicken in stopping a mass murder in the early stages, with excellent marksmanship at a claimed 40 yards, has engendered a plethora of people creating and executing some form of a “Dicken Drill” of ten shots at 40 yards.

There have been a number of “bear defense” exercises, usually arranged to simulate a worst-case scenario. I know of one such scenario, as it was related to me, by the inventor/trainer who ran it for a major agency.

The “bear” ran on a cart, as I recall, starting 10 yards away.  Speed was determined by the person who ran away from the shooting line, pulling the bear, which also moved up and down on the terrain, toward the trainee shooter.

The trainer prepped the trainee, to be tested, thus the trainee was armed with a pump shotgun with a sling. There were rounds in the magazine, but none allowed in the chamber. The shotgun had to be slung on the shoulder, with the safety on, and the bolt locked forward.  To engage the target, the trainee had to unsling the shotgun, disengage the bolt lock, work the action, disengage the safety, then shoot.  Alternatively, the trainee could unsling the shotgun, disengage the safety, dry fire the shotgun, which would disengage the bolt lock, work the action, and then shoot.

Once preparation to do the drill was ready, the trainer would engage the trainee with a question or small talk. When the trainee’s attention was off the “bear” the trainer would give the secret signal to start the bear charging at the trainee. Unsurprisingly, few trainees managed to get off a shot and hit the “bear”.

Trainers can create a drill to obtain the effect they want to establish.

A bear’s brain is reasonably close to the size and shape of a 12-ounce beverage can. To build confidence in shooters concerned about bear defense, I suggest these drills, taken from actual bear defense situations. The 12-ounce can should be oriented close to how it would be in a bear.

The Ralph Fletcher Drill

In 1960, as three people were having lunch by an Alaskan lake, a black bear charged out of the brush and grabbed Francis Canton. Her friend, grabbed a stick and beat on the bear, which dropped Francis, charged him, but stopped to eat the lunch. The other friend, Ralph Fletcher, retrieved a .22 pistol from the float plane, walked to within a few feet of the bear, and killed it.

Here is the Ralph Fletcher Drill: Set up a target, a 12-ounce can will do, behind a target of a bear head, side view. The can should be located behind the target, similar to where the brain is located on a bear.  The shooter is unarmed, five feet from the target. The pistol is placed 30 feet away, and loaded.

On command, the shooter retrieves the pistol and returns to within seven feet of the bear target. Once the seven-foot line is reached, the shooter has 15 seconds to shoot the bear in the brain.

The Dusel-Bacon Drill 

On August 13, 1977, Geologist Cynthia Dusel-Bacon 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. She lost both her arms but survived. Cynthia had time to draw a pistol and shoot the bear, but as a condition of work, she was unarmed.

Here is the Dusel-Bacon Drill: Set up the bear target 10 feet from the shooter. The shooter has a holstered pistol.  On command, the shooter has 10 seconds to draw and shoot the bear.

The  Cecil Rhodes Drill 

In October of 1947, Cecil Rhodes was backpacking in Alaska. He had a .38 revolver. A big grizzly approached him. When it reached within 11 feet of him, he shot it in the head, deliberately aiming off center, afraid the bullet would “bounce off”.  At the shot, the bear “slumped” but did not go down. The bear retreated.  Then he heard cubs, indicating the grizzly was a sow.  The bear returned and moved past him, only 15 feet away. He did not shoot, even though he had a clear shot at her head.  The bear did not cause him any more trouble.

For this drill, the shooter is situated 20 feet from a bear target, head-on.  A 12-ounce can is placed behind the area where the brain is inside a bear’s head.   The shooter, pistol in hand, is told to move to the 11-foot line. When the shooter reaches the line, they are to fire the pistol at the bear head target. They have 3 seconds.

The Tanner Allen Drill 

On August 8th, 2022, in Wyoming, Tanner Allen defended himself against a grizzly bear with cubs.  After a couple of misses with his .41 magnum, in a chaotic situation involving his dog, the bear ran off. Tanner started climbing down off the mesa he was on, only to have the bear come at him from the bottom of the narrow chute he was descending.  He climbed a couple of feet to a more stable position. When the bear reached within two feet of him, he fired his pistol into the bear’s head, killing it.

For this drill, the shooter is started 50 feet from the target of the bears head.  The target is obscured by a blank target four feet in front of it.  The shooter walks toward the blank target, pistol in hand. When he reaches the blank target, the trainer pulls/moves it down remotely. That is the signal to fire at the revealed bear target.  Shooter has two seconds.

The purpose these drills serve is to inculcate the necessity of shooting and killing the bear to stop attacks, and to show most bear attacks do not occur with complete surprise at extremely close range.  In a large number of bear attacks, there is some warning, and there is time to make ready before firing.  It is important for shooters to know where a bear’s brain is located inside a bears head.

