Charges Dropped in Bear Spray/Handgun Grizzly Self Defense in Glacier Park


In July, 57-year-old Brian D. Murphy defended himself against a charging grizzly in Glacier National Park. The case is interesting for a number of reasons.  Two months after the attack, Murphy was charged with discharging a firearm in the park, a misdemeanor that carries a $500 fine. On October 9, a motion to dismiss the charge was put forward by the U.S. Attorney’s Office after Murphy’s attorney said that they would raise the defense of self-defense. Judge Keith Strong granted the motion last Thursday.


The U.S. Attorney’s Office has dismissed the charge against 57-year-old Brian D. Murphy.

The charge was dismissed with prejudice, meaning a final determination has been made based on the merits of the case. Murphy cannot be re-charged at a later date.

Murphy’s attorney, Jason T. Holden of Great Falls, called it a “perfect scenario to have a case dismissed with prejudice.”

DNA samples of blood and hair taken at the scene confirmed that the bear was a grizzly. Murphy had time to ready both defenses because he had seen the bear running toward other hikers. When he yelled to warn them, the bear turned and came straight at him.

Murphy first shot the Grizzly with bear spray when it was 15 to 25 feet away. He then fired 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 was still at the shot. Many have suggested that he should have continued firing, but it’s hard to argue with success.

The hiker, who was alone at the time, was not injured. He turned over the revolver to rangers, who reported it contained five unspent rounds and one spent casing.

It appears that Murphy was defending others as well as himself. He quickly retreated back down the trail.

“The bear fell back and was motionless,” Holden said. Murphy “withdrew and double-timed it out of there, taking the two hikers who were behind him with him. He stopped everyone else on the trail, too, told the first ranger he came to what had happened, and fully and voluntarily cooperated with rangers.”

The bear was apparently only stunned, because it had left the area by the time rangers examined the scene.

A charging grizzly, bear spray, short range defense with a .357 revolver, then bogus charges brought two months later, only to be immediately dismissed by a U.S. attorney and federal magistrate.  This case is one that will be remembered and discussed for a long time.

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


  1. avatar GS650G says:

    ….because if he won the rules against firearms in parks would be threatened.

    1. avatar dirk diggler says:

      I think firearms are allowed in fed parks if allowed under state law. I think the issue here was he shot a bear. Period. Silly but these are federal treehuggers. Who carry guns when they are in federal parks. Go figure

      1. avatar Roy says:

        Carry is legal in federal parks if you’re licensed (where necessary) to carry in the state in which the park is.

        1. avatar BDub says:

          The problem is that Carry is legal, but Discharge is not. Thank you, Feds!

        2. avatar whatever says:


          I’m assuming this is an Executive Order, that can be overturned by Congress at some point in the future. Maybe someone in Congress should get on that, right now. It’s an election season too, it should be good optics for someone out there.

      2. avatar Chip Bennett says:

        Filing criminal charges against someone who used a firearm to defend himself and others against an animal indicates that the life of the animal is valued above the life of the people threatened by that animal.

        Such a belief is immoral, and treehuggers who hold such a belief are evil.

  2. avatar bolero says:

    I thought he was supposed to file off the front sight so it wouldn’t hurt so bad when…

    Oh, I guess a .357 actually worked.

    Guess I don’t have to apologize to anyone for carrying one in bear country. With the front sight intact.

    1. avatar Desert Ranger says:

      You can take back the Apology when they find a murderous grizzly with an old .357 lodged in its noggin.

    2. avatar Ted Unlis says:

      Only an idiot would argue that the 357 magnum is not a potent handgun cartridge, sure, a 44 mag or 454 Casull would be preferable but might also be more cumbersome. If you know in advance the risk of bear attack is likely, bring a 12 gauge with slugs. Anyone spinning the outcome of this bear encounter into a ballistics pissing contest is missing the point, Murphy had a sufficient firearm readily available and apparently he knew how to use it. Final score Humans 1 Bears 0.

