Montana Bear Researcher’s .357 Magnum and Two Bear Attacks with Shots Fired

Grizzly Bears are Migrants to the Lower 48 iStock-1281962973

U.S.A.In the previous article, Allen Schallenberger, who did bear research in Montana for many years, recounted an incident where he fired his .357 Colt Python in defense against a large aggressive grizzly that refused to leave the area of his camp in 1976. In two other incidents, he fired his .357 in defense against bears. Allen recounts them in his own words below:

In spring 1977, I was flying with a small plane pilot out of the Choteau airport to check on the location of radio collared grizzly bears. 

My spring helper Roy Jacobs and I had a few snares set in aspen patches on Ear Mountain, a prominent peak on the mountain front adjacent to the foothills and prairie about 25 miles west of Choteau. I flew over the snare sets with the pilot to check for bears and I spotted two adult grizzlies in snares and another adult hanging out with a snared bear. We immediately stopped our radio monitoring flight and went back to the Choteau airport. Roy and I caught our saddle horses and a pack animal for our trapping and radio gear and loaded up my trailer at Choteau. Roy who was a local suggested we get Wayne and Chip Gollehon who ranched on Ear Mountain to help us handle the bears for safety. I called Wayne and we met them on horses on the mountain. We had no trouble with the first large male and I quickly drugged him with a dart gun, and we measured him and put a radio collar on him. The other pair was about a mile away. We all tied up our horses to aspen trees and I gave my shotgun to Wayne Gollehon and told him his job was watch for the courting sow grizzly which had been hanging out with the adult male in the snare. After I drugged the bear and we were getting ready to put the radio collar on him, Wayne yelled, “ Look out here she comes”! She was charging us at a trot at about 40 yards. I jerked my Colt Python .357 out and fired two shots into the air and she swerved away and did not return. Roy had laid his shotgun on the ground and had to run toward the female to get it. We finished measuring the male and put the radio collar on him. We thanked the Gollehon’s for helping and they rode their horses home. Roy and I went to the Cow Track Restaurant and had late dinner and a couple of drinks to settle our nerves. Roy grew up in Choteau and had camped and hunted on Ear Mountain many times without realizing how many grizzlies were present. 

In 1978 Keith Aune was helping me. He was a young wildlife biologist with a B.S. degree from the University of Montana and had grown up in Dutton 24 miles east of Choteau. On an airplane radio collar monitoring flight the 28 th of August, I had found the radio marked male from the courting pair above along with four other grizzly bears on the top of the barren 9,392-foot elevation Rocky Mountain, highest peak on the Rocky Mountain Front. The next day Keith and I drove to the end of the South Fork Teton River USFS Road. We planned to head cross-country to the top of Rocky Mountain to see why the bears were congregated on the peak. Keith said ,” It is a very hot day and I’m not carrying that heavy Mossberg short barrel 12 gauge.” I told him I was carrying both my Remington 870 12- gauge pump and my Colt Python. We both had packs on metal frames with gear, water and lunches and Keith had our tracking antenna and radio receiver which scanned for our bear collar signals.

When we had climbed to about 8,200 feet which was above timberline, we spotted a large adult grizzly at about 300 yards coming down a game trail on the mountain toward us. Keith checked the radio, and it was our courting male we caught on Ear Mountain in 1977. I said I guess I better let him know we are in the area, and I yelled,” Hey bear” loudly. He let out a string of bear cuss words and started running toward us as fast as he could run. I quickly fired two .357 magnum shots in the air which appeared to have no effect on him. I quickly stuffed two more shells in the revolver and gave it to Keith. I chambered a round in my shotgun and stuffed another slug round in the magazine. There was a five-foot-high boulder about 20 feet behind us and we got behind that. I told Keith when the grizzly appeared on top of the ridge, we were going to kill him. We waited with our hair standing up and the bear did not appear. A check with the radio receiver showed he had passed down the other side of the ridge headed for the dense forest on the river.

We climbed on up to the top of the mountain, spotting 21 bighorn rams on the way. We found the grizzly bears were eating army cutworm moths and ladybird beetles which were congregated in great numbers on rocks for breeding purposes. We also found many sites where the grizzlies had optimistically tried to dig pikas out of their rocky tunnels apparently with little success. We did not see the other grizzly bears. Keith always packed his shotgun after that day. Bear spray had not been invented.

There was a grizzly bear hunting season in the area mentioned until 1991. The grizzlies I contacted were still afraid of gun shots and had not yet learned to associate gun shots with gut piles or big game carcasses which happened later there. 

Allen Schallenberger warming up at his Montana ranch after working in -30 degree weather. He often grew a beard during grizzly bear research.

The first incident is clearly a pistol defense success. A pistol was fired in defense against a bear, and the bear left. The second incident, in 1978, is not so clear as to be certain. A pistol was fired in defense against the bear as warning shots. No effect was noticed. However, the bear did not continue toward the area the pistol shots came from. This will be counted as indeterminate. Readers can draw their own conclusions.

About 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 retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

Dean Weingarten