There may not be much time. In a deadly force situation, two seconds is plenty of time to draw a holstered handgun and fire, with just a little practice. If that is found to be difficult, try a different holster.

We may never know what is an “average” bear attack.  Those who wish to minimize bear attacks define “bear attacks” as only those incidents where contact between the bear and the person is made. Such a definition automatically excludes all attacks where the bear is stopped before contact is made.

It is a silly definition. If a person is yelling “I am going to kill you!” and running at you with a knife, it is an attack, even if you shoot the person before they make contact, close a door to keep them out, or they trip over a curb and knock themselves out before they reach you.

A more reasonable approach would be what is used to justify deadly force. Is the bear close enough to pose an imminent danger? Stephen Herrero says if a bear is “charging”, 50 to 100 feet may be the appropriate distance.  (Bear Attacks, 3rd ed. published in 2018, p. 243.)

  • Did the bear knowingly approach humans from further away?
  • Did the bear refuse to give way to humans?
  • Does the bear show no fear of humans?

Bears do not understand or recognize human laws or human morals. Bears tend to be cannibals when the opportunity presents itself. Mature boars often kill and eat bear cubs.

Stephen Herrero wrote an aggressive bear that refuses to leave a campsite may need to be killed. The advice has remained the same since 1981. From “Bear Attacks” third edition, 2018, p. 243:

A firearm is also useful when a very aggressive bear shows up around camp and cannot be persuaded to leave. Such bears normally have a history of feeding on people’s food or garbage, and may have to be killed.

If a known large human outlaw approached you armed with numerous contact weapons, refused to keep their distance from you, and attempted to steal your property, you would be justified to use physical force against them, and likely, deadly force.

There is no reason to give bears more protections than human outlaws.  None of the three species of bears in North America are endangered. The few shot because they threaten humans have no significant effect on bear populations.

In 1976, it was different. There were estimated to be between 229 and 312  grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone Park. Now there are over a thousand, and the population is growing.

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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Dean, these are invaluable articles. I hope you decide to assemble them into book form, that would be a stupendous achievement and it would be an instant must have for all outdoorsmen and interested parties.


second the book idea, pre sales here on ammo land

F Riehl, Editor in Chief

Come on Dean, let’s do it!


I never really thought about that but it’s a great idea.


Utterly bogus. Not one “training” involved the shooter crapping his or her pants. 😉

Reticule Motion

How should this 12 ounce can be oriented? Vertically, horizontally (end-on or sideways)? I don’t have a bear skull handy for testing.


I live in a small touristy beach town on the Pacific Ocean in the Soviet of Washington. We have 28 miles of beach that we are allowed to drive on, the beaches have highway designations and the entrances to the beach is maintained by the State and County highway departments. It makes for a fun time for tourists and locals alike. However, we have an abundant supply of Black Tailed Deer so much so they’ve become nuisance because we are not allowed to hunt the large rodents in the city limits. The tourists love the quasi-tame critters and stop their… Read more »


It has been shown that during many bear attacks that the people had some type of warning. It maybe a couple seconds or more the a minute. A practiced person can draw and fire hitting their point of aim easily in 1.5 seconds on command at 7 yards. As a LEO instructor I have seen recruits meet that standard thousands of times from a duty holster. In the wilderness and places where bears live. Reasonable people will not be offended. If one draws ones firearm at the huff of a bear, crack of a stick, a bear track with water… Read more »


Would be an interesting, informative follow-up to detail bear anatomy with drawings for each perspective. Most don’t understand bear’s brain location and the massive skull surrounding it. Up the nasal canal is the best route their the brain.


I would be curious to know if anyone has tried a air horn against a bear attack ? Would the loud sound be enough to scare one off ? And if not it could still let others know you are possibly in trouble. If anyone was around ? I would still like to have a firearm trying such a endeavor. lol

Last edited 12 days ago by Arny

How far away do bears stop with a fake charge? Is there a difference on posturing before a charge so that we can know a fake one?


Sure there is. If it starts eating you, it was not a bluff. If it stops and runs it was not a bluff.

i don’t live near bears, but I’d assume any charge was real if it is still coming when I’m ready to shoot. Got n desire to shoot any bear, but value my life and those of my family (two or four legged) more than any wild animal.


