Three recent cases of bear attack in Wyoming illustrate the flaws in studies purporting to show that bear spray is superior to firearms as a defense against ursine attackers. On September 20th, 2014 the following incident occurred . . .

(Dubois, Wyo.) – The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service both confirmed today that a third bear incident occurred this past weekend, on Saturday in northwestern Fremont County. In this incident, Lander Large Carnivore Specialist Brian DeBolt said a Grizzly bear was shot and killed “in an act of self defense” in the East Fork drainage east of Dubois. He said the bear was an adult male. He said there were no reported injuries in the incident.

It appears that in the above incident [via county10.com] a defense against a grizzly with a gun worked without any injuries to the defending humans. There was another ursine attack a day later, this time against a sow with cubs. It occurred on September 21, 2014. From ktvq.com:

DeBolt said the man suffered only minor injuries from a bite to his side. The man’s partner sprayed the bear with bear spray, causing it to stop its attack and retreat. The pair was then able to pack out and get to help.

This one is a lot harder to classify. Do you say that the pepper spray failed, as the man was injured, or that it worked, because the bear left the scene?  Do you count it as a failure of gun defense, because, as a hunter, he probably had a gun?  Could it be a failure of a hunter to use a gun, because “bear spray studies” had convinced him to use bear spray instead?

The third attack was fatal, and occurred sometime before September 12th, probably at least five days earlier. From wyofile.com:

Searchers found Stewart’s body Sept. 12, on the fifth day of searching in Cub Creek, just north of Togwotee Pass in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Preliminary investigations reveal he died of blunt force trauma, likely a bear bite.

None of the responders has reported that either pepper spray or a firearm were found at the scene.  It is not certain what species of bear killed Stewart.

Investigators found both black and grizzly hairs on Stewart’s remains. They haven’t said what species killed the researcher, but McAuslan told the Associated Press he suspects a grizzly bear.

If you are in bear country, having either a gun or pepper spray, or both, could be a good idea. In an excellent article by the Bear Attack Examiner, Dave Smith tears apart the idea that studies have shown bear spray to be more effective than firearms.

 A thorough review the research on firearms and bear spray reveals that it’s not possible to make a legitimate comparison of bear spray to firearms, and that Smith’s research on bear spray and firearms is flawed and biased.

The Bear Attack Examiner goes on to show selection bias in the study by Tom Smith. All 269 incidents used to classify gun defenses were incidents involving aggressive bears, while less than a third of the bear spray incidents involve aggressive bears.

A far more significant problem is that the results of Tom Smith’s study on firearms are inconsistent with the results of a 1999 study by Miller and Tutterrow on Characteristics of Nonsport Mortalities to Brown and Black Bears and Human Injuries from Bears in Alaska. Miller & Tutterrow examined more than 2,000 incidents from 1970 to 1996 when people killed bears in defense of life of property, and less than 2% of the people involved reported injuries. Instead of offering a meaningful explanation for major differences between the two studies on firearms vs bears, Smith and Herrero claimed there were no previous studies on firearms vs. bears.

I found an interesting quote from one of the authors of the bear spray studies. From elk-hunting-tips.net:

In the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of Sports Afield, BYU professor Tom Smith, the author of Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska and Efficacy of Firearms for Bear Deterrence in Alaska–says, “If I’m actually out hunting and I have a gun in my hands a suddenly a bear comes at me–do you think I’m going to lay the gun down and pick up bear spray? Are you out of your mind?” Smith also asks, “Does it really have to be a spray versus gun argument? That’s ridiculous.” Smith says “both guns and spray have their place… because there are times when one is the better, or the only option.”

Another indicator of selection bias in the two bear spray vs. gun studies: numerous incidents were included where people did not have time to use their gun, but no incidents were included where people did not have time to use bear spray. In short, the jury is out. But a sensible backcountry explorer would do well to have some form of anti-bear defense, regardless of personal preference.

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.

Link to Gun Watch

96 Responses to Bear Spray v. Bullets: The Jury is Out

  1. I think the problem with bear spray is that its range is limited. If I were in Alaska, I’d be packing a 44 mag. Screw bear spray.

    • Forget the 44 mag. 12 gauge with a magnum powered slug. Bigger round. 🙂 However if a pistol is all I can carry then a Desert Eagle 50
      But that’s just me. 🙂

      • The desert eagle is a good firearm. But if you have time to draw and ready your single action semi and then place telling shots on a bear you have time to bring a rifle or shotgun into play. Much better option.

        I’m no expert on bears, or anything else for that matter, but in a lot of cases I’ve heard of the victim of the attack was down with a bear on him before the victim knew the bear was there. In that case having a semi that is prone to not working properly at contact ranges might be fatal.

        If I hung around in big bear country I would want a rifle or shotgun backed up by a large bore double action revolver, Possibly with a 4 inch or shorter barrel.

