When hikers, fishermen, or others who frequent the “great outdoors” ask what handgun or ammunition is best for predator defense they almost never receive accurate or useful advice. The most common answer given is: “Nothing less than a .338 Magnum or a heavy load in a .45/70 or a 12-gauge slug is useful for predator defense. The only handgun which might work is the .500 S&W.”
These answers are of no use what so ever to most people. How many of the people who ask these questions have the skill to use such a firearm? How many of them would be inclined to carry a shoulder weapon or a large heavy .500 S&W whenever they are off the concrete? Anyone who could and would carry any of the above mentioned firearms is not in need of advice from people who probably don’t know any more about the subject than they do.
The other common answer from those who comment on firearms for predator defense insist that pepper spray is the only way to go. I have found a recent case where a woman used pepper spray on an attacking bear and it did not work. She was mauled. Pepper spray in our opinion is over rated. We have learned that every time a Ranger uses pepper spray to chase a nuisance bear away from a camp ground it is counted as a successful defensive application. I suspect that the data is purposely misleading because park officials do not want bears being shot unnecessarily and would prefer outdoorsmen try to use a non-lethal alternative. Note that the pepper spray used by Law Enforcement Officers to subdue criminals works in some cases and does not work in many others.
I have studied the subject of Predator Defense for 55 years. I have obtained information about the events described in this article from newspaper accounts, personal interviews, periodical publications and books on the subject. I have described these accounts to the best of my recollection. While all the details are not available, the principle facts reported here are generally correct.
I read an account of a large grizzly bear walking into a hunting camp occupied by two hunters and their guide. When the bear stood on his hind legs and advanced on the trio the guide shot him twice in the head with a 10 mm Glock dropping the bear dead on the spot.
In the mid-1960s I read an article complete with photographs of an attack by a black bear upon three rabbit hunters. One hunter fired on the bear with his shotgun loaded with small game shot (#6 as I recall). This had no apparent effect on the bear. The second hunter shot at the bear with a 9 mm pistol using FMJ ammunition. The third hunter shot, killed the bear with a Ruger Blackhawk, .357 Magnum. The ammunition was likely 158 grain lead semi wad cutter, in common use at the time. This was a small 160-pound bear.
In 1987 I read an article complete with photographs about an attack by a 400-pound Grizzly bear upon a Park Ranger who was involved in relocating the bear. (I still have copies of the photographs). While trying to uncage the bear from the back of a truck, the bear, the cage and the Ranger toppled to the ground. The bear immediately attacked the Ranger. While struggling with the bear, the Ranger was able to draw his 4-inch S&W model 66, .357 Magnum revolver. His ammunition was 158 grain semi jacketed hollow point. As he fought with the bear he shot it four or five times in the head. The bullets did not penetrate the bear’s skull. He shot the bear in the neck with his 5th or 6th shot, killing it instantly. The Ranger was scratched and bloody but his wounds were not serious and he recovered fully.
Interestingly, I recently viewed a reenactment of this incident on You Tube. In this presentation the narrator falsely stated that the bear escaped and no attempt was made to recapture it. The fact that the Ranger shot and killed the bear was purposely omitted. I can only conclude that the producers did not want to show anything that might encourage viewers to believe that a handgun could be used effectively for bear defense.
I learned of this next case from newspaper articles. A man was walking in the woods, on his own property. He was suddenly jumped by a grizzly bear, pinned to the ground, bitten and mauled. The bear walked a few yards away, stopped and started back toward the badly injured man. By this time, he had been able to draw his .41 Magnum revolver. As the bear approached, the victim was able to shoot, stop and kill the bear.
I have photos of a large aggressive brown bear that was shot and killed by a homeowner with a .45 ACP pistol when the bear tried repeatedly to break into his home.
I have a report of a Park Ranger who has killed three “nuisance bears” with his Glock 21, .45 ACP duty pistol.
I read an article complete with photographs of a very large grizzly bear attacking a hunter and his guide who were field dressing a large moose. The hunters rifle was out of reach but he was able to retrieve a .44 magnum revolver from its holster where the guide had hung it from a tree branch. The bear was standing on his hind legs towering over the hunter when he shot it once in the chest. The bear fell over and died immediately.
I read a report of a grizzly bear breaking into a home and confronting the homeowner who shot the intruder to death with a .40 S&W Glock pistol.
I have a report of a couple who were camping when a bear threatened them. A warning shot failed to deter the bear. When the bear was only six yards from his wife the husband shot the bear twice in the head with a .40 S&W pistol stopping and killing it. His ammunition was 180 grain FMJ.
