mean-grizzly-bear2

I spent nearly five years in Panama working for the Army. It was a formative experience that forever shaped my life. I intend to visit Panama again someday. While I was there, I met and became friends with Dr. Nickolas D. Smythe. We had a number of conversations about science, biology, and research. I always have appreciated being around exceptionally smart people, and Dr. Smythe was one. I have lost track of him, and I hope that he is doing well. His research was centered around the domestication of the agouti (think tail-less squirrel). It was a very ambitious project as the number of truly domesticated animals is quite small. Agoutis are considered delicious . . .

Dr. Smythe had grown up in England, and had bicycled over great distances with his .22 target rifle on the handlebars to shoot in school-sponsored rifle competitions. No one thought anything of it. That was in the middle ’50s.

The gun control regime made it difficult to obtain guns of any kind in Panama, and he asked me to help him select an air pistol to collect lizard specimens. I was known as a “gun guy” and I had an APO address so I obtained a Beeman air pistol for him.

He had come to North America in the late ’50s and worked his way through a bachelor’s program by doing geologic surveys for mining companies in the summer in Alaska. We were talking of gun control when he told me a story.

It was about 1962 and he was traveling above the arctic circle with a co-worker, taking mineral specimens along the designated route. They had a pack dog, but the dog was sick, and they divided the contents of its pack between them. Nick carried their issued rifle for protection: a model 70 Winchester in 30-06. I don’t recall the load, but it was likely a 220 grain round nose.

All day a grizzly had been shadowing them through the tundra and stunted spruce. In the summer the sun never really goes down above the arctic circle, it just describes a low circle around you and dips toward the horizon in the “night”. Nick and his co-worker made camp. The sun was very low, they were tired, they had a fire going, and the dog was resting. Nick was sitting with the model 70 across his knees.

He didn’t say what made him look up. Maybe he already had been. Suddenly, the grizzly was charging at them, full out. He snapped the rifle to his shoulder and fired one shot. He said the bullet broke the bear’s spine. It slid to a halt, dead, just feet from Nick.

I don’t know if the successful bear defense was ever reported. Such things often aren’t. No one was hurt, no property was destroyed. The bear had likely never seen a human before and was simply hungry. No report, no paperwork.

I asked Nick, if it changed his mind about “gun control.” He said no, that happened in the wilderness and it made sense for the authorities in the U.K. to control guns. The Hungerford massacre occurred the same year that he told me his story, and UK gun control laws have only tightened since then.

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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42 Responses to Panama, Dr. Smythe, and a Grizzly Attack

    • And grizzlies at that. As I said in the previous bear article most of us who face potential bear encounters will be seeing black bear. Mountain Lions are moving about the land these days but grizzly, kodiak and polar bears seem to be stay in the less populated regions of North America.

      • Grrrrr!!

        I’m not terribly afraid of black bears, having seen a few in the woods. No shots necessary (I wasn’t carrying spray). Grizzlies and polar bears definitely scare me, though. No offense.

        • Actually, I seem to recall that it is black bears (or perhaps browns) that pose a far greater threat than grizzlies. I believe that it’s due in large part to the size of the bear population.

      • Exaclty. I guess I missed the press release when “The Truth About Guns” became “Spreading Irrational Paranoia About Bears”

        The ignorance here on this topic is astounding. Some of you seem to be buying the Hollywood version of bear behavior hook line and sinker. Here’s a clue, Hollywood movies portray bear behavior about as accurately as they portray firearms usage.

        • Since you mention the Hollywood version of bears, why not watch the most successful ever Hollywood bear kill a man, for real. The clip also presents (though too late for the victim) a convincing case for bear spray:

    • I know.

      And for most TTAG readers, the chances of meeting a bear (black, brown, grizz or polar) are so remote that the discussion is completely academic.

      • And if they do have a bear encounter, the odds of it turning into an attack are also very low. I may be a statistical anomaly among TTAG readers, I’ve had a dozen or more bear encounters in the wild, and none of them turned into an attack.

        Then think about this. moose attacks are far, far more common then bear attacks, and just as deadly. So where are all the TTAG stories on moose attacks and moose defense? Could it be that TTAG doesn’t have a clue what it’s talking about when it comes to wildlife/human encounters? What about domestic dog attacks, a vastly far more likely instance for the average TTAG reader. Hmmm… doesn’t seem to come up does it?

        I’m gonna make an analogy here that I know some of you will hate me for, but it’s the truth.