        • jwm,

          You bring up a very interesting perspective … what is the optimum tool to fend off a bear that has already knocked you down and engaged you in a wrestling match? Most people who carry handguns for woods protection want the longest barrel possible to maximize muzzle velocity and long range accuracy. Thus revolvers with 6 or 7 inch (and sometimes even 8 inch) barrels are quite desirable.

          However, those long barrels are actually a liability if you are literally wresting with a bear. In that scenario I would prioritize maneuverability over muzzle velocity and long range accuracy. Thus I would want a revolver with a three inch barrel to fight back against a bear in a wrestling match.

          One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t want to try and deploy pepper spray against a bear in a wrestling match because you will probably get a ton of it on yourself in the process which, at the high concentrations necessary to promptly repel bears, would be excruciating, blinding (at least temporarily), and possibly even life threatening if you inhaled it.

          Thus I have just convinced myself that the ideal woods defense against bears is a carbine length big bore rifle with iron sights or a shotgun with an 18 inch barrel and a bead … and a big bore revolver with a 3 inch barrel.

        • Uncommon, it’s actually Jeff Coopers idea. Sometime in the late 60’s to early 70’s I read a piece of his about this subject. A large predator has you down and is attempting to seal the deal. His take at that time was the model 19 s&w .357 with the short barrel loaded with hard cast bulles might be the perfect gun for this specific scenario.

          And, as we all know, Cooper was a 1911 man.

    • I am in Alaska.

      I carry bear spray, so do most others I know here. I ain’t carrying something as heavy as a .44mag hiking/backpacking unless I’m planning on hunting with it.

      Not to mention how do you think you are going to carry a .44 mag in such a fashion as to have quick access while wearing a full size backpack? Can’t wear any hip or shoulder holster as that’s where the pack goes, having it buried in your pack makes it worthless for defense, and it’s too bulky for a practical thigh or ankle holster.

      • Kirk,

        I carry a very large .44 Magnum revolver on the front of my body in the same place that people carry bear spray. I use a standard holster but carry it with two 3/4 inch wide straps over my shoulders that cross on my back. The straps do not interfere with a backpack and the revolver is readily available in front for a quick draw.

        I kind of dangles around a bit but it doesn’t bother me.

        • That’s good. It doesn’t work for me as I usually have a camera pack on my chest. I carry bear spray clipped to the MOLLE webbing on my packs waistbelt.

          I’m not trying to tell people NOT to carry a firearm in the backcountry, if that’s what people are comfortable with then great. Lots of folks do, before there was bear spray it was pretty much the only option, and it is still a legitimate option.

          I’m just seeing a lot of comments here that seem to come from a position of ignorance (not directed at you but at the obvious kneejerk reactions of the “spray with lead” and “bullets duh” type) which bothers me. We rightly give anti-gun politicians a hard time because of their ignorance on the issue of which they speak, but since this bear issue has come up on TTAG, I’ve seen the same kind of ignorance on our side about it.

      • Short answer: shoulder holster. Saw a photo of a trout fisherman with a big revolver in a shoulder rig standing in a stream fishing. He looked prepared to me.

      • Kirk, I’ve carried a 44 mag SS Ruger Blackhawk 7″ barrel in a shoulder holster with 60 to 80# pack for over 1000 miles of backpacking in Alaska bear country, SE, AK Range, Kuskokwim, Seward Peninsula, and never noticed any interference between pack strap and holster strap. The black rubber pistol grip was always at the ready, never felt anything uncomfortable, you aim for most og the pack weight on yxou hips (Lowe expedition type frameless pack.) Saw many bruins but none tried to eat me. Its the pepper spray cans that are bulky and hard to carry. These are usually hanging from the back of your pack, which must be doffed to access. The 44 was always easy to grab just under my left nipple. Besides bears just think pepper spray is “eating cajun style”.

        • “Besides bears just think pepper spray is “eating cajun style.”

          This oft-repeated statement is far more grounded in machismo than plain facts. More often than not, a gun is an expensive dinner bell for a bear.

      • Kirk, finally a post with sound common sense and realism. I lived in Bear Country in the Idaho/Wyoming border for several years and had an uneasy encounter one day while hunting high in the mountains. I was armed with a .357 magnum loaded with hot mag rounds, two canisters of Bear Spray and a 303 British long gun. The revolver was indeed in the back back within what I thought was and had practiced it being in easy reach. What I had failed to do in practice was in trying to get to it in a matter of a few seconds WHILE wearing the pack.

        Then late one day while out, I had a Boar Griz wind me and he became very interested in something I had on my person. I was several miles from my transportation out with many miles of mountain to traverse and negotiate should I get pushed off my trail. The big Bruin decided to come in close for a taste apparently. So, I decided to get on the move and try to get out of the area and back to my vehicle OR find a good shelter/safe place to hunker down for the night should I not make out before Sundown.

