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Bears kill fewer humans than bathtubs. Wikipedia’s List of fatal bear attacks in North America makes for unsettling reading (“Kammer was in his tent at Soda Butte Campground when a mother bear attacked and dragged him 25 feet (7.6 m) away”), but death-by-bear is not a statistically significant event. That said, I carry a Smith & Wesson .500 snubbie or (soon) a VXR when I’m hiking in bear country. Because bears. Alaska Dispatch News has a story of a recent mauling (and two more besides) that’s a suitably scary cautionary tale . . .

A National Guard soldier was mauled by a brown bear on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson while participating in a training exercise Sunday morning, officials said. A JBER release said the soldier was mauled by a sow defending her cubs — the second such attack in just more than two months on the Anchorage base.

The soldier was in stable condition as of Sunday afternoon. His name had not yet been released.

The Alaska Army National Guard soldier was a participant in a daylong “land navigation exercise,” said Alaska National Guard spokeswoman Maj. Candis Olmstead. During the exercise, soldiers are given a compass and map and are timed as they navigate alone to hidden locations on the course.

At about 11:45 a.m. the soldier was traveling through the woods when he encountered a sow with two cubs, Olmstead said.

“He dropped to the ground, covered his head and remained still,” she said.

The bear approached him, biting and “swatting” at him. After about 30 seconds, the bear retreated and the soldier blew a safety whistle, alerting medics stationed nearby, she said.

Olmstead said the soldier was not armed at the time of the attack. She said she did not know if he was carrying bear spray.

The soldier was taken to the base hospital for treatment.

Why do all these reports make a big deal about the fact that the attacking bear was/may have been defending her cubs? So that’s OK then? I reckon it’s the ursine equivalent of “he was always such a nice boy” after some two-legged animal goes crazy with a gun. Just sayin’. And, again, packin’.

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      • Hey, kick on a .500 S&W is bad, but it’s not THAT bad!

        Oh, you were talking about the bear?

    • I went the GLOCK 20 (Gen3 SF) route. Sometimes factory barrel and sometimes a 6.6″ Lone Wolf for some extra velocity. With 16 rounds of Underwood’s 220 grain hard cast boolits in the pistol I’m feeling okay with bears and maybe even confident in one of those pesky Orca attacks. …but seriously, the only folks in the Pacific Northwest here who like the delicious mountain Huckleberries more than the human residents are the bear residents. And we go far enough East picking wild Hucks in the summer that there actually are Grizzlies around.

      No, I don’t argue that 10mm falls ballistically short of .44 Mag or .500 or a handful of other revolver cartridges, but 15+1 and backup mags more than makes up for it. Plus it’s easy to shoot rapidly and on-target. Easy enough to carry concealed (G20 or G29). The really hot-loaded, hard cast rounds will have way more than sufficient penetration, too.

      • I don’t think the 15 round advantage is going to do you much good in a full blown bear attack. From what I have read and seen, you will be lucky to get off more than 4 or 5 rounds before Mr. Bruin has a mouth full of you. Of course every attack is different, and the extra rounds might be an advantage.

        • Charging bear aside, under normal circumstances I can fire 10mm rapidly and keep it right on target. I can’t come close to the same rate of accurate fire with .44 mag.

        • Don’t laugh. I don’t from S&W 500 snubbies, but the last time RF was in serious bear country, he was like the old Sirius patrols, with a 9mm. I’m certain I can fire five 10mm hardcast bullets faster than I can fire two 44 magnums accurately. The G20 is a lovely hiker’s protection pistol. (That includes hikers in Darby, PA, just to be current….) It was the G20 (and the little G36) that led me from 1911’s to Glocks, and induced me to view pistols as mundane protection hardware, since I don’t OC at barbecues.

  1. For bear, I’d take a 6″ .44 mag or .454 Casull instead of a .500 S&W snubbie. ya know, controllability and all that…

    • I am pretty sure that they make that.500 in a 6″ barrel, and since you will be carrying openly up in any place where you’d have to concern yourself with (aggressive) bears, why sacrifice accuracy, range and controllability?

      • Yes, in the case of a Grizzly attack that isn’t stopped by your primary firearm, it’s always good to have a backup… with which to dispatch yourself prior to the mauling horror.

    • You’ve obviously have never shot a .500 have you. Its a big pistol and you’d probably be dead before you got that heavy beast out of your holster. The snubby would not only be faster to get out and fire but if you miss the blast alone would scare the bear off.

