Polar Bear Attack Stopped with .500 Magnum

Details of .22 Pistol Defense Failure against Polar Bear in Norway; AndreAnita, iStock-940461304
Polar Bear Attack Stopped with .500 Magnum; iStock-940461304

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)- On March 5, 2005, two people were attacked by a polar bear in the remote area of Kapp Lee, Edgeøya, in the Svalbard archipelago.

The .500 Smith & Wesson revolver had been on the market for just over two years when this occurred. The individual responsible for security had one of those big revolvers on his person.

This story was uncovered as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by AmmoLand. The names of the individuals involved were redacted. The original account is a translation with some grammatical and spelling errors.

What follows is the account, edited for readability. The names Paul and Sally have been substituted for the redacted names. This is what happened.

Paul, Sally and two more people were airlifted from Longyearbyen to Kapp Lee, Edgeøya, and landed at 2:21 PM. The helicopter flew the two other people a bit further away to install a digital camera to take pictures of Storfjorden.

Paul was responsible for the security of the research and security against polar bears. 

He was very experienced with polar bears. He had numerous encounters but had never had to kill a bear.  Paul and Sally had a dog with them, for additional protection against polar bears.

As the helicopter took off, Paul loaded their two weapons.  He loaded the 30-06 rifle magazine with four cartridges. Then he loaded the handgun with five rounds in the magazine (cal. 50) and took out the flare pistol. (The handgun magazine almost certainly refers to the revolver cylinder, because of translation effects).

Paul had the handgun and the flare pistol. Paul and Sally both took bags/cases/material and went directly to the middle one of the three cabins of the station. There had been one trip there before them.  Some material was left by the door.  They dug away parts of the snowdrift in front of the door. Some of the cases were placed close to the snowdrift. Then they started the work of taking off the window shutters.

A cabin at Kapp Lee, Edgeøya, image by China Crisis, taken August 2, 2012.

Paul had to be inside the cabin to take off the shutters. As they were doing this chore, Paul noted the dog had taken a stand, looking north of the cabin.

Paul saw a polar bear coming at a constant pace along the beach towards the cabins.

He yelled that there was a polar bear and went immediately to the cabin door and met Sally.

He loaded the signal pistol with a red signal flare. From earlier experience, he had found that red flares are just as efficient as bangers to scare bears since the red flares are red and visible the whole way, compared to the bangers that are not visible before they explode.

Paul fired two red signal flares toward the bear with no apparent effect.

The first flare was fired in front of the bear 73 meters away. The 2nd flare was fired at 54 meters away. The bear continued towards them. Paul loaded and prepared to fire a flare/banger as the bear closed to 25 meters away.

He saw the bear was too close. The flare would explode behind the bear. He fired it toward the ground in front of the bear. The flare bounced over the bear and exploded behind it. The bear did not react.

Sally was standing beside Paul with the rifle. Paul took the rifle and chambered a round. He fired 2 warning shots right after one another as the bear closed to about 11 meters over the bear’s head.

The bear did not react to the warning shots. It continued at a quick, constant pace toward them.

After the second warning shot, Paul gave Sally the rifle and commanded her into the cabin.

He went to the door but noted that only the light was from the open door.  There was a lot of equipment in front of the door. Sally had managed to jump over the equipment. Paul turned around and tried to close the door. The snow made it impossible to close the door completely.

The bear was very close. Paul used the handgun to shoot two warning shots, in the air, over the bear. The dog was barking at the bear at the same time.

The bear did not stop or react to the shots or the dog.

Paul felt that the bear would get into the cabin if he did not shoot it.

He had trouble closing the door, did not know how to lock it, and did not know the inside of the cabin.

In far less time than it takes to tell it, Paul yelled, “Dammit, I’m shooting,” and fired one shot at the bear, now only 1.4 meters (five feet) away.

He tried to aim at the heart/lung areas, but was not sure where he hit, other than that it was to the right side of the neck, from the front, toward the back of the bear.

The bear turned immediately and ran away. The bear collapsed 48 meters from where Paul stood.

Paul heard the sound of the helicopter coming back.  He wanted to alert the Governor.

He signaled to the helicopter. The pilots stopped the machine. Paul went up to the bear with a bamboo stick and poked it on the eyelids. It did not react and Paul understood the bear was dead.

Opinion:

Five feet is far too close to wait for a polar bear, who shows no hesitation, to close with you.

Svalbard regulations govern the minimum energy of handgun cartridges used for protection from polar bears. Maximum loaded .41 magnum and above can qualify.