        After a few miles of tense walking and watching, I found a nice looking rock outcrop that was going to provide me with shelter AND protection. There was only one way in, high up and I got there first. So, I got all nestled in and waited to see what Mr. Griz was going to do. To my amazement he stopped and sat down about 75 yards out with his nose constantly sniffing the wind. No doubt he knew where I was.

        So, after resting for a while, I had a thought occur to me. I had never heard of this approach before so, I got out my Bear Away and with a slight breeze coming in over my shoulders and moving in the direction of Smokey, I fired off a good steady stream in the air. After a few seconds, he began sneezing and snotting and started to bob his head up and down. After a few seconds of this, (maybe 20) he lumbered off back in the direction that he had just come from. But, I wasn’t sure he was completely out of the the picture so I decided to hunker down for the night. I built a small fire and prepared for a night out on the town.

        As I sat there eating my jerky and drinking some needle tea, I had the thought that while this was fresh on my mind, I might practice getting to my revolver which was secured within easy reach inside my back back. Easy reach that is IF the backpack was on the ground in front of me. With the pack on my back, I realized that I would be bear dung before I could ever get the gun in my hands to fire it. Then I tried my 303 with the pack on. I could shoulder it alright but it was awkward and not having practiced and trained with it while wearing that pack, I realized that in a sudden up close and brutal attack, the 303 would be nothing more than a club UNLESS I could somehow develop a method of dumping the pack in a split second.

        I spent most of the night trying different positions including a chest holster location and in all but one or two positions, getting to the gun while on my chest was possible, wearing the pack and then getting it out and on target proved to be too time critical. Since most actual claws on attacks occur either without much warning, I determined that something had to change. However, I could get the Bear Away Spray out of the pouch and on target in about a second or less. The next morning I went back down the trail to where the bear had been sitting when I did the spray in the wind, There on the ground was a rather large pile of dung and a bigger area of wet soil where he had urinated. Now I don’t know if he did that before I sprayed or after or if it was even the result of the spray particles tickling his olfactory senses. But, when I got back home later that day, I determined to work out the particulars that would help me remain safe in Bear Woods when hunting, hiking and or camping. The one thing I knew and could not overcome with the rigs and packs of the time was, a handgun inside the backpack is no gun at all in a sudden attack. A long gun slung over the shoulder while wearing a back pack is simply extra weight because in every trial and test I did, after walking for just a few minutes, the sling from the gun and the straps on the pack would become unionized. While it took only a couple seconds to get the gun off my shoulder and mounted, those few seconds could be the difference between life and death.

        Lastly, I know equipment has evolved over the years and many improvements have been made. There are a myriad of designs and configurations for carrying handguns while hunting. Backpacks have changed somewhat with some even having handgun compartments or pouches with easy access points. But, to date I have not come across any rig that will allow a lone hunter who comes under sudden and surprise attack, to be able to reach his firearms AND get them on target AND get off stopping shots. Yes, there are different things to try, there are innovations that can be made to create a rapid release for backpackers thus enabling the hunter to dump his pack in a split second. But, at the same time, that pack could possibly be a protection should the bear or Cougar or other predator come up from behind. If the handgun is NOT WITHIN easy and I mean EASY reach, in a sudden surprise attack, Bear Away Spray may be the only thing that can buy one a little more time in order to get to his guns.

        • Thanks, Tom and Kirk, for the practical tips on what works with a bacpack. This is relevant to SoCal, where I am going scouting later today, for deer season, and later for pig, as its very dry and you need to pack in 2-3 gal of water for an overniter.

          Here’s a solution that might work, for some under the pack, that stays with you if you take off the pack.
          http://www.defensivecarry.com/forum/defensive-carry-holsters-carry-options/145929-finally-backpacking-concealed-carry-solution-hiking.html

          I gotta say, its a bit spooky hiking in alone prior to my spot, in the oh-dark-thirty prior to first shoot time, past the ledges in some of the ravines, and overhanging oak branches the local lions favor, whilst competing with the for game. Especially with the recent sign, four inch wide tracks other side of the lake I’m camping near.

          Dont forget the two-legged predators, like the sentries around the illegal grows, in some of that same back-country. Border Patrol supervisor on a training hike said same in one area I was scouting…

  2. I would personally rather have a high powered rifle but to each there own.
    That being said I always like that old quote, “sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes he eats you.” Looks like the score in Wyoming this year is 1-1-1.

  3. In 1995 I did a solo canoe trip from Prairie Lake in northern BC to the Dalton Highway in Alaska. 50 days and about 1400 river miles. Along the way I saw a whole lot of bears (many, many dozens over the 50 days, mostly at a good distance, several uncomfortably close); mostly black bear but quite a few browns/grizzlies; not to mention more than a few wolves. Along the way my constant companion was my 870 slug gun with Monte Carlo stock and rifle sights, loaded with magnum buck, slug, buck, slug, buck. I never had to use it. YMMV. Draw your own conclusions and be mindful and careful out there. Happily, there are still places in this world where homo sapien sapien is not at the top of the food chain. It keeps you on your toes.

