Back in 2015, Jake Purlee and his friends were hunting elk and wolves. Encountering evidence of bears, they decided to leave the area. The two hunters and two companions were returning to their truck after an exhausting and wet hunt in fog and a foot of snow. They were attacked by a sow grizzly bear. Jake Purlee had a .300 Weatherby magnum, but dropped it in favor of bear spray. The Weatherby MK V belongs to Jake’s father, and is a right handed version. Jake is left handed. From gohunt.com:
“F***! No! Bear! No!” I screamed in terror as she started snapping her jaws and bounding towards my friends and me. Each snap sounded like an axe hitting concrete. I got behind my one friend who was armed and threw both my gun and my camera on the ground in panic after the bear spray. She was terrifying and extremely vocal, huffing and grunting. The person who had the bear spray shakily handed it to me without the safety on, ready to go.
I ran to my friend’s side to spray her, but, by then, it was too late: she had already bluff charged us once and was almost on top of us. My friend fired off a round and hit her right on the top of her shoulder, but she wasn’t fazed. He fired two more shots as I was spraying, but the spray wouldn’t go more than 10’ and, at this moment, she was at 15’.
The spray was out in what felt like just a couple of seconds and the wind had pushed it back into our faces. It burned my eyes, lips, and nose like hell. We were all coughing and wheezing immediately. My friend then grabbed my .300 Weatherby and started firing. After he emptied it we ran back into the trees and he handed it to me, screaming for more cartridges. I reloaded and put one more in her head. It was then deathly silent.
Such events make a great story, but are not considered news. They remain mostly unreported. The bear spray failed and the rifles did not. Jake followed the advise of many who claim that bear spray is more effective than firearms in defense against bears.
One of the unarmed companions had bear spray. Two limitations of bear spray existed: Cold temperatures, and a head wind.
Using the bear spray caused another problem: the effects on the defenders. In this case, the shooter was able to overcome the bear spray, grab Jake’s dropped .300 Weatherby, and make effective use of it.
I contacted Jake and he filled in details.
His friend had a .300 Winchester Magnum. The friend fired three shots of .300 Win mag and then three shots of .300 Weatherby mag. Jake was using 185 grain Berger bullets in the Weatherby. Jake fired the last shot at the grizzly.
All seven shots hit the bear. Jake has since acquired a left handed Weatherby MK V.
While people claim that bear spray is more effective than firearms for defense against bears, actual studies do not show that to be true. The misunderstanding is caused by comparing studies of bear spray use against non-aggressive bears to defensive uses of firearms against actual attacking bears.
The study involving firearms most commonly used to compare to the use of bear spray is: Efficacy of firearms for bear deterrence in Alaska by Tom S. Smith, Stephen Herrero, and others, from 2012. The researchers refuse to share their data. That’s always a bad sign.
The study selected only 269 incidents in Alaska from 1883-2009. Bear inflicted injuries occurred in 151 of the incidents, or 56 percent. The selection of the incidents was heavily biased toward incidents where humans were injured. From the study:
First, because bear-inflicted injuries are closely covered by the media, we likely did not miss many records where people were injured. Therefore, even if more incidents had been made available through the Alaska DLP database, we anticipate that these would have contributed few, if any, additional human injuries. Second, including more DLP records would have increased the number of bears killed by firearms. Finally, additional records would have likely improved firearm success rates from those reported here, but to what extent is unknown.
A previous study, CHARACTERISTICS OF NONSPORT MORTALITIES TO BROWN AND BLACK BEARS AND HUMAN INJURIES FROM BEARS IN ALASKA, done in 1999, considered 2,000 incidents in Alaska where bears were killed in defense of life and property (the DLP records mentioned above). In that study, only two percent of the incidents resulted in injuries to humans. That study also has a selection bias, as only incidents in which the bear was killed are recorded in the database used.
The study on bear spray efficacy that is compared to the efficacy of firearms was also authored by Tom S. Smith. Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska examined 83 incidents with bears, humans, and bear spray, was published in 2008. It is not clear how the incidents were chosen.
The firearms study selected incidents of bear attacks. The bear spray study selected incidents where bear spray was involved in bear-human interactions. That is a significant difference.
Dave Smith, a prominent author on how to deal with bears, reported that only one third of the bear spray incidents in the Efficacy of bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska involved aggressive bears, while all of the firearms incidents involved aggressive bears. From Dave Smith:
Fact check: Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska (2008) shows bear spray was 3 for 9 vs. charging grizzlies when people had time to use their spray. The study did not include data on incidents when people did not have time to use their spray or the “success” rate for bear spray would be lower.
Fifty of 72 incidents involved bears that were acting curious or seeking garbage or food before being sprayed. It is unethical and moronic to compare the results of the Alaska bear spray study to the results of the Alaska firearms study, which examined 269 carefully selected incidents involving gun use during “bear attacks.”
The two studies by Tom S. Smith, Efficacy of firearms for bear deterrence in Alaska and Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska, are the two studies most commonly used to claim that bear spray is more effective than firearms for stopping bear attacks. The article in outsideonline.com is an example.
The studies use significantly different types of encounters in their data sets. The comparisons are not valid.
Bear spray is useful for dealing with curious bears. It is a valid option for people who are not comfortable with firearms or who do not want to carry a firearm.
“©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included. Gun Watch