Polar Bear Attack Stopped with Revolvers in Norway

Polar Bear Attack Stopped with Revolvers in Norway iStock-1364796505
Polar Bear Attack Stopped with Revolvers in Norway iStock-1364796505

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)- On July 20, 1993, near Paulabren, Norway, three people fought off a polar bear using two handguns. Paulabren is part of the Svalbard archipelago, under Norwegian administration, north of the arctic circle, south of Longyearbyen.

This story was uncovered as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by AmmoLand. The names of the individuals involved were redacted. The original account is a translation. Names have been added to make the report more understandable. The report has been lightly edited for ease in reading. The attack was by a single sow polar bear, on polar researchers in their camp.

From the FOIA account, incident 157:

Paul was sitting outside the tent in his sleeping bag. John and Ian were also outside the tent. Suddenly Paul became aware of a bear coming towards them at great speed over the moraine heap that was about 5 m away. The bear came directly at the three people being outside. First, it looked like it was coming at John, who was standing, but suddenly he realized that it was
coming at himself.

Everything happened very fast, in about 2 seconds. Paul had a revolver, a Smith & Wesson, lying on his left side. The same moment he saw the bear he bent over and grabbed the gun. Before he had the gun ready to fire, the bear was at him and he pulled his legs back. The sleeping pad he was sitting on had claw marks on it.

Paul kicked out with his legs and fired the gun. He didn’t see if he hit, but he was sure he must have, at that range, about 1 m. He fired one more shot immediately. The bear then turned around and ran away. John could not see if the bear was bleeding from a gunshot wound. Ian also came to the tent opening and fired one shot at the bear, but thinks he didn’t hit the bear.

The bear ran back the same way it had come. First it stopped at about 400 m away. They saw it was bleeding from a wound in the chest. They didn’t have any rifle with them (it was left in town for another expedition that was going to come up on the 26th of July.) They tried to get closer to the bear to finish it. When they closed the distance to about 80 m it ran away.

They followed it a while down the moraine, but had to give up since the bear vanished from sight once in a while. The moraine was full of small heaps and hollows and they found it too dangerous to follow a wounded bear without being certain of its whereabouts. They continued to follow the bear at a distance. After it had walked 2-3 km it stopped and stayed there from around 2 PM until the Governor’s representatives came to kill it at midnight.

Paul was asked why they hadn’t secured the camp with tripwires. He said that he knew they had brought them out in the field but couldn’t find them when they came to Paulabreen. He also said he and another person had come up from the shore the day before and they hadn’t seen any bears or tracks.

The FOIA return has a space for comments, presumably by the person maintaining the database, I found the comments interesting. They were terse, in four lines:

  • Bad shooting
  • No trip wires
  • Bad camp location
  • No adequate weapons.


It appears, with a polar bear coming at the three people at a fast pace, in a couple of seconds, from 5 meters away, they did well. All three escaped injury. The polar bear immediately broke off the attack and fled after being shot. It was almost certainly mortally wounded.  What good would trip wires have done, at most a few feet from the exposed people?

While the handguns’ caliber was not reported, they were almost certainly .44 magnum revolvers. .41 magnum revolvers are relatively unusual compared to .44 magnums. The .44 magnum meets the energy criteria for adequate firearms for protection against polar bears in Svalbard. The .44 magnum has a good reputation for dealing with attacking bears.  The X-frame .500 and .460  Smith & Wesson revolvers were not introduced in 1993.

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