    • I’m curious Greg, what would you want to shoot with the buck shot? Or, more to the point, why not just load a magazine full of slugs?

      • Buckshot at close range opens up more wound channels. Assuming that you are able to get a “center-mass” hit, you’re going to do sufficient damage to slow your opponent down with the first round. Slugs add to that impact and cause devastating trauma, if one is able to stay calm, engaged and on target.

  4. Call me the hippie, but if i dont have to kill it. id rather not. so obviously IF POSSIBLE, (the data apparently shows its not often possible) i would prefer to just spray it and let it keep living. But as you guys have already said, having the time to do so may be not be an option. so having both is what i would try and do.

    • Ursines are magnificent creatures. Only under the most extreme circumstances should you fatally engage them.. All of God’s children got a place in the choir, unless they’re going to eat you and yours, then all bets are off.

      • Around here? As in TTAG? There’s a lot of folks who just read, so I’m obv not speaking for them, and my take on those who do post is that its a pretty ethical segment, of hunters. Me personally, I’d rather not hunt bear, but if I had to DEFEND myself while backpacking, fishing,
        then I’d REALLY like to know what works, vs…

        http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feelings_(song)

        • Don’t know why, but I clicked the link on “Feelings”

          The “B-Side” of that record is… “This World Today Is a Mess”

          It sums up why TTAG even exists.

    • Here in Wyoming, we have court-imposed “solutions” to our wolf/bear issues, thanks to hippies in California, Oregon and other places where the granola-munching shrub-snugglers hang out.

      If you kill a bear in Wyoming, you’d better be able to prove it was really a threat to you. Same with wolves. We just lost the ability to hunt wolves in the state, thanks to yet another court decision – only a couple weeks ago.

      This issue has been see-sawing back and forth over the last 10 years here in Wyoming, as our local political leaders (both Democrat and Republican) have been fighting the USFWS (and their environmentalist buddies) in court, trying to gain a local ability to manage these predators.

      No other state has received as much attention in the court system over wolves and bears as Wyoming, because we would not roll over and play “tickle me elmo” with the environmentalists.

      • Protecting bears and wolves will discourage people and cattle. This eventually simplifies the case for converting the entire range into Desert Tortoise habitat.

        • Mmmmmmm, desert tortise stew! Arrarrggghhh( I can’t do the saliva dripping effect in type)!!!!!!

      • “shrub snugglers” I am going to shamelessly steal that, they are not even fit to be called tree huggers anymore.

        Bravo, DG, Bravo!

      • “If you kill a bear in Wyoming, you’d better be able to prove it was really a threat to you.”

        Posing with head in dead bears mouth while taking the selfie.

    • I suggest you watch a movie called “Grizzly Man”.

      Bears will eat you if they get hungry enough. If you’re ok with that, fine, but be aware that a bear doesn’t give a single *uck about how much you respect and value nature.

      ps: hippie. 😉

  5. Based upon my 32 years of experience in Alaskan bear country (many of which were professionally guiding), I’d choose the firearm. My partner once scored two direct hits in a brown bear’s face with pepper spray – each time the bear stopped, turned 180 degree to us, then turned back and continued slowly advancing in our direction. Discharged pepper spray can actually serve as an attractant to grizzlies – they like the taste and I’ve seen them lick it off the ground. A large-caliber rifle or pump-action shotgun (loaded with slugs) is arguably more effective than a handgun. When it’s too inconvenient to carry a long-gun, I opt for a .500 S&W sporting a four-inch barrel. Regardless, they come fast and shot placement is key.

  6. Can I just say, all this hullabaloo and worrying about bear attacks is absurd. Bears do not spend all their time wandering the woods looking for unsuspecting humans to eat.

    I’ve spent hundreds of nights out in bear country in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Alaska, had dozens of encounters with bears (both Black and Grizzly) in the wild, I’ve had a Grizzly wake me up by tripping on my tents guy line (I thought it was another in my group and stuck my head out to see a Grizzly shoulder 4ft from my face) I’ve swam in a river with a Black bear wading along eating raspberry on the opposite bank, had that same bear walk through camp and slobber on my tent while I watched from a distance, I’ve accidentally walked right up to a Grizzly while picking Huckleberry. But most of the time bears scatter as soon as they see/hear/smell me.