      1. avatar sacorey says:

        Finally, reasonable statements about bear defense

      2. avatar Sammy says:

        If you know in advance the risk of bear attack is likely.. DONT GO

        .357 is not an effective defense on a grizzly. Just because it worked that time, does not mean it will work the next

        Handguns have very little stopping power. Do some research Ted Unlis–before YOU call others idiots.

        1. avatar whatever says:

          “Handguns have very little stopping power.”

          But unlike long rifles, they are easy to pack and easily brought to bear under duress. Bear Spray can be brought to bear even quicker. Therefore, a practical escalation of force is 1) un-ass the area without showing your back 2) bear spray 3) the biggest gun you can reach for without becoming a lousy dinner first.

        2. avatar Ted Unlis says:

          Sammy, either you can’t read or simply chose to ignore that my preference in bear country would be a 12ga with slugs. Unfortunately open carry of a shotgun in a National Park will at a minimum result in being hassled by Park Rangers and in many parks will result in seizure and prosecution since the rules and regulations on openly carrying longs guns in a National Park seems to be open for interpretation by the NPS and the local U.S. Attorney Office, so the lawful carry of a handgun by a CHL holder is a reasonable option for most non-idiotic armed hikers in a National Park.

          Keep in mind that the primary reason you should lawfully carry a handgun in a National Park is for self defense in an attack predators of the human kind, your chance of becoming a victim of a crime in a National Park are much greater than the chance of a bear attack.

          Since the average CHL holder does not own a 44 mag or 454 Casull revolver and is unlikely to make such a big ticket purchase just for a park visit, a 357 mag is a viable bare minimum last resort choice if the bear spray fails. Of the handguns I own, my choice for lawful carry in a National Park would be the Glock 20 loaded with Underwood 10mm 180gr XTP’s that deliver the projectile at around 1300fps with over 650 ft lbs of energy.

          As far as not going if a bear attack is likely, I agree, but that doesn’t deter thousands of hard core salmon fisherman on streams loaded with brown bear in Alaska, many of them feel comfortable with a high caliber handgun, but there’s a reason that most of the guides are packing a 12ga with slugs.

          Sorry the reference to idiots hit so close to home, but if the shoe fits.

      3. avatar Kevin says:

        Even a .22 handgun will be sufficient in a case like this. You shoot your buddy in the knee cap then outrun him!

    3. avatar bolero says:

      “Murphy had a sufficient firearm readily available and apparently he knew how to use it. Final score Humans 1 Bears 0.”

      Umm..that is basically what I said. No pissing match here.

      1. avatar Ted Unlis says:

        Sorry my attempt at agreeing with your opinion was rejected and the pissing contest aspect sailed right over your head.

  3. avatar jwm says:

    Self defense and defense of others. Mighty petty to file charges against him. Even such a picayune charge as they brought.

    Wonder if he got his gun back?

    1. avatar Hannibal says:

      This is what I don’t understand… why were charges filed here? Charges so weak as to be immediately thrown out once the defendant refuses to bend over and gets a lawyer? Absurd.

      1. avatar John Galt says:

        How about this?

        The charges were filed to remind the citizen subject that they are not free, and that only by grace of the State are they allowed to defend themselves.

        “We charged him, gave him a good hard stare to remind him who’s boss, and set him free.”

        As a bonus, they can appear to appease both sides of gun debate.

        1. avatar ropingdown says:

          Agree with both, though I think your “bonus” point was of equal or greater importance in the ranger’s decision. Keeps his green & gov+ cred.

      2. avatar Fiun Dagner says:

        charges were filed because it cost the state nothing to file them. if he didnt have / couldn’t afford a lawyer they win by default and can fine him & make money from the fines & personal property siezure & sales

      3. avatar LarryinTX says:

        I’ll bet you there is no way to discover the name of the guy who decided to bring charges. Faceless, unresponsive and irresponsible unelected bureaucracy, wielding immeasurable power.

        1. Such things can be found out. That kind of detail is known in an organization, and there are always employees who are willing to talk on condition of anonymity. For this to happen two months after the fact indicates that it was not a unanimous, unopposed decision.