        TTAG’s recent focus on bear attacks, even though they are statistically miniscule compared to many other animal on human attacks, is like Feinstein and Bloomberg’s focus on “assault rifles” even though they are statistically insignificant when it comes to firearms used in homicides.

        TTAG seems focused on bears simply because they are big and hairy, and have claws and large teeth, even though you are far more likely to be attacked by a moose, deer, or especially your neighbors dog. Just like Bloomberg and MDA focus on so called “assault rifles” just because they are black and scary looking, when the truth is drowning in your bathtub, or being pummeled by a hammer is a more likely way to die.

        In short I’m saying that on this issue, TTAG has fallen into the same folly that the anti-gunners have. That is putting a forth a position and narrative that is based not on fact, statistics or logic… but on emotion, superficial appearance and knee-jerk reactions.

        For that reason, TTAG is quickly losing any credibility they had with me and I’ll be going elsewhere for credible firearms related news and commentary now.

        • Or you could just relax because there were a few bear articles. Defense against all sorts of critters has been discussed, by commentors with varying levels of experience.

        • Kirk, I’ve been attacked by a dog while I was riding my bike. I carry a gun as a result of that attack.

          Reading these threads on bears has made me re-assess how I will carry. The idea of having to twist around backwards while riding to aim and shoot Fluffy makes me realize for that kind of attack bear spray in the dog’s face is likely to be more effective then launched lead. Not to mention the chance of bullet ricochet on suburban streets.

          So, tell me, Kirk, how irrational was my decision? These threads on bears brought me to that point. It’s also a plus because I will have the option to use the spray on two-legged scum. Firing a gun at another human being is a near-guarantee of horrifically expensive un-pleasant and legally perilous experience. Bear-be-Gone gives me an option.

        • Indeed, in several mountain ranges here in Wyoming, moose are what I worry about more than bears, for two reasons:

          1. When you’re hunting elk in timber, much of the time is spent “looking for legs.” People who haven’t been pursuing elk in timber think “Oh, you just look for elk.” Well, yes, sort of. Elk blend into timber surprisingly well. It is often more productive to drop to a knee and look for legs moving in heavy timber.

          Well, guess what else has legs and moves in timber? Moose. Better not shoot a moose when all you have is an elk tag in Wyoming.

          2. Female moose are notorious for protecting their young with ferocity. More than one hunter has gotten his ass kicked by a female moose. They look stupid an ungainly, but they can move like the wind when they want, even in heavy timber.

        • But at least a Moose doesn’t usually stalk you looking for a tasty meal.
          .
          I’d rather take my chances with a moose! A hungry bear doesn’t lose interest.
          .

        • I’ve never come to see moose as dangerous if they don’t feel trapped. My brother-in-law and I have had fun for decades calling male moose in the rut, just making the hoarse-throated airy bugling challenge. They invariably head across the field at us, but once they see we’re humans they abandon the response. (We’re only allowed to shoot one per year.) I once was sitting in a stand (in the forest near Stockholm) waiting to shoot a roe deer stag I knew would make it’s daily journey across a particular small field. I heard a noise in the small clearing behind me: A mamma moose, not forty yards away and upwind, was watching over her new-born as he learned to walk. Stunning! He would stumble every few steps, get up, canter, fall…but he was catching on. (The stag did arrive. I didn’t shoot because that would have scared the mamma moose. My hunting companions scoffed at such a choice. I figured I could get the stag the next day. Chances of again seeing a moose colt learn to walk? Zero.)

          My US home is in Pennsylvania. I grew up here, and our family reunion each year was in the Poconos. We have, in PA, the largest black bear herd in the US. I’ve come across black bears countless times when hiking. The bears are usually small, and I’ve always thought of them as nuisances, not terrors. Working at a summer camp long ago we used to go occasionally to the local dump early in the morning to watch the inevitable arrival of the bears. We would stay back a bit, and make some noise after their arrival, so that they didn’t choose the wrong exit direction. I’d carry pepper and/or a decent gun if in the PA forest in Fall before denning time, or in early Spring. I’d think a G20 Glock and FNWMHC lead suffices. I’m a huge believer in “make noise as you hike.” I habitually carry the G20 when hiking or fishing these days. And a small pepper spray. The combo is light.

          My personal conclusion about the bear stories here is that they’re a swell topic to sell guns, or, to put it another way, to psychologically legitimize the purchase of larger-caliber rifles (lever, bolt), revolvers, and shotguns. Mind you, I don’t see anything wrong with equipping for Alaskan Grizzlies and Cape Buffalo, on the mere hope of a great future trip. You just never know when you might need the thing. (I have more of a problem with people changing their carry pistol type too often, which can only reduce draw speed and accuracy in the event the thing is actually needed. Hello, PA State Police….)