    Bears are not human hunters, they are nothing like they are portrayed in Hollywood movies. Simply following common protocols regarding food prep and storage, other ‘smellables’ and campsite setup will vastly lower the odds of bear encounters. Following other protocols when you do have a close encounter will usually lead to an uneventful outcome. I do carry bear spray however, but I know the odds of ever needing it are extremely low, just like the odds of having to use my CCW handgun, or my home fire extinguishers, or my life insurance, they are sensible preparation for the unlikely and unexpected. I chose to carry bear spray instead of firearms in the back country is A) It works, this is proven in spite of whatever silly anecdotes and vague correlations “Bear Attack Examiner” *rolls eyes* drudges up. And B) It weighs less then a pound, when backpacking every once counts, you’re .380 pocket pistol definitely isn’t going to stop an aggressive bear, and a 870 with a mag full of 1oz slugs (or a .44mag, or .500S&W) is just a tad bit on the heavy/bulky side. Also in one of the cases highlighted above, if a bear is already on your buddy, do you really want to be flinging lead in that direction.

    Why TTAG has lately gotten a bur under their saddle with this non-issue baffles me. (The implication in the previous article that Montana FWP has some anti-gun agenda is laughable) There is no shortage of real firearms news, whether it be politics, shooting, reviews. Why are TTAG so focused on this is just weird, and I’m sure that most of the people pontificating about their .44 mag or .500 S&W instead of bear spray are not outdoorsmen and have rarely if ever even seen a bear in the wild.

    Professionals who make their living in the backcountry (hunting guides, backpacking guides, NP rangers, FS rangers, Park police, wildlife and fisheries biologists etc) all carry bear spray, even those like Park police and rangers who carry sidearms, carry bear spray too. So I guess they’re all idiots and some city-slicker keyboard warrior on TTAG know better then them all.

  7. Read “Beast on the Garden” by David Baron. Although it about mountain lions, there is a lot of backstory and lessons learned about both the flawed science in some of the biology studies, and the bias in the academic community, at that time, and the deep discord well beyond when the facts were obvious, the was a big problem in lion behavior, in urban fringes.

    http://www.beastinthegarden.com/Home.html

    Really fascinating, and the key theme, and practical takeaway, are the lessons learned, on habituation, which apply today, to mountain lions in So Cal, and to coyotes, which have spread across Norh America, from their ancestral range in the mountains and plains of the west.

  8. I’d use whatever I have, everything I have and all that I have. I’d empty the can of bear spray and I’d empty the magazine.

    Assuming I could bring it to bear.

  9. Thanks again to all the bear spray aficionados who “called me out” on my anti-bear spray bias which was based upon my own personal experiences with overcoming pepper spray attacks. Oh, well. Yes, two different things, and bear spray is clearly hotter. Bear spray is still a canister of pepper spray with the physical limitations of range, cold temperature sensitivity, and wind challenges. Which of those stop a barrage of 12 gauge slugs? None.

    So I’d still rather have a semi auto 12 gauge loaded with high quality brenneke slugs-preferably the ones that can blow through a 1/4″ steel boiler plate. I’ll add bear spray as a less lethal option, but the first thing I’ll grab should I be charged will be a firearm.

    On an unrelated note, the trail construction behind my house in Brea, CA has displaced a few of the local coyotes. They’ve literally eaten all three of my neighbor’s cats. One had tree legs, one was 14, and one was just a kitten. They’re having a small memorial ceremony tomorrow.

    As coyotes are dog related, I’m relatively sure pepper spray might have worked on them of I could’ve gotten close enough. It’s immaterial at this point because I used my last can, which was expired 4 1/2 years old, to help clear out a bad sinus infection.

    We replace our police grade 10% OC spray at 4 years after the date of manufacturer.

    • To your point Accur81, I’d rather have 12ga slug power to deal with human bad guys as well (and I do at home) But the reason I carry .45acp when around town instead is because it’s not practical to carry my 870 everywhere I go with me. Every self defense tool is a compromise between power and practicality.

      Which is why in the back country I carry bear spray. Most of my backcountry trips are 3-7 day backpacking trips, where every ounce counts. It’s not practical to carry heavy firearms on those trips when a can of bear spray works just as well if not better at turning away large aggressive mammals.

      If you’re on a big game hunting trip, then you’ll of course have firearms and it would be practical to use them as a defensive tool against bears. I know several hunting guides here in Alaska who also carry bear spray. One told me his SOP is first a warning shot (the noise often will cause bears to scatter) then bear spray if they get that close, then shoot the bear as a last resort. He told me he had sprayed a grizzly once when it wanted to steal the sheep they were field dressing, it worked as advertised.

      • I like layers. At home, Mrs. has a Taser C2 and I typically carry a Glock .40 or a .357. The 930 SPX is loaded in the safe with 00 in the tube and 00 / slugs in the sleeve.

        In Alaska, it’ll be the biggest gun I can carry plus bear spray and a Glock. That trip is still a ways off.

        I’ve taken to armed hiking and backpacking these days. If weight is an issue I take the Smith 340 PD.