          I bet I could find out, If I had a month to spend doing it.

      4. avatar Wiregrass says:

        I think they just do this sort of thing to create what for them is considered “work” in order to justify the existence of their jobs.

    2. avatar FedUp says:

      I think it’s a relatively minor offense, considering they didn’t try really hard to take it to trial when he refused to cop a plea. A one year disbarment for the assistant US attorney should be punishment enough. Maybe he/she can get a job at Wal-Mart for 12 months.

  4. avatar Mk10108 says:

    Another fine case our government brings against it citizens. Demonstrates the inability of government employees to make logical decision and defer to higher authority. Higher authority then, to justify their existence charge the man for breaking the law….even though he saved lives. Higher authority sole purpose in charging this man is to generate revenue for the judical industry. INSANITY.

    1. avatar whatever says:

      It’s very easy to make an immoral decision when your job is in no way dependent on making a moral one.

  5. avatar Hack says:

    Any mention of what load he was carrying?

    1. avatar Gunr says:

      When the bear got within 10″ of him, I imagine the “load” he was carrying, was in the back of his pants!

      1. avatar Nagurski says:

        Well played Gunr, well played.

  6. avatar S.CROCK says:

    I guess this settles the gun vs bear spray debate. Both!

  7. avatar Accur81 says:

    An interesting situation, to be sure. In glad the spray / .357 DGU was successful, and that the charges were dropped. Hopefully the precedent to dismiss charges in the future stays with us.

    In grizzly territory, I’m going to pack both spray and heavy firepower (probably a 930 SPX loaded 7+1 with the Brenneke slugs that can pnetrate a 1/4″ plate of mild steel). I’d don’t want to go toe to toe with a grizz, but if I do, I prefer the biggest gun possible.

    1. avatar dirk diggler says:

      Shannon would tell you all you need is love

      1. avatar jwm says:

        What would shannon know of love? She’s rebuffed all your advances, hasn’t she.

        1. avatar dirk diggler says:

          True, I am financially comfortable, but I am not a former health care exec who made millions from a golden parachute earned sending old people before death panels and taking away their health benefits nor am I a former billionaire big city mayor who is looking for some “return” on my “investment” (wink wink). I guess slumming with the brother is a step down for her

        2. avatar Avid Reader says:

          A brother can always hope, right?

      2. avatar jsallison says:

        I’mna thinking my desired load in grizzly country would be an M113 sporting an M2HB and a hundred round belt. Of course, the 113 would be loud enough I might not ever see a griz, or anything else.

      3. avatar SleeStac says:

        No, Shannon would work tirelessly to make it illegal for bears to charge. She, a simple stay at home mom, would form an organization titled Moms demand that bear be nicer. She, along with four other moms, would travel throughout the forest asking all of the other animals to not talk to any bears that charge people. She is a one trick pony you see.

        1. avatar ropingdown says:

          Yep, but her one trick isn’t about “be nice.” It’s “I’ll talk enough if you pay enough.”

        2. avatar Scrubula says:

          Just give the bears a hug, they are really just friendly creatures turning their lives around when you get to know them.

        3. avatar LarryinTX says:

          Are there pictures of her and her pony?

        4. avatar Geoff PR says:

          @LarryinTX –

          You evil guy Larry! Then again, you’re a pilot, goes with the territory. 🙂

          Eh, probably a Great Dane in her case…(snicker)

        5. Actually, what bears need is *respect*. Somehow, I don’t think the bear feels respected when you try to hug him/her, and will treat you like a lousy dinner. They feel respected when you stay out of their way. While feminized liberals might babble about hugging bears, the opposite kind of disrespect is to treat bears as simply a challenging trophy for the living room (like Gaston in Disney’s Beauty).

      4. avatar Marcus (Aurelius) Payne says:

        Haven’t we, and especially you, been saying for a while that all she needs is some love? Maybe she’s finally listening.

  8. avatar Taylor TX says:

    “He only fired one round at the bear, which fell back and was still at the shot.”

