While discussing the effectiveness of pistols in defence against bear attacks, a consistent theme is the claim that they’re not effective, difficult to use, and that many more people who use handguns are badly mauled than use pistols successfully. I tried to recall an incident where someone used a pistol to defend himself against a bear in which it didn’t work. I could not remember one, so I posted this request:
“Actually, there are legions of people who have been badly mauled after using a handgun on a bear. Even some of the vaunted magnums.”
OK, give us a few examples. As you claim “legions”, it should not be too hard.
I never received a response. I believe the claim was made in good faith. There has been an enormous amount of propaganda, fantasy, and electrons sprayed out there to spread the claim. There doesn’t seem to be much substance to it.
I engaged in an Internet search for instances where use of a pistol in defense against bears did not work. I found one discredited urban legend about someone finding six .38 bullets in a bear skull. I was not successful in finding instances of failure. That does not mean there has never been a failure. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But it indicates that failures of a pistol defense against bears are rare.
In contrast, there have been a number of successful uses of pistols as a defense against bear attacks in the last few years. Here are nine from the last three years.
AZ: Bow Hunter Uses Handgun to Stop Unprovoked Bear Attack In Sept, 2016
PAYSON, AZ – Authorities found two bear cubs after an archery deer hunter fatally shot an adult female bear with a handgun when it charged him in the Payson area.
On August 7, former search-and-rescue captain Don Kluting shot a sow with a .44 revolver after it charged him and a hiking partner in Nakwasina Sound — the first time this lifetime resident and outdoorsman had shot a bear in self-defense.
Kim had a Glock model 20 10 mm pistol with him. He was able to stop the attack by shooting the bear as it charged at him. While backing away from the charging bear, Kim tripped and fell backward. He instinctively attempted to fend off the bear with his foot, while he concentrated on firing the shots that saved his life. The last shot was just short of contact. It probably hit the bear in the chest, but also took off the tip of one of Kim’s toes.
In the last week in July, 2016, Phil Shoemaker had use a 9mm pistol to kill a grizzly that was threatening his clients and himself. It worked.
Steven Vouch reached for his gun when he realized he was being attacked, but it wasn’t there. That is when his friend shot the bear with a .45. Vouch is on the left in the Cowboy hat.
The bear was roughly 9 feet tall and started its charge at about 20 yards away. The man shot the bear by the time it moved half that distance, Svoboda said. “It all happened in really tight quarters,” he said. “He shot at it five times before it finally stopped and then once it was on the ground, it was still moving. So he shot it one more time and then it died.”
A Sikes Avenue man shot and killed a black bear with single pistol-shot to the head Friday night after it started to go after his small dog, police said.
Murphy first sprayed bear spray at the bear when it was 15 to 25 feet away, firing one shot from his .357 revolver when the bear had approached to within 7-10 feet. The bear was charging uphill at the time. He only fired one round at the bear, which fell back and stopped moving when shot. Many have suggested that he should have continued firing, but it is hard to argue with success.
Many people claim that handguns are useless for protection against bears. Numerous examples have shown that this is a false notion. Handguns may not be ideal as defensive weapons for bears, but they can be effective. In a defensive situation, you have to use what is available. In this case, a homeowner in Alaska used a .45 against a brown bear that was trying to get into his house on July 7th of this year. He and his son were in the home. He had scared off the animal with some warning shots just three hours before.
I contacted Dave Smith, prominent author and bear attack expert. Dave was not able to recall an incident where a pistol used in self defense against a bear had failed. We talked about the study Efficacy of Firearms for Bear Deterrence in Alaska.
In that study, the authors included 37 instances of a handgun being present when a bear attacked a human. The instances were collected over a period from 1883 to 2009. They recorded six failures to stop the attack out of the 37 instances, an 84% success rate.
Smith said that data from the voluminous Defense of Life and Property reports in Alaska were part of what was searched for the 269 incidents used in the study. There were over a thousand DLP reports from 1986 to 1996, with over 100 reports a year being added at that time. Unfortunately, exactly what criteria was used to include some reports and exclude others wasn’t stated in the Efficacy paper.
Smith told me that attempts to obtain the data set used for the Efficacy paper have been rebuffed. It’s a red flag against a study’s validity when its authors won’t release their data. It appears that Todd Orr’s case (top photo), where he chose to use bear spray instead of his pistol, would have been counted as a pistol failure in the study. The pistol was there and he didn’t successfully use it to stop the attack.
Where are all these instances of pistol defense failures against bears? According to the mythology, there should be plenty of examples. Please help us find these cases.
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.