        Regardless, I respect those who train with their tools and have knowledge of their limitations.

      • Thanks. This makes a lot of sense, having options, especially if you value wildlife, as your friend did.
        No one here on TTAG has advocated “spraying lead everywhere…” – IMHO thats just another troll from the anti-gun camp, or keyboard commando with a superiority complex.

        When I go backpacking, or hunting, I’ll dress for the season and area, and go light as possible, consistent with risks. Every place is different, and each person has their own risk tolerence. Not for me to judge anothers choices, but I do appreciate tips on what works, especially from them thats been there, done that.

  10. I’ve read that you can shoot the heart out of a bear and it can still have enough strength to run over and kill you, depending on the distance (you can shoot the heart out of a human and have the same problem). But I’d carry both, gun and bear spray, in bear country. However, if I had to use one or the other, probably the gun would come first, just to be safe.

  11. One of my dreams in life is to hunt in Alaska. The only reason is my respect for the outdoors and Alaska is the last great frontier. I am NOT a trophy hunter and I couldn’t care less if I came home empty handed….although some nice, tastey game wouldn’t be frowned upon. That said, bear have no appeal to me. I respect them as I do every animal and although I have no first hand experience with grizzly bears, I do have experience with black bears, so my plan is to carry my Smith and Wesson 500 as my back up……and yes, I know how heavy it is.

    • I’d still recommend a semi auto 12 gauge. My efforts to rapid fire my .460 with full power loads were clumsy and comical. I pretty much just shoot it single action. It’s definitely accurate, but I’m not fast with it. YMMV.

  12. What’s the best self defense method for traveling in the wilderness? Have a travel companion, and you both carry. If the bear manages to take down one of you, the other can take care of the bear, and then pull you free from the corpse and get you medical attention.

  13. I am bewildered by the ironies of these kinds of discussions. First, people are discussing what weapon to best keep themselves from being MAULED TO DEATH BY A BEAR! How about you don’t go anywhere near where they are known to be unless you must exercise a death wish? It’s like saying, “What weapon should I carry when I am intentionally hiking through gang country in “the ‘hood.” Mace or .45 Auto?” How about you stay out of the ‘hood?

    Which brings me to my next irony. People say they don’t want to kill some “magnificent animal” WHO IS TRYING TO KILL THEM. Yet I assume they would have no qualms about killing a human being who was trying to kill them (OK, “stopping the threat” for you PC’ers). Or they would have no qualms about killing a non-threatening “magnificent animal” if it were hunting season.

    Finally, I’m sure that professional hunters in Africa would laugh out loud at the idea that they should protect themselves against rogue man-killers with “lion spray,” “elephant spray” or even a high powered handgun. From what I’ve read they carry some of the most powerful rifles made.

    • Wow… just wow. I’m kind of hoping this is a troll.

      Don’t go into bear country you say… Ummm OK. So that mean I can’t walk out my front door, nor can hundreds of thousands of others who live in bear country in rural areas of states/provinces like Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, California, Washington, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, B.C. Alberta, Yukon, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and of course here in Alaska. Going into bear country means you have a death wish. [sarc]Yup… cause bears spend all day hunting delicious humans… yup that’s exactly what they do.[/sarc]

      Comparing bears to inner city gang-bangers. I just… I can’t… I don’t even know where to go with that. Seriously.

      As for African big game hunters, this may come as a surprise to you, but lions and elephants and bears all have very different physiology and behavior patterns.

      • You forgot Pennsylvania, West By Gawd Virginia, regular Virginia, New Jersey, New York(state and city), Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, both Carolinas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Kaintuckay, and pretty much the entire region west of the Mississippi River and north of Interstate 20.

        Don’t want to be leaving anyone out, might hurt their feelings.

      • JohnF, 20 yrs ago had a black bear follow wife and I along the Appalachian Trail, in the blue ridge area, most of one afternoon and early evening, all the way into camp, where the log lean-to shelters then were equipped with chainlinked sides and gates, to keep the pesky critters out. This one was a juvenile, not much bigger than a large dog, so shooing it away with a swat of a hat worked…(yes, it was “habituated” to beg)…but I was keeping an eye out for Momma, just in case, and the pepper spray wasnt much use in the rain and heavy fog on that trip…

    • “How about you don’t go anywhere near where they are known to be” Really? So everyone who lives anywhere bears live should just move? How incredibly stupid. Had a bear on our porch back in May, had one in our burn pile in September, had one take a dump in our side yards 4 days ago. So, according to you I should just burn my house and go be homeless someplace bears don’t live. Where, exactly, do you suggest, skippy?

      • Hey, live wherever you want and however you want. I’m just presenting an obvious solution. The comparison to gang bangers and big African game is that no matter what wants to kill you, dead is dead. That is why I intentionally live in an area without a prevalence of deadly animals, two-legged or four, an area that respects my rights to carry, is not known for major natural disasters and would probably not be a prime terrorist target. While this may not be a survival strategy that you happen to like, you have to admit that location is a viable survival strategy.

