9 Cases Where Both Bear Spray & Firearms Stopped Bear Attacks

Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear

U.S.A. -(Ammoland.com)- Many places on the Internet continue to claim that bear spray is more effective at stopping bear attacks than firearms. There is no objective source for these claims. They are mostly based on a spurious comparison of the deterrent effects of bear spray on curious or food seeking bears compared to a selection of bear attacks where firearms were present, and sometimes used.  It is not a valid comparison.  Author Dave Smith explains the problem:

Efficacy of Firearms for Bear Deterrence in Alaska and Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska were 2 halves of a straw man argument designed to prove bear spray was more effective than a gun. The bear spray study only included incidents when people sprayed bears; in 27% of the gun incidents, people did not have time to shoot. Just 10 of 72 bear spray incidents involved charging bears. About 60% of bear spray incidents involved agency personnel spraying habituated bears in national parks–when brown bears were sprayed, the sprayer had back-up, a colleague armed with a 12 ga. shotgun. The “methods” for the gun study said the authors analyzed “bear attacks.” When you compare the results of these 2 studies, bear spray proved far more effective than firearms. But you’ve got to be a totally unscrupulous, wildly unethical biologist to compare the results of these studies. It’s kind of like crashing a Toyota Tacoma head on into a wall at 100 mph, backing a Ford F150 into a a wall at 5 mph, and then claiming research proves Fords are safer than Toyotas.

During research to gather cases of bear attacks, I and associates have found nine cases where both firearms and spray were used to defend against bears, on the same bear.  Five of the cases involve handguns; three involve rifles. The firearm(s) is/are uncertain in one case, but probably involved a rifle or rifles.

The nine incidents we have found are arranged in chronological order.

1. 31 August, 2004, Colorado, Bear Charged  John Tiebohl, 9 mm, black bear

The first case occurred against a black bear in Colorado, in 2004. In this case, the spray is not identified, except that it was pepper spray.

BACHELOR GULCH – The Aug. 31 shooting of a bear in Bachelor Gulch still echoes among residents in the upscale enclave.The Colorado Division of Wildlife continues to investigate the incident, in which homeowner John Tietbohl shot and wounded a bear outside his Daybreak Ridge home. Tietbohl told officers the bear had been trying to get into his home, then charged him as he was getting into his car that evening. Tietbohl, who had been carrying a 9-millimeter pistol as a sidearm to protect himself from the bear, shot and hit the animal, which left a trail of blood as it ran off.Earlier in the day, Bachelor Gulch security officers had repeatedly sprayed pepper spray at the bear near Tietbohl’s house, but the animal stayed around. The bear also reportedly slipped into Tietbohl’s garage in the days before it was shot.

This is the only incident of the eight recorded where the bear spray and shooting were separated by a few hours.  The bear was not found after it was shot.

2. September, 2006, Alaska, bear spray and a .30-06 rifle.

A grizzly sow charged a couple armed with bear spray and a 30-06 rifle. The grizzly charged through the bear spray and was stopped with one shot from the .30-06, at a distance of eight feet. The aftermath was immediately captured on the following video.

September, 2006 Youtube Video  Brown Bear Charge on Montague Island, Alaska

Bear spray failed to stop sow grizzly. The bear was shot at eight feet after a full can of bear spray was emptied on the bear.

3 . 6 October, 2007 Montana: bear spray and  .44 Magnum

In this incident in Montana, one hunter used bear spray, the second used a .44 magnum.

It attacked a pair of bow hunters early Saturday afternoon. One of them used bear pepper spray and halted a charge within nine feet, but the grizzly turned and charged a second time. That’s when the second hunter shot it twice with a .44 magnum pistol.

The first pistol shot entered the bear’s body just under the chin, traveled through the sternum and clipped the aorta, Sheppard said. The second hit the bear in the chest. Both likely would have been fatal.

4. 22 November, 2012, Wyoming, bear spray, two rifles used by father and two sons, grizzly bear

The bear charged the two and their father from 42 yards on Thanksgiving Day. First, the father fired bear spray at the animal. The sons opened fire when the bear was 10 feet away.

Three bullets — one to the back and two to the head — brought down the 534-pound male practically at the hunters’ feet.

“The hunters were in the correct hunting area with appropriate hunting licenses,” John Powell, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne, said by email. “They immediately reported the incident and cooperated fully with the investigation by US Fish and Wildlife officers.”

Grand Teton officials did not identify the hunters, but the Jackson Hole News & Guide previously identified them as David Trembly, 48, of Dubois, and his 20- and 17-year-old sons, who remain unidentified.

All three hunters had ready access to bear spray. When the bear charged, David Trembly fired his spray while his sons raised their rifles and initially held fire. One of the hunters described he grizzly bear as moving “incredibly fast” and “like a cat,” moving low to the ground and snapping branches as it charged, according to the release.

5. 26 July, 2014, Montana, bear spray and .357 magnum, From Misoulian.com

 Murphy, he said, did not fire his .357 revolver until the charging bear – a grizzly, Holden said DNA tests later confirmed – was 7 to 10 feet away, and not until bear spray discharged when the animal was 15 to 25 feet away failed to deter it.

Gun Watch Glacier Park .357 magnum, more details

6. 28 October, 2015, Montana, Bear Spray and .300 magnum Rifles, grizzly, West Yellowstone

  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.