  2. Dear Abby,

    Last week I shot my bathtub. Now what should I do?
    Unwashed in Underton

    • If you live in an upstairs apartment, check to see if the bullet went clear thru to the apartment below. If so, call an Attorney! Have a nice day

  3. Lions and tigers and BEARS oh my. Travis is that some kind of anti-gun statement? Truly bizarre to wander around in bear country looking to be mauled.

    • Stay with the 3″. The recoil on a 3″ mag is bad enough but you’ll get back on target faster than with the longer round.

  4. S&W .500 Snubbie? They make those? Do you keep it in the saddlebags of your V10-powered hog? Let me light my cigar with my acetylene torch.

    I would imagine the recoil would shatter my wrist and break my nose while catching my sleeve and hair on fire. I’d be bear food anyway.

  5. I don’t really get that either. The statement about the bear protecting her cubs. If any animal makes an aggressive move towards me I’ll blow a whole in her big enough to thrower one of these cubs though. I’m all for wild life and protecting nature. But I’m just not dieing for it.

    That said I probably wouldn’t pack a .500 S&W myself. I’d probably be more apt to carry a mares leg in .44 Magnum. Might be a little slower on the draw, but it would be way more controllable for a follow up shot.

    • I like how you think sir! I’d imagine 14+1 rounds of Corbon 10mm though my Witness would be enough to take down just about anything.

  6. I do not always shoot bears, but when I do, I use my .50 BMG derringer. Stay armed my friends.

    – most interesting man in the world

  7. I have a neighbor down the road whose wife got eaten by their “pet” bear. He still has a mountain lion and a tiger, but currently enjoying bachelorhood. So in addition to the mutant neighbors I have close by, the actual native wild animals we have in the area, I also have to keep in mind that there is a freaking tiger not too far away that could escape one day. And if I were to carry for bear (or the tiger?)? Sure not a .500 S&W snubby. I have a 12 ga. pump with a mag extension to hold 9 rounds.

    • Currently enjoying bachelorhood…
      Darn near fell out of my chair!
      Do they sell bear cubs on craigslist?

    • “Saylorsburg woman kept bear who attacked her for nine years”

      That could possibly be the worst written news headline in the history of the world. Unless, of course, the bear attack actually lasted nine years before someone did something about it.

      • The Bear could have been “pleasuring” himself with her for nine years, and got ticked off because she wouldn’t go …………………………………………………….Never mind!

  8. I shoot 2-3 cylinders full out of my 4″ .500 S&W on every other range trip. Mostly Buffalo Bore 440gr LFNGC (a.k.a. “nuke ’em from orbit”).

    It’s loud as hell, and it kicks pretty hard, but it really isn’t that bad.

    • What if the wind is blowing in your direction, or if it’s raining? I seem to recall very strong warnings on a bear spray safety video I saw a couple years back on Yellowstone’s website. Well that and “WARNING: THIS IS NOT BEAR REPELLANT! DO NOT APPLY TO YOUR SKIN OR FACE! DO NOT APPLY TO YOUR CAMPING GEAR! ”

      If I recall correctly bear spray is effective in stopping an attack 9/10 times. Those may sound like good odds, but I wouldn’t want to be the 1/10 where it doesn’t. Plus, I’m not sure I’d like those odds with an angry momma bear. Bears are very fast and powerful, you probably won’t get a second chance if it wants you dead. There just seems like too much can go wrong to rely on it as your first, and very likely, last line of defense.

      • Bear spray has a higher efficacy against brown bears than firearms. That being said, I would carry both.

        • Probably a wise measure. I’d be concerned though about whether you have the time to decide between the two, and potentially fumbling trying to grab for one or the other.

        • Normally when I’m attacked by a bear I do it action movie style, which involves throwing the fire extinguisher-sized can of bear spray over to the bear’s feet and then shooting the can with the gun. This produces a mushroom cloud of spray blast and shocks and awes the Ursus Attackus.

    • Saw all of the episodes of that show, I think. They built up a 458 Lott for a guy one time. That should take care of Mr. Bruin.

  9. I think the whole “Momma Bear protecting her cubs” thing is to differentiate that normal behavior from “Crazy ass bear stalking people and eating them”. One would probably justify sending folks in to kill the bear afterwords, the other doesn’t, in my opinion. A Momma Bear’s gonna do what a Momma Bear’s gonna do. The classification of the event makes not difference for self defense to me, however.