        • And just exactly where is this magical land you live in where there are no animals or humans? Is it over the rainbow, or all in your head?

        • Just a suburb of a major city in a state that is not totally communist. There are plenty of humans and animals, just not a prevalence of deadly ones. If you’d take your tin foil hat off, you’d find areas like that are all over the place. Yes, I still do EDC and I still prep, because you never know what will happen anywhere. But I don’t have to worry about either gangastas or bears.

        • Wow, you really are a self important, slimy little leftard. All us Americans live in this thing called reality, where there are dangerous people and animals every day. Feel free to continue dwelling in your sad little fantasy, we will remain here in reality. Putz.

        • @JohnF: Even a big city has it’s share of four legged predators. I was at a park in the middle of Phoenix (well Scottsdale) early morning and saw a couple of coyotes playing in the grass. I’m talking the animal, not the smugglers. As soon as they saw us, they proceeded to stroll off. They were obviously not interested in us, but they were not small either and I can imagine they could cause some damage if they had wanted to.

          Lesson is, even living away from the country is no guarantee the wildlife won’t find a way to visit you. Sure I stay away from the bad parts of town, but that doesn’t mean I don’t conceal carry anyways.

        • Just a quick search turns up long lists of news articles about bear sightings in cities all over the country. Then lets move on to raccoons, which can be quite aggressive once they loose their fear of people and are primary carriers of rabies. They are found in every city on this continent. And to 2 leggers. Hot burglaries, or home invasions as the “press” so gleefully call them, are being reported all over the country, not just in inner cities, rural and small town reports are getting rather common.

          So, yea, John calling people stupid for living around dangerous things like bears and criminals is, well, stupid.

  14. In the wyoming incident, what kind of gun was it? It’s important.

    Obviously a rifle is better than bear spray. The question is how good is a pistol against a grizzly, vs how good is bear spray against a grizzly.

    Jury is still out.

    • Bears are large, dense, tough animals. A handgun or long gun that is adequate for stopping humans or deer is not generally going to stop a large bear promptly.

      Stopping a bear requires a large diameter bullet/slug that is very heavy and capable of penetrating at least 36 inches — and 48 inches would be better. That means .43 caliber and larger bullets with weights of 300 grains and up. And I would strongly recommend hardcast lead bullets which do not deform when they hit tissue or bone … and yet make very large permanent holes in mammals because of their large flat frontal surface.

      If you are preparing for black bears only, a .44 Magnum revolver with a 6+ inch barrel shooting 300 grain hardcast lead bullets is a pretty effective stopper. If you are preparing for brown/grizzly bears, pretty much everyone suggests that the above .44 Magnum isn’t enough. Rather, a revolver in .454 Casull is the minimum for browns and grizzlies.

      At any rate a long gun is better for stopping large bears. In my personal opinion a carbine shooting .45-70 Government with 350+ grain hardcast lead bullets is optimum … and a 12 gauge shotgun with an 18 inch barrel shooting slugs is a close second as long as your slugs are not too soft.

      • Not to be unduly obdurate, I will stick to .303 British. Nice flexible rd with real thump. Don’t get me wrong! .45.70 is a damned nice rd, and will certainly make pretty much any bear rethink its tactical options, it is limited in use for other game, and therefore an unnecessary encumbrance in any situation in which you got to carry every-damned-thing on your back. There are multiple choices of .303 ammo for different weights of game hunting. And if you know a competent reloader the possibilities really open up. All sorts of interesting variations in caliber .30.

    • There is rail mounted OC spray, but it’s the stream variety for humans. Bear spray is a fogger. Probably best to not mount it anyway.

      • Operator operating operationally in the area of operations!

        Pretty sure there are rail mount systems for CS/pepper spray for crowd control. Ought to be able to use any type of spray in them, with a bit of adapting.

    • Is that Hatchet Jack’s rifle?

      Yaa. Found him froze to a tree.

      Damn! He lived two years in a cave with a female panther. She never did get used to him.

  15. “a defense against a grizzly with a gun”, maybe he’s got pepper spray too. just to spice up his meal.
    the only brown bear i’ve ever seen outside the zoo was the stuffed kodiak in the gun store of the marshall field’s downtown chicago. must have been ten feet tall.
    on upper tupper and middle saranac lake canoe trips my uncle would have me sleep amongst the food laden duluth packs. when camp bears approached i would bang the steel skillets together. the sound would repel them; they always trudged off reluctantly.
    on the day portage from anibis down to bird in the quetico my brother shed a backpack full of walleye as a black bear offering. blacky was conveniently distracted.
    teens were required to place snacks from home into a community food pack. the girl who bedded down with a chocolate bar in her jean pocket lost the candy to one bear swipe through tent, bedroll and levi’s pocket. lost some ass cheek too. canoe ambulances are slow.
    i doubt if i’ll ever own any handgun calibers larger than .44mag. when i make it up (and over) to there i’ll greet (winona’s) big brown (beaver) country with some of that. anything wrong with lever carbine in .35 or .358?
    and no matter what beautiful creature is coming at you…