    Not gonna lie, this was confusing as hell. I gather its the location the bear was shot but still

    After the Bearborne Rangers hilarity in the last bear post, Its gonna be hard to top 🙂

    1. avatar Gunr says:

      I’m guessing with Mr. bear at that range (7 to 10 ft.) the muzzle blat and loud report had as much to do with the bear falling back, as the slug.
      If I’m in grizzly country, I wouldn’t want to pack anything less than a 44 mag!

      1. avatar ropingdown says:

        The hiker was a gentle soul, and so he preferred to use a stun gun.

        1. avatar tmm says:

          Not only was the bear stunned, he was pining for the fjords…

    2. avatar LongBeach says:

      That Bearborne Rangers comment was pure gold. I haven’t laughed so hard at an internet post in ages.

  9. avatar Garibaldi says:

    What gets me about this whole thing is that there is no mention of any self defense measures taken by the other hikers. I’m thinking they had nothing with them at all. Probably they are people who grew up in the suburban bubble and think all the world is their oyster. Hopefully they learned their lesson. You don’t go out into the deep woods without adequate means of self defense!

    1. avatar Ing says:

      Well, I grew up way out in the sticks, and nobody that I knew of ever carried weapons while out hiking. Heck, “out hiking” was pretty much what happened as soon as I closed the front door. Of course, I was young and invincible, then. And we weren’t in grizzly country, either.

      I figure it’s a mindset thing. The odds are incredibly low that you’ll ever get attacked by anything that forces you to use defensive weaponry. On the other hand, if that tiny amount of risk does manage to find you, the consequences can range from severe to deadly.

      Ignoring that small likelihood and preparing for the worst are equally justifiable responses. Most of us here are very mindful of the consequences, so we make darn good and sure that we won’t lose if Mother Nature calls our number.

      1. avatar LarryinTX says:

        Ignoring that small likelihood and preparing for the worst are equally justifiable responses.

        I like that. A lot. I am going to steal it, so there!

    2. avatar Hannibal says:

      My best means of self defense in the woods is to have a chubby, slower hiking partner whom I occasionally sprinkle seasoning on… just in case.

    3. avatar UpChuck.Liberals says:

      Maybe they were thinking that all Bears are like Yogi and Boo Boo..

    4. avatar Scrubula says:

      Judging by how the story is described, the bear wasn’t within range for any kind of bear spray.
      Im not saying bear spray is useless, but will it really save your life if the animal surprises you?

    5. avatar JohnO says:

      Buffalo kill and injure more people in Yellowstone than bears ever have, although it doesn’t make the news. There have been cases of parents trying to set their spawn on top of reclining buff for a quick snap. Yes, these people confuse a national park with a petting zoo.

    6. avatar LarryinTX says:

      I don’t think that criticism is fair. The other hikers are not even in the picture, were simply yelled at, heard a shot, and ran for the hills when so directed. They may have been carrying a .458 H&H for all we know.

  10. avatar Gunr says:

    Some folks just can’t see the forest because of the trees.

  11. avatar Ralph says:

    I feel sorry for poor bear. He was just turning his life around.

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      Really? He was stealing picnic baskets and drinking hamms beer. Stomping out people’s camp fires.
      The bear was seriously messed up.

      1. avatar Mack Bolan says:

        That bear only got shot because it had Brown fur. It wasn’t charging, it was excitedly running in for a hug!

        This deliberate targeting of bears based on fur color needs to stop! If that was a polar bear, they might have been friends!

        1. avatar Taylor TX says:

          Moms Demand Ursine Action?

      2. avatar AD says:

        I heard he was running all over Arizona and stealing every Skittle he could find. I jest about bears. GZ is about a dumazz.

    2. avatar Chip Bennett says:

      Why, it was unarmed. Carrying a sandwich, even.

    3. avatar Tom396 says:

      Paws up! Don’t shoot!

  12. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    OK. I gotta re-think things.
    Going to go .470 NE for the next boomer. That should be about right.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      Backed up with a Howdah pistol. .577 should do.