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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Matt in Oklahoma

No way I’m waiting that long to shoot

Oldman

After firing the flares and one shot over the head, I would have shot that bear with the 30-06 at 25 meters. Having worked on the North Slope in the early ’80’s, I have had some experience with the white bears, and they are not to be ‘expected’ to ‘act’ like anything that other bears are known for. In the town of Barrow, these bears were known to actually enter an Inuit home and attack the occupants. To my knowledge, the Polars are the only predators on earth that will actually stalk a human for food. When the ice receded… Read more »

gsteele

The pacing and content of the story, at least, makes me think that his sensibilities about wildlife almost turned his entire party into polar bear lunch – and he was responsible for safety. I would not want him in that position if he were accompanying me. When the bear showed no signs of being deterred – i.e. he was hunting prey – it was immediately time to shoot to kill. Large bears are very fast, very rapid in acceleration, and 50 yards is barely far away enough to get off more than one shot with a bolt action rifle if… Read more »

Oldman

In 2001, 6 days before 9-11, I was in Kenai backing up my oldest son moose hunting. He was carrying a 30-06 and my back-up was a pumpomatic 12 gauge, which IMO is the best weapon for close encounters with any dangerous animal including the two legged kind. We got up close to the top of a one mile rise through muskeg and spruce and were taking a break, when, from which way we had come, there was a loud crashing noise and grunting following the trail we had made. A blondish colored grizz was running right towards us when… Read more »

Rodoeo

2005..they would have tried to prosecute him for shooting the bear now days.

incorrigible

He should have fired the flash/bang at the bear. If that did not work, I would have fired the first 30-06 “warning shot” at the bear. No way in hell would I waste limited readily available ammo on warning shots in a bear encounter!

Tionico

Two red flares and the critter did not even acknowledge anything? I’d have dropped the flaregun and picked up the real one by that point, and when he had closed to fifty yards began to get real serious…… carefully aimed fire from that point until the bear gave strong indications of having changed what was in that tiny brain of his.

I’d have been feasing on bear met for the next while, too. Never had white bear meat, but have hand brown and black. Yumm Meee

Ram

At 50 meters and closing, fuqqabunchawarningshitz, which is an
Aleut word for death or bowel evacuation, or both.

Duane

The 500 [email protected] pales in any type of comparison with the 50BMG.

The gentlemen in the story gave the bear far more opportunity to leave then a lot would have.

Tionico

True enough but the BMG 50 is far less portable and handy. Typically one has some time to set up and manipulate the Fifty.

swmft

I have a gm6 and you could swing this and fire two as fast as an m14 (i can)

Ledesma

This polar bear is the first living thing I ever heard of being shot with a 500. What I have seen however is the staggering effect 50 caliber rounds have on the human body. The machine gunner in my platoon blasted a group of North Vietnamese infiltrators outside Quang-Tri Provience in 1972. Almost like breaking glass on a concrete floor. The soft tissue human body just breaks apart.

Last edited 27 days ago by Ledesma
TGP389

Were you perhaps thinking of a .50 BMG round? The .500 had not been developed in 1972.

Novice.but.learning

Was it the turrent mounted quad 50? We had ’em on the back of duce n’ a halfs and 5 tons. Huge slug and lots send down range a long way.

TGP389

LOL

Bubba

Great article.
Now how do I incorporate this into a campfire story to scare the hell out of the nephews?
Lol
Just tell it like it is. 😉

Bill

What kind of dog for bear protection just stands and barks?? There are dogs bred for this kind of protection that would have charged the bear and distracted him, giving more time to shoot! https://youtube.com/watch?v=FJjkE-6lfso&feature=share

Finnky

Single dog isn’t doing much but distracting a polar bear. Even kangles or the largest mastiffs will just be a snack. Often dogs service is as a warning system, which this one did.
If you want them to actually fight a bear, you want multiple dogs who are fast enough so one can bite the bear’s butt while bear is trying to get another.
Polar bears are not the same as black bears. Even there dogs job is to buy time so human shoot.

Deplorable Bill

The king of de nial. Naa, this aint happening, naa, I don’t believe it, naa, I am just dreaming. A few more of these, maybe just one more of these, and someone would have been a large, steaming pile of bear $#!t. I would hope that I, and everyone else, would not wait sooooo long to decide to do what was necessary; to shoot, to save my or someone else’s life. This obviously goes for two legged predators every bit as much as the four legged ones. They had good tools. They had a plan. They were reticent to employ… Read more »

Novice.but.learning

Dean, Great info. PLEASE!! Keep them coming! Your work digging these out of the cobwebs is very appreciated.

Bill

Will a .45 colt qualify there?

swmft

45s were used to kill buffalo, so hard cast in a 45 or full jacket

HankB

After two flares didn’t deter the bear, the time for warning shots was past. But I have to wonder – did he REALLY fire that many warning shots and let the bear close to five feet before shooting it, or was that just a story he told to forestall possible prosecution? This is pure speculation, and I’ve no idea what Norwegian wildlife laws would have applied, but after bear protection, maybe he needed prosecution protection, too.