    • Yes, that’s why they make the distinction in attacks, and the motive does matter some. Usually the mama bear just attacks until she thinks the threat is over, so she’s a bit less dangerous–usually. In contrast, the bear who is looking for lunch isn’t going to stop the attack until he’s full, and that process can include eating part of you while you’re still alive. That kind of bear is usually hunted down and dispatched, in the continental US anyway.

      • While that’s partially true, I’d also say that often times, a non-momma bear is less likely to interact with humans precisely because it doesn’t want to end up dead. Many folks who hike in Alaska make a habit of making noise precisely so that they do not “sneak up” on a bear. If the bear hears the noise, it’ll often go away.

        HOWEVER … a momma bear will protect her cubs. Period. Humans making noise will not make her leave her cubs.

        So, the reason that “all these reports make a big deal about the fact that the attacking bear was/may have been defending her cubs” is because momma bears with cubs don’t necessarily behave the same way as other bears.

        Robert, I humbly request that next time, you try to find out why something is the way it is before flippantly dismissing it and exposing your ignorance on a subject.

        • Right. A mama bear is usually going to be more dangerous than a lone normal bear, but a predator bear will be more dangerous than either.

        • Mama bears have a rather good reason to be hyper-protective of their cubs: Dominant male bears frequently kill bear cubs within their territory.

          • If I remember my nature shows correctly the males kill the cubs because as long as she has them she will not go into Heat again. Kind of like with human women.

  10. Let me get this straight. The soldier was armed with a f-ing safety whistle!? WTF? Hell, from my understanding of Alaska’s gun laws it sounds like the largest GFZ in Anchorage is the Army base. Incredible.

    • The whistle is not issued to the soldiers for bear attacks. It is a safety device for lost or injured soldiers.

  11. I am currently at a military base in polar bear country and received the full article for this from a friend. The article credits the soldiers helmet, LBE, and reflective safety vest for protecting him from worse injuries. With that in mind I say forgo the firearm and just get a bright yellow vest that will help them find you… in the bear poop.

    • Hey remember all the PT belt jokes about how they deflect sniper rounds and protect from mortar blasts? its like that, the all mighty PT belt will save you every time….

  12. “Much nastier, dirtier hole…..some of you are familiar with those.”

    ha ha…raises hand.

  13. Completely off topic, but do you think, despite the possiblity of being mauled/ eaten at some point, you could train a bear to be ridden like a horse?

    • In 1975 I watched two black bears play ice hockey. It was part of the Moscow Circus in the old Soviet Union. It was very strange, but the circus orchestra was excellent. …two goals, since you asked.

      • A couple of friends of mine were motorcycling in Siberia maybe a decade ago. The story goes that they stopped to chat with a group of Japanese tourists. While they were stopped one of the Japanese walked away from the group and up to a bear to take the bear’s photo. The bear attacked the guy and began to eat him in front of the other tourists.

        One of them still leads motorcycle tours through Siberia incidentally.

  14. I bought a 454 Casull Super Redhawk for when I go camping in Alaska, as well for hand gun hunting here in NM.

    For day to day time spent out at my home I carry a 1911 converted to a .460 Rowland; nothing like a .44 magnum equivalent for the odd four or two legged predator attack while in the the mountains.

  15. Some friends of my ex’s sister were in bear country, that whole crowd was very outdoors-oriented, rock climbing and all that. Well, apparently they came across a Mom bear and cubs. They dropped. And stayed still. And they were clawed, bit and ripped to death, save one. I’d A) stay the hell out of bear country B) tote along a shotgun loaded with those “specialty shells” that send out a wall of flame, stuff like that. Go out with a bang, literally. Can I buy shotgun shells in Colorado loaded with dope? Maybe the bears will mellow right out and I could escape… “Oh wow… I mean ‘growl’..” I don’t see any size pistol doing much to extend your life in a worst-case situation. That’s a full-auto AK-47 situation IMHO.

  16. a while back some one or place was selling a 45-70 derringer ,,said the last resort in bear country

  17. Land Navigation… What fun! When I was in the Army the trainers sent us out alone half the night, and day into the woods with only a compass. And minimal training… The result was half of us got lost… The funny thing is before we began they warned us about the ‘demons’ in the woods… These demons turned out to be wild pigs… Boy do I wish i could have brought along my m16, a compass just does not scare off wild pigs as well… 🙂

    • That’s why when I did land nav in RIP I carved a spear.

      I also got the minimum number of points necessary to pass asap (if you failed you failed RIP) and then took a nap before I had to come back before the time limit (if you were late you failed RIP).

      That strategy worked well considering it was also a sleep deprivation course.

      It pays to be good at land nav. 🙂

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