  13. avatar Anonymous says:

    Mmm. That would have been some good eatin on the trail.

  14. avatar Ditto says:

    What a strange case. Raises some questions, that’s for sure. I really find myself wanting to second guess Mr. Murphy’s actions. First, if a grizzly is truly charging you, and is so close that you feel you cannot escape by running, and you have a choice between best spray and a .357 magnum revolver, you chose the bear spray? Interesting.

    Second, after the spray failed to work (surprise!), and you somehow had time to switch weapons and shoot the bear with your revolver, you only shot him once?

    Something just doesn’t ring true about this story. I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I believe Mr. Murphy. I’m glad the chicken s*** charges were dropped, though.

    1. avatar Bob72 says:

      If I recall correctly, running will make the situation worse. “Experts” will tell you to play dead instead, so the bear can chew on you a little before it loses interest and walks off. His lawyer probably encouraged him to “emphasize” that he used the bear spray first before resorting to lethal force. .

      1. avatar JohnO says:

        Plus, no one can outrun a griz.

        1. avatar Anonymous says:

          Chuck Norris can.

        2. avatar LarryinTX says:

          Why would he?

        3. avatar Julio says:

          Chuck Norris would outrun the bear in order to catch it and use it as a rug in front of his fireplace–without killing or skinning it. It would lie there in fear, grateful to still be alive.

        4. avatar Yellow Devil says:

          So he doesn’t get charged for “bearing” his arms.

    2. avatar sacorey says:

      I dont know about you, but i have TWO hands, bear spray in my left, smith in my right. If i can pull one, im pulling both and giving it to the bear with both barrels, er um nozels, whatever

      1. avatar LarryinTX says:

        I did not see reference to any proof that bear spray was actually used. Possibly it was obtained after the fact to mitigate the shooting, possibly from the famed “other hikers”. Without the reference to bear spray, I’m betting he would have been prosecuted.

        1. avatar BDub says:

          The lesson here is to take a gun AND bear-spray. Shoot first, then spray to corpse. Claim the spray didn’t work.

    3. avatar JR_in_NC says:

      “you feel you cannot escape by running, “

      Loss of credibility. Rest of comment ignorable.

    4. avatar int19h says:

      Anyone who saw the stats on the efficiency of bear spray vs firearms (and especially something as puny as .357 out of a handgun against a grizzly!) would reach for bear spray first. I know I would.

  15. avatar Royal Tony says:

    .357? Everyone knows you use a Hi-point to drop a bear… Everyone.

  16. avatar wantmycountryback says:

    My only hope is that every diseased tree huger liberal that goes to a national park tries to feed a grizzly marshmallow with his mouth and gets his/ her face ripped off.

  17. avatar AD says:

    If we had only passed some sort of law then I’m sure that the bear would have gladly surrendered its claws and teeth. It would have immediately reported itself to the nearest government agency and signed a legally binding contract to never harm the nearest home or hiker. Free violent bears! We need the prison space!

  18. avatar AD says:

    One time a TV came at me in such a threatening and dysfunctional manner that I had no choice but to enlist the help of 4 friends. It took many, many rounds of 12 gauge and 7.62 before it was no longer a threat to our good sense.

    1. avatar Michael C says:

      Which 7.62? x25mm Tokarev, x35, x38mmR, x39, x45, x51, or x54mmR?

      1. avatar Gunr says:

        Choices, choices, so many choices.

  19. avatar JDS says:

    I was in Ocala National Forest Fl in the same area that a double murder took place the year before. A FS employee approached and said he had a report of gunfire and was checking people for weapons since this area is a designated wilderness area and guns are not allowed. I told him that for one he wasn’t a ranger, two he only had a radio, three unless he had more people with him he wasn’t searching anything of mine, fourth under state law I was exempt from open carry laws because I was hiking, fishing, and or camping, and finally considering we were about 100 yards from where two people were murdered a year earlier he was an idiot to be out there unarmed.
    The guy was speachless. He just turned around and walked off. I wasn’t shooting and had not heard any gunfire all day. I suspect I was reported by a mother with kids I had passed on the trail earlier who had yelled that guns were forbidden.
    Nothing ever came of it and I was surprised I never saw a ranger but I imagine what I said had something to do with it.
    We have bears and they are thick in that part of the forest. However the only threat from them is they may steal your food if your not around and its in reach. The only real predator walks on two legs and its the reason I carry out there and everywhere else.
    In brown bear country the only protection goes boom. Bear spray is nothing more than seasoning the bear will use as he eats you.