  16. Most of us who spend time in the great outdoors do not live in Grizzlie or Polar Bear territory so for us the question to be resolved what is the relative effectiveness of a guns and spray against a black bear. Black bears are much smaller although no less dangerous as a young Rutgers student discovered in Bergen County New Jersey. Guns are going be much more effective in stopping a 300lb-500lb animal that against a 800lb+ grizzlie or polar bear. 45 ACP is probably sufficient especially at the lower end of the weight range and a 180g 30-06 will provide more than enough firepower to bring down your average black bear. [Remember to use ball or hardcast on a bear because JHP is not going to penetrate.] If bear spray has the same effectiveness against a black bear as it does against larger ursines then guns are probably the way to go. So the question is are black bear more inclined to bug out when sprayed than their bigger cousins?

    • Exactly. But many of us do live or recreate where other predators are a potential, and lethal threat,
      its a useful discussion to have, not just for hunting, about having an option to carry that works, low profile, but fast access while jogging, biking, backpacking. Anyone have experience with these?

      http://hillpeoplegear.com/Products/tabid/762/CategoryID/1/ProductID/6/Default.aspx

      Might have come in handy for these runners:
      http://www.cbs8.com/story/16139936/members-of-running-family-attacked-by-pack-of-pit-bulls

      Or this guy in Detroit
      http://dangerousdognews.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/man-critically-wounded-in-detroit-dog-mauling/

    • Pretty much any animal will bug out if sprayed.

      As for stopping power, the problem isn’t so much that in a traditional sense as being able to hit the bear (black or brown) where it actually makes a difference, before it lands on you – a .45 in the fat still won’t do you much good. And the amount of time you get for that is often less than in a human attack, and placement is more important, as well. With spray, OTOH, the cone is wide enough that aiming it in the general direction is sufficient, and that’s much easier to pull off.

      • “Pretty much any animal will bug out if sprayed.” Wow. If you honestly believe this you are a danger to everyone around you. Just, wow.

      • There are several documented cases in the last couple of years where Kodiak or Grizzly bears have been stopped with 45 ACP. A basic 45 ACP FMJ has the penetration to get to vitals of a bear. Mass = Momentum = penetration. My outdoor handgunin bear country is a RIA 1911 VZ in 10mm. You have one thing going for you when a bear or other predator is heading straight for you. It is a zero deflection shot. If you keep your head about you then you should be able to score several hits and probably slow him down which would give you a chance to score several more hits. Of course if you panic you are probably going to be bear food.

        Did I say that carry bear spray too?

  17. Up here in NW Montana, some of us hiking in the Swan Range, Mission Mountains, the Great Bear Wilderness, and the Bob Marshall carry both bear spray and a large bore handgun as I do; other carry a serious rifle or shotgun. Slugs are likely best for shotguns, but shagging that weight and having it at the ready doesn’t work for many people. Bears will likely leave you alone, but some will eat you. Be bear aware. When asked if I prefer handgun over bear spray, or vs/vs, the response is usually dependent on the bear’s demeanor. Both spray and firearms have their role. I certainly don’t want to hurt or kill a bear, but I don’t want to be a bear’s dinner either. That said, the .44 revolver is carried in a cross-draw belt holster; the bear spray strong side on the same belt. Neither interferes with my pack. Stay safe, be kind to those whose land we share, and don’t become a statistic…

  18. All this week two of my neighbors here just north of the Alaskan village of Nenana have been sighting a brown boar that they estimate to weigh maybe 600 to 650 lbs. Bears here are common especially in the fall. The kids wait for the bus on the Parks Highway to go to school and several of us stay with the kids till the bus shows up and are waiting when it returns the children. No one here uses spray. We all have revolvers. A stainless 454 or .500 revolver WILL work no matter what the weather is and the relatively short barrel is important in the thick brush here too. You don’t hear or see a bear until he wants you to hear or see him. None of us has had to use our guns against a bear for many years now but it’s not uncommon to talk to a bear, black or brown, with a calm voice while the kids slowly move to a place of relative safety and then move slowly away ourselves.
    If a bear lets you see him then he’s not hunting you yet. He’s just not sure and hasn’t made up his mind. It’s up to you to help him make the right decision about how easy a meal humans are. If he makes the wrong decision then there’s nothing as comforting as a good revolver real close. Yeah a revolver gets heavy and is inconvenient to have on you all the time but as one old Sourdough quipped, “It ain’t near as inconvenient as a dead child or a dirt nap.”

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