I read a report accompanied with photographs of a hiker who shot and killed an aggressive black bear with a 2.25 or 3-inch barreled Ruger .357 Magnum revolver.
I read a report of a man in Alaska who was being chased around his car by a bear. He subsequently shot, stopped and killed the bear with his Glock 33, .357 Sig compact concealed carry pistol with 3.4-inch barrel.
I read a detailed account (and observed a reenactment on TV) of an attack on two men by a polar bear. One of the men fired a warning shot which was no deterrent. As the bear pressed the attack the man shot it several times with his .22 RimFire (RF) S&W revolver. Needless to say the puny bullets had no immediate effect and the man was killed by the bear. This is the only case I have come across where a victim attempted to defend himself with a handgun and was in fact killed by a bear. Many gun writers advocate the use of a .22 RF handgun for outdoorsmen. We do not. While practical for many activities, the .22 RF is likely to be useless for defending against an attack by a large predator. While such attacks are rare, we carry our handgun for unexpected emergencies and not for events that we believe are going to happen.
In 2010 two hikers were threatened by a brown bear in one of our National Parks. One of the hikers drew his .45 ACP pistol and shot the bear. The bear retreated and was found dead a few yards away.
Several years ago I spoke with a well-known guide who described an interesting incident. He was guiding several fishermen when they were threatened by two grizzly bears. Armed with a S&W .44 Magnum with a 2.5-inch barrel and only the ammunition in the gun the guide was able to shoot, stop and kill both bears.
I read a report of a large bear which broke into a military facility and was killed by one of the employees who had been sleeping there. As I recall, the pistol used was a .40 S&W Glock.
There is a well-known case of a hiker being attacked by a large grizzly bear just outside of his town. The bear was charging from behind the victim. He spun around, drawing his Ruger Alaskan Super Red Hawk .454 Casull which was loaded with 360 grain hard cast lead flat point bullets. One of the shots broke a shoulder turning the bear and putting him down. The hiker called a Ranger to the scene who investigated the shooting. I have copies of the photographs.
I read the account which was accompanied by photographs of a women bow hunter who was attacked by a 100-pound wolf. She was able to draw her S&W .44 Magnum and shoot and kill this wolf at close range.
I learned about this shooting in an issue of Gun Digest perhaps 50 years ago. A hiker was walking out of town near the city dump. As he passed, a bear which had been foraging, stood up on his hind legs, popped his jaws and acted aggressively toward the man. The bear was very close when the hiker drew a 2-inch S&W .38 special revolver from his pocket and shot the bear once in the neck killing it. His ammunition was a 200 grain lead round nose flat point bullet, hand loaded to maximum .38 Special pressure. Based on my own experiences with similar loads, I surmise that the velocity was in the low 700 FPS range when fired from the 1.8-inch barrel.
Far more people are killed by dogs than by bears. A close friend of mine was involved in the next incident. A pit bull had attacked a child and was fighting with a man who was trying to restrain the animal. My friend drew a two inch .38 special S&W revolver from his back pocket, pressed the muzzle against the dogs’ chest and fired one shot. The dog broke free of the man and leaped at the shooter who then shot the dog in the head killing it. Ammunition was 125 grain JHP +P .38 Special.
I have an article written by a Rancher/Guide/Hunter. During a lifetime of rural ranching he had been forced to kill approximately 30 aggressive feral dogs which were attacking his cattle. The firearm he used in most of these cases was a single action revolver in .45 Colt. His load was usually a 250 grain lead semi wad cutter at over 1,000 FPS.
I have seen several videos depicting moose attacking people. Moose injure and occasionally kill people. We often fail to recognize the danger a moose can present.
I recently viewed a particularly interesting video. A snowmobiler observed a moose on the road ahead. He stopped, apparently waiting for the moose to clear the way. The moose charged and begin to pummel the man with his hoofs. I assume that his helmet and heavy clothing prevented serious injury. The moose retreated during which time the victim drew his Glock pistol and chambered a cartridge. As the moose charged for the second time the victim defended himself. Despite being shot the moose pressed the attack. After being shot several more times the moose retreated and was finally put down by additional shots. The caliber of the Glock pistol is unknown to me.