A young black bear was harassing my home in Wasilla, AK in the spring of 1990. I armed myself with a 7.62×51 Galil rifle and confronted the bear which proceeded to charge me. I aimed for his face from about 50 ft away and fired a Nosler 150gr. JSP at him. He turned sideways and I fired two more into his chest in a sort of reverse Mozambique drill. He slumped over a log. I continued to advance and he rose up off of the log so I fired again. A large exit wound appeared over his right shoulder and… Read more »


Firecrackers are excellent devices for repelling wild animals. Especially for animal lovers that can’t bring themselves to harm them. Most bears and coyotes are seeking “donations”. Tossing them a 3 Musketeers bar shuts down attack and allows time for escape also.


I don’t know about firecrackers stopping a bear attack. I prefer a few well placed .45’s between its eyes.


somehow if a gunshot does not scare them withou the bite of the bullet I think firecrackers might just piss them off like bear spray, you could try but better have the gun in hand


Firecrackers are illegal on most federal and state lands , you get caught lighting them even in defense and you will get fined if the bear don’t get ya . Rather have my Blackhawk 44 or 454 Casull in hand as I season the bears face with bear spray with my other hand .


bear spray and noise are useless in my book, if sound of a 303 Enfield at 25 feet does not scare one dont think noise alone would work, rocksalt might but that goes back to seasoning……


If the bear spray fails the Blackhawk or Ragingbull most likely won’t .


Predators often become acclimated to gun shots being their dinner bell. When your wife rings the dinner bell, does it scare you off???


Not planning on using the firearm to scare the bear . The bear will most likely will be dead if I place a good shot because my .44 mag or 454 Casull are bear medicine here in Montana .


Well, with my 2nd wife it did. Our kitchen was known locally as the “Ptomaine Tabernacle”! “Home of the vomit omelet!”

The Crimson Pirate

I think you should carry bear spray, because it is only polite to bring your own seasoning when a bear is having you for dinner 😉


ts12 with 2 loaded with rock salt and 13 slugger slugs


You should probably forget the rock salt. Real world tests have shown that rock salt won’t dependably penetrate a pair of Levi’s out past about 10 feet. I think we can all agree that a Grizzly’s fur and hide would be a lot tougher target than a pair of Levi’s.

My boss used to say “Some days you eat the bear and some days the bear eats you.” I think I know which side of that equation I’d like to be on. No rock salt loads in bear country for me LOL.


.44 Remington mag or 454 Casull here in grizzley country. Rock salt would just piss big bears off !


Rock salt in the eyes though could be quite effective.


Oldvet, I would prefer using 00 Buck than rock salt. Rock salt even delivered through a shot gun won’t kill the bear. With a pissed off bear charging me I just wouldn’t be interested at in in experimenting with less than lethal measures.


For sure. Followed with a slug.


“…and some days, you and the bear do 69.”

Sorry, it was there. I couldn’t help myself. 😀


I carry bear spray because someone dropped a new can of UDAP bear spray on the trail for me . It was free ! Before that it was just the Blackhawk 44 on my belt . Thank you for the bear seasoning to whomever dropped it.


Maybe the Bear left it for you. From it’s latest dinner. Lol


you should have had the can fingerprinted could have solved missing persons ……well that one was lunch on this trail….the rocksalt was a pre seasoning joke ..lean toward 50ae or s&w in bear country though a 454 is nice dont want to have to worry about shot placement I want them all to be deadly


bear spray may work on the idiots in parking lot


the feed the bear idea is stupid beyond belief, if they see you as food or a source there of you get at the very least chewed up…you cant out run them and few trackers are as good as they are at tracking, in the woods our smell stands out.these are apex predators and have been known to open unlocked doors,and break down locked ones…I had to shoot one in my sisters kitchen in vermont, you live in the woods guns need to be ready, rack on the stair platform saved the dog…never go anywhere without one on after that


Re the “Snickers for the bear” tactic…..should you unwrap the candy bar for the bear or not??? Should you offer a selection for the bear’s preference??? Asking for a friend. Even if the “feed the bear”…….that’s certainly a Sam Elliott “Special kind of stupid” idea…..stupid idea (akin to shooting your girlfriend in the knee with a .22LR) worked the first time, the bear will quite possibly follow you for more, and/or be even more aggressive with the next hiker it encounters. A fed bear is a dead bear…..and quite possibly the humans it encounters before it is killed. You should… Read more »

Last edited 16 days ago by StLPro2A

That’s a PETA propaganda pipe dream if I ever heard one !


Get caught using fireworks here in Montana on public land and you will be heavenly fined . Firecrackers are illegal on Federal and forest service lands and all state lands . Hope your wallet is deep . The judge will be fining you heavenly if you get caught harassing wildlife with fireworks.


Ledes… All your wildlife viewing is done in ZOO’s right ???


Show me how that works , believe it when I see you do it !

Patriot Solutions

Bear at my door last night at 10:30 pm was far less a threat than the brain dead vaxed.

Un-vaxed will inherit the earth.