The incident above is almost certainly the same as the 28 October incident mentioned in the USGS database on grizzly mortalities below.  The Bozeman Daily Chronicle mentions two attacks by grizzly bears where hunters used bear spray first, then firearms to stop the bear attacks. The second incident is listed below.

7. 15 November, 2015, Montana, bear spray and guns (probably rifles) From bozemandailychronicle.com:

 This incident comes on the heels of two other grizzly deaths in recent weeks, one in Gardiner and one in West Yellowstone. In both of those incidents, hunters reported shooting the animals after bear spray failed to stop them from charging.

In the USGS database of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem 2015 known and probable Grizzly Bear Mortalities, there are two self defense shootings of grizzly bears that correspond to the attacks mentioned in the Boseman Daily Chronicle. One on October 28, 2015 and another on November 15, 2015. I believe the gohunt account above is the 28 October attack.  I have not been able to find more details of the 15 November attack.

8. 4 September, 2017, Montana, bear spray and .44 magnum 

Tom Sommers and his partner Dan were bow hunting for elk when they saw the bear about 30 feet away.  Dan put out a cloud of spray, but the bear charged through it.

Sommers was unable to get the safety off his spray can and dropped it as the bear closed with him. He then accessed a .44 magnum, but was unable to shoot before the bear swatted his hand down. As the bear attacked him, it stood on his hand/gun, so he could not shoot. Tom eventually was able to shoot, after his partner sprayed the bear from two feet away.  When he shot, he could not see because of the bear spray and blood.

From facebook.com:

(Tom Sommers) And partner Dan both pulled out pepper spray. Dan sprayed but Toms spray didn’t work so bear came after Tom. Tom ran behind a tree, bear kept coming. apparently bear chased Tom around tree twice, Tom got his pistol out turned to shoot, bear knocked his hand down. Tom hit ground. bear bit through thigh then put toms head in his mouth. while head in mouth tom tried to shoot bear in neck but bear stepped on hand /gun. Tom said he could hear his skull cracking. thought that was it. Dan shot bear at 2 feet with pepper spray. that’s all it took. bear ran off and tom shot at it but said he couldn’t see anything from all the blood and pepper spray in his face. 4 hours later after several hours on back of mule he is alive and in hospital. great spirits. was laughing. hope I did his story justice.

More detail in Tom Sommers own words at a Field and Stream article

9. 6 October, 2017 Montana:  bear spray and  9mm, Grizzly, account from two sources, Todd Orr, and Eye-witness, Beaver Creek, MT.

I interviewed both sources. The attack was reported to Fish and Game, but was not published. Consistent incident recorded in USGS data base.

It was at the end of the day, and was getting dark. Two bow hunters, were returning from their bow hunt. They both had bear spray and pistols. They had agreed that if forced into defending themselves, one would use spray, the other would back up the spray with his pistol.

The grizzly bluff charged several times, blocking their return to camp.

Warning shots were fired in the air with a 9 mm pistol. The bear ran off, then came back. Bear spray was utilized but only extended 10 feet into a light head wind and did not reach the bear. The bear would not disengage. It kept coming back and getting closer. The aggressive bear was finally shot with the 9 mm pistol at close range. It ran off. The report was made to Fish and Wildlife, and the bear was found dead the next day. Eye-witness believes it was one shot to the chest of the bear.

These are all the cases I and associates have found where both bear spray and firearms were used. Tom Sommers is the only case where the firearms were of uncertain efficacy. The bear was moving away when the single shot was fired; Sommers was blinded by bear spray and blood. There are cases where only bear spray was used when firearms were present. There are cases where only firearms were used when bear spray was present.  Those cases are not included in this article.

Readers are urged to read the cases and make up their own mind about the effectiveness of bear spray and firearms in defense against bear attacks.

One major advantage of firearms over bear spray is the bear is usually killed.

In six of the nine incidents above, the bear was killed.

Bears that attack humans should be killed. The bears that were killed were not able to attack other humans. They were no longer a threat. If bears are not killed during the attack, they often must be tracked down and killed at some expense and danger.

Both grizzly and black Bear populations are increasing in North America. Bear populations will continue to expand, utilizing human developed food sources, as long as humans allow them to expand.  The grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has continued to increase, even though about 5% of the grizzly population is killed in bear/human conflict every year.  Humans must kill bears to keep the bear population inside acceptable limits.

Bear attacks on humans are rare. They are so rare that if all bears that attack humans were killed during the attack, the number would be a small percentage of the number of bears that must be harvested to keep bear populations within acceptable bounds. It is better management if bears that attack humans are selected out of the bear population at the time of the attack.

Protecting human life from an attacking bear is a higher value than selling a bear permit to a hunter. Federal and state laws already acknowledge this fact.

Saving bear lives with bear spray is poor management.

Bear spray has benefits. It is useful to people who are afraid of firearms, or who do not wish to develop the modest skill necessary to use them to defend against bears.  Bear spray is useful where firearms are difficult to obtain, such as for American tourists in Canada. Bear spray does not present a lethal danger to bystanders, except as it may inhibit their own defenses, as it did with Tom Sommers.

These are reasonable reasons for people to chose bear spray over firearms for defense against bears.

In many instances, as illustrated in the examples listed above, firearms are far more effective than bear spray in stopping bear attacks.

About Dean Weingarten:Dean Weingarten

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.