In the early 1960s I read a story in a periodical (probably Sports Afield) in which an Indian in Alaska was hunting when he came across a large Grizzly Bear. He fired one shot at the bear with his .30/30 rifle. The bear dropped as if hit by lightning. He approached the bear which appeared to be dead. He set his rifle aside and drew his skinning knife. As he bent over the bear it “came back to life as suddenly as it had gone down.” The bear knocked the man to the ground and began mauling him. The victim stabbed the bear in the chest repeatedly and actually killed the bear with his skinning knife. The hunter lost an eye and much of his face in the attack and nearly died from blood loss.
I am aware of a similar well known incident which involved an Alaskan deer hunter. He shot a deer, set his rifle aside and started to dress the deer. He was suddenly attacked by a large grizzly bear. Unable to retrieve his rifle, he fought the bear with his 4 inch folding knife and his fists. He was badly mauled but was able to kill the bear and survive. He is a legend among Alaskan hunters.
There are several credible stories of frontiersmen killing attacking bears with their knives. These stories hold several important learning points for us. If these brave men were able to kill an attacking grizzly bear with a knife, is it possible that we could do so with a service pistol. Rifles are often just out of reach when needed. The primary advantage of the handgun is our ability to wear it on our person at all times.
I have read several accounts of a rifle hunter being attacked by a bear before he could get his shoulder weapon into action. In every case the rifle was knocked away from the hunter by the first contact with the bear. We also see numerous cases where a hunter with his rifle already in hand and ready has stopped an attacking bear.
Note that a 300 grain .44 Magnum (for example) will penetrate more hide, muscle and organs than most common deer rifles. This is understood by few and a subject worthy of its own article.
We have described cases of an attacking or threatening predator being stopped with a handgun. Many of these incidents involved the use of typical every day concealed carry pistols. Any informed outdoorsman knows that a more powerful weapon is preferable. However, the advice that only a shoulder weapon is useful for predator defense is not written in stone. Please do not tell me that a handgun is worthless for predator defense.
Are there much better tools for predator defense than a handgun? Of course, but the best gun to defend yourself with is the one you are carrying when you are attacked. A handgun in your holster is far more effective than a shotgun or a rifle that you are not carrying when you need it. A well trained shooter using his everyday carry pistol loaded with the correct ammunition could stop an attacking predator as evidence by the incidents described here. There are many dangerous animals that are far smaller than a bear which can also be stopped with a handgun.
At Marksmanship Matters we teach a two-day class on Predator Defense and the use of the handgun in other outdoor emergencies. You are welcome to attend this course with any safe handgun from 9 mm to a .454 Casull. The prerequisite for this course is Marksmanship Matters Defensive Pistol 1-5. If you are interested in attending, please contact us.
Larry and Stacey Mudgett
Marksmanship Matters LLC
This story was such a classic example of using an everyday concealed carry pistol to stop a dangerous predator that I felt obliged to add it to our article.
Famous Alaskan Guide Phil Shoemaker was forced to shoot and kill a large Grizzly Bear that was threatening his clients. Phil, the clients and the bear were all within a few feet of each other when Phil shot the bear with his 9 mm S&W pistol. The bear was six feet from Phil when his 7th shot put the bear down.
Phil indicated that he was confident his 9 mm pistol would stop a bear because of the ammunition he was using. Buffalo Bore 147 grain hard cast flat point +P at approximately 1,100 FPS. Buffalo Bore indicates that this cartridge should penetrate at least four feet of hide, muscle and organs. This is the same load that I listed as my first choice for predator defense in the 9 mm pistol.
On a previous occasion, Phil Shoemaker used a short barreled .357 Magnum revolver to stop a charging Grizzly Bear. As I understand it, that was a one shot stop. The load was a Buffalo Bore 180 grain hard cast flat point loaded to approximately 1,300 FPS from a three-inch barrel.
Nearly every report that I have seen where a handgun was used successfully to stop a large bear the ammunition being used was a flat point hard cast lead bullet or less often a full metal jacket flat nose bullet. Handgun ammunition carried for defense against an attack by a large bear should be capable of 4 to 6 feet of penetration. Typical jacketed hollow point ammunition used for self-defense against human attackers usually penetrates 1 to 1.5 feet which is unsatisfactory in the predator defense role.
In Oct 2015 a man was charged by a Moose and defended himself with a 9 mm pistol. The attack was stopped and the moose was killed. The specific ammunition used in this shooting is unknown to me. The attack and shooting occurred in Montana. Fish and Game ruled the shooting self-defense and justifiable. The man was on foot at the time of the attack. He regretted being forced to shoot the Moose. The meat was saved and distributed to the needy.