    1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

      “I suspect I was reported by a mother with kids I had passed on the trail earlier who had yelled that guns were forbidden.”

      There are a lot of interesting points in your story, but this is the one that really jumped out at me.

      So, an unarmed busybody sees an armed citizen and chooses to engage that person in a verbal argument? Doesn’t that discredit their narrative that

      (a) guns make people scary and
      (b) all gun owners/carriers are murderous psychopaths itching for that slightest nudge over the cliff to shoot someone?

      We see this a lot in their hateful, violent ‘Net comments…their bravado out one side of the mouth while claiming guns are SOOOOOOO dangerous out the other.

      Really…this is kind of helpful. It shows their true stripes: it is US they hate, not the guns. They hate people they cannot control.

      1. “They hate people they cannot control.”


  20. avatar Bear The Grizzly says:

    I guess I’ll go ahead and kick the hornets nest. I find it interesting everyone seems to think the bear shrugged off the spray, but was stopped cold by one .357 bullet. Is there any evidence to suggest where the bear was hit or what load he used? Now if you’ll excuse me I have some trees to hug.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Well, the article said the bear was identified as a grizzly by DNA of hair and blood, which I doubt he left voluntarily.

  21. avatar Taco Picasso says:

    What the park needs is a rule against bears attacking tourists. Post signs to that effect. Maybe make the entire park a claw-free, teeth-free zone. Or make it a fur-free zone since teeth and claws can be concealed and difficult to detect at a distance.

  22. avatar Frank says:

    A few years ago, I found myself in a similar situation in the same park, close to the headquarters building.
    I was completely unarmed. I was watching from 75 yards a VERY large grizzly flipping rocks over looking for grubs. Suddenly a young couple were walking down a trail behind a tree line up the hill. I could see the couple and the bear but they couldn’t see each other because of the tree line. They were about to surprise the bear and I couldn’t get their attention waving my arms so I finally shouted “BEAR” and they froze.
    Fortunately, the bear ignored all of us and seconds later a ranger came up from behind us and escorted us down the hill. He was armed and I was thankful.

  23. avatar Sgt Frank says:

    What the hell has happened to our country? democRATS

  24. avatar Dan says:

    So the poor man was forced to spend a LOT of money on legal fees to beat a $500 fine.
    Welcome to America where the Process IS the punishment.

  25. avatar Barry Newman says:

    Good shoot or he would have ended up like the Grizzley man.

  26. avatar Paul Bustamante Jr says:

    I am a USMC veteran and spent 8 years fishing in Alaska and was able to experience the size of the grizzly myself and two other fishermen were off the boat at Kodiak Island with our boat captain. We were able to view a very large male that popped on his hind when I believe he caught are sent. He was only about 50 yards away in some tall grass when we initially saw him. A tense moment. He dropped down and walked uphill. A rifle was with us but not needed. Thank goodness. A magnificent creature. I love the out doors and have been out hiking in the local national parks. 25 years ago as a very young person I lost my gun rights due to a push and shove DV. Doing research I read that I can not legally carry bear pepper spray or anyone else. It gives a few tips on how to prevent an attack and what to do if. I do take responsibility for my actions but I almost feel like I am playing a game of Russian Roulette when I’m on the trail path. I’ve learned to live by God’s good grace since I can no longer protect myself and no deterant is allowed. It’s a lifetime ban. Think real hard before you say or do anything if anyone is ever in a position of that sort. I feel the gentleman should have been given a medal instead of a citation. He saved 3 lives that day at his age made a conscious choice to help two people and was prepared for something that people believe will not happen.

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