      • Ruidoso NM, summer 2012, inside the city limits, two bears came trundling down the street straight towards a dumpster they knew they could open. I watched with my family from a respectful distance, 50 yards or so, with a .45 1911 in my back pocket and a spare mag. These were youngsters only about 100-150 pounds. A stray chihuahua chased them off! LOL. This is the second time I have had a bear contact in New Mexico.

  1. Because the british government totally lets people defend themselves with guns in the wilderness.
    Oh wait…

  2. I imagine if it had occurred with a human and not a bear, he would be singin a different tune. Nature creates pretty evenly, cleanly drawn lines as far as predator vs prey i.e. the food chain and apex predators etc. When humans get involved, its a whole other story.

  3. Maybe if we sent over a few hundred hungry grizzly’s to England, and throw in a few brown bears, the Limy’s might see the light, and lighten up a bit on their gun laws!

  4. Replace “bear” with meth-head and “wilderness” with your local park bench and see if it changes his mind!

  5. It’s too bad some Brits didn’t have a 30-06 to help that poor soldier out when the Muslims sawed his head off in the middle of a busy street in front of a crowd of people.

  6. “I don’t know if the successful bear defense was ever reported. Such things often aren’t. No one was hurt, no property was destroyed. The bear had likely never seen a human before and was simply hungry. No report, no paperwork.”
    .
    .
    Perhaps you should consult the bear before deciding that no one was hurt!
    .
    //Sarc-off//
    .
    .

  7. We should arm our bears better against gun control Brits like that. Maybe we should airlift a bunch into the UK.?

  8. ‘…that happened in the wilderness and it made sense for the authorities in the U.K. to control guns.’

    Because the one thing more dangerous than bears is humans. Oh wait…

    • “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” – Michael Shermer

  9. I thought Panama was one of the more reasonable countries in latin america about firearms.
    have they added restrictions recently?

    • To possess or own a firearm of any kind, you must pick out your weapon at a gun shop or retailer of which there are few. Usually at an indoor gun range.
      .
      Having chosen your weapon, you must apply for a Federal permit, providing various documents including proof of permanent residency or citizenship, a police report from your country of origin AND from the Policia Nacional de Panama. Fingerprints must be taken. A certificate of good mental health must also be provided. You WILL need a Panamanian lawyer (documents will NOT be accepted without one).
      .
      If and when you are approved, the weapon must be delivered to the Policia National de Panama in Anton (in Panama City) where they will fire three rounds to keep for future use. (Panamanian police officers have told me they have never used this system and see no value in it, but “well”). They will record the Make, Model, and serial number.
      .
      Ammo is restricted to 100 rounds per year making practice impractical for the most part, but 100 rds per year is likely much more than the average police officer gets and given their performance in recent encounters, I believe it.
      .
      Importing a personal weapon requires a little more detail. Make, model, serial number, photo of the weapon. Purchase invoice, date of manufacture, caliber. 3 weapons on one form, one form every two years, I believe.Basic cost is $300.00US. Make sure that ammo is available for the weapons in Panama. Choice is somewhat limited. Customs forms, etc. All the other things for getting a permit above are also required. Duty 10%, Luxury tax 5%, and 7% national sales tax also apply. OPEN CARRY IS NOT ALLOWED IN PANAMA.
      .
      How you get the weapon to Panama without Import approval from Panama which requires testing in and approval from Panama, I’m not sure. The airlines will allow you to pack weapons in CHECKED BAGGAGE as long as you declare it at the check-in counter.
      Importing a weapon. HOWEVER once you get to Panama and go through customs, I’m not sure what happens. I suspect sometimes that that is the last you will ever see of the weapon and no one will know what happened to it. No Se, Senor.
      .
      Gun ranges sell ammo.
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      Guns and ammo are very expensive. figure $1.20 per round retail for .380.
      .
      Oh. AND NO “EXPLODING BULLETS”! That means NO HOLLOW POINTS. Round-nose or wad-cutters only. YOU CANNOT IMPORT AMMO TO PANAMA UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.
      .
      Shotgun shells are readily available from .410, 28ga, 20ga, 16ga, and of course 12ga.
      Buckshot loads, I don’t know.

      • Man, no wonder why the narcos need all that money! Trying to get their AKs, Uzi’s and handguns through must be murder on the pocket book!

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