We will post other stories as we learn of them.
Two more Charging Bears Stopped with Handguns
A hiker on the Kenai peninsula was charged by an 800-pound Brown Bear on July 29, 2016. The Bear apparently started the charge from some distance. The hiker fired 5 shots from his 10 mm Glock. Probably his last 2 shots were the shots that hit the bear. One in the chest and one in the eye. It is believed that the last shot fired was the one that hit the bear in the eye and stopped the bear at 6 feet. This distance was confirmed by the fish and game investigators. Specific ammunition information was not given.
In July of 2002 a group of fishermen were charged by a 450-pound Brown Bear. When the bear was only 4 to 5 away one of the fishermen shot the bear twice with his 9 mm pistol loaded with full metal jacket ammunition. The bear dropped. He then shot the bear 3 more times in the head killing it. The shooter said he believed that the reason the 9 mm was effective on such a large animal was due to his use of FMJ ammunition. Officials were investigating to determine if this was the same bear that had attacked and injured a mother and her son about 3 miles from the location of this attack.
Penetration Testing Conducted During Predator Defense Class
“These comparisons are not meant to be scientific but merely some informal comparisons with too many variables to pass for serious testing. Your results are likely to differ.”
9 MM Winchester 147 grain SXT shot from a Glock 17 with 4.5-inch barrel
Penetrated 20 inches of water and 9 layers of waxed cardboard
Using a conversion factor of .7 this computes to 14 inches of gel
9 mm 147 grain Buffalo Bore Hard Cast Lead Flat Point
Penetrated 80 inches of water and 40 layers of waxed cardboard
Using a conversion factor of .7 this computes to 56 inches of gel
Second shot same load:
Penetrated 42 inches of water and 32 layers of waxed cardboard
Using a conversion factor of .7 this computes to inches of gel 29.4 inches of gel
This bullet obviously tumbled early greatly reducing penetration
9 mm Double Tap 147 grain FMJ Flat Point
Penetrated 76 inches of water and 38 layers of waxed cardboard
Using a conversion factor of .7 this computes to 53.2 inches of gel
Second shot same load:
Penetrated 60 inches of water and 30 layers of waxed cardboard
Using a conversion factor of .7 this computes to 42 inches of gel
This bullet obviously tumbled early reducing penetration
Note: Flat point pistol bullets do no usually tumble in water while round nose bullets always do. I suspect that flat nose bullets are less likely to tumble in gel or tissue than they are in water.
In these tests the meplat on the Double Tap bullets was in my opinion too small and could have been the reason for the early tumbling of one of the bullets. The Buffalo Bore bullet had a better shaped and larger meplat, despite which it tumbled sooner than any other bullet tested.
Expanded Hollow point pistol bullets tend not to tumble until that are coming to rest. This causes me to wonder if a shorter (read lighter) flat point bullet would be more stable than a longer bullet. I would like to test bullets of the same caliber and design but in different weights to see if we could come to a conclusion about this. If true, a 124 grain 9 mm + P bullet might tumble less than a 147 and thus penetrate more.
On the other hand, the 360 grain .454 penetrated far more than any of the other .45 loads tested. Notice that the slower .45 SMC penetrated farther than other faster .45 bullets of the same weight. This suggests that it did not tumble and perhaps others did. I have read of something called shoulder stabilization. The .45 SMC uses a Keith type Semi Wad-cutter with a full caliber cutting shoulder. Perhaps the Keith type bullet should be tested in other calibers.
These test were conducted at the Predator Defense Class in 2015.
.454 Casull 300 grain JHP Federal (5.5-inch barrel)
34.5 inches of water
Using a factor of .7 this equates to 24.15 inches of gel
.454 Casull 360 grain Lead Flat Point Buffalo Bore (5.5-inch barrel)
77 inches of water Using a factor of .7 this equates to 53.9 inches of gel
.460 Roland 255 grain lead flat point (5.5-inch barrel)
51 inches of water
Using a factor of .7 equates to 35.7 inches of gel
10 mm 230 grain Lead Flat Point Double Tap Ammunition (4.6-inch barrel)
55 inches of water
This equates to 38.5 inches of gel
.450 SMC 255 grain SWC (4.6-inch barrel)
69 inches of water
This equates to 48.3 inches of gel
Notice that certain 9 mm loads penetrated as much as the most powerful calibers tested here. As far as penetration, is concerned it appears the bullet being used is more important than the caliber.