From Outdoor Life magazine comes this reprint of a gripping account from the archives.  

There are many learning points.

  • Grizzlies aren’t the only bears to worry about. Black bears, like this one, can be man-killers too.
  • A powerful handgun is more decisive than bear spray. A .45 Colt single action revolver saved this hunter’s life.
  • A handloaded cartridge jammed in the hunter’s .30-30 rifle at the worst possible time. Those of us who run training classes and have run shooting matches see many more malfunctions with handloads than we do with quality factory ammunition. I strongly recommend top quality factory ammo when life may be on the line.

24 COMMENTS

  1. To me another real hero of the story is the un-named brother-in-law of the bear’s victim, who risked life and limb in an attempt to save him by beating on a savage bear with a frying pan(!). Not only did he do it once, he did it a second time when the bear went back after his B-I-L, getting the bear to drop the victim.

    Unarmed, in the dark, going after a man-killing bear while unarmed except for a kitchen implement…he didn’t hesitate, just waded right in. He was probably scared spitless, but did it anyway, which to me is the very definition of bravery. It’s a shame his brother-in-law was already dead but he had no way of knowing that. Imagine how he would have felt if he hadn’t tried.

    • It certainly did take courage (maybe thoughtless courage) to attack a grown black bear with nothing but a frying pan. The unanswered question is: why was it necessary?

      The victim seems to have been unarmed. When the bear ripped its way into his tent, he seems to have had no weapon for self-defense. Thus, he was easily killed by the bear.

      When the brother-in-law charged to the rescue, the only weapon he could secure was a frying pan.

      Why did no one have any firearms? They seem to have been camping in some kind of Park Area (note the abundance of National Park personnel in the story). Did the Park Rules force visitors to be unarmed?

      Was this actually another case where a “Gun-Free Zone” became an easy killing ground? If firearms were allowed, why did the campers not have some? I can’t speak for others but I would never (in a million years) go camping in a bear-infested wilderness area without adequate armament.

      The author of the story leave us “in the dark” regarding this vital information.

  2. That is quite the tale. I wonder if the victim had food in his tent. There is a large population of black bears in my area. They can do a lot of damage to homes, outbuildings and property when in search of food. I am not aware of any recent attacks on humans but their predation of whitetail fawns has not been good for our deer numbers. Most I have encountered are scared off with a yell but several have required a round of rubber shot to get the message.

  3. This is also why you old goats in law enforcement recommend factory ammo in selfdefence arms – not just for the legal defence. Even our best handloads can be questionable when a life is in the balance. Remington, Winchester, Black Hills, and a host of others make very great, reliable rounds that work nearly all the time. They may not be the most acurate in a particular firearm but will run in it. Been “reloading” for 60 years and i still sometimes have a round that doesn’t meet standard and that is all my fault. We are human and make mistakes and we don’t want those mistakes to cost a life, our’s or especially a loved ones. Carry factory that you’ve proven work in your firearm – your life just may depend upon it.

  4. We get an occasional bear around here but most are more afraid of humans
    than we are of them. Of course, there’s always an exception to the rule. It’s
    those exceptions that people get lazy and forget about and don’t plan for and
    get in trouble because of.
    Dano

  5. This information does not make me feel any better. It was November 13, 2022, at 9:30 a.m. on a nice sunny morning. I was sitting 3 feet from my front door. I heard my doorknob being messed with. I stopped doing what I was doing and paid close attention to the door. It is a solid core door with a good dead bolt. I then heard scratching on the door. I don’t have any pets. I live on the edge of the city limits not far from forest areas. I have lived here at this location for over 30 years. My front door has a decorative small window in the upper part of the door. I then saw that what was at my door, it stood up and blocked the sun from shining in the window. My large front window is about 2 feet from the door. I did have the curtain shut.

    I called the local fish and game location. I was given a phone number to call and told to leave a message asking to have a Wildlife Biologist call me. I got the call, and I was told that this bear was a “small” bear. Black bears are what we have in Oregon. I sure did not feel any better after this conversation. I live alone and I had nightmares about bears for a couple weeks.

    I had been told several months before this that someone a block up my street saw a video of a bear in their front yard one night. From what I understand, my experience was the first day time one. I was cautioned about being careful when Spring came.

    I am glad that I don’t have pets nor any kids at my home. I did call my neighbors and notified them of my experience and what I was told.

  6. Is your life really worth the few extra cents you save by handloading?
    For me, handloading is is great for having a bit of fun at the range or in competitions.
    But . . . To paraphrase Vizzini from ‘The Princess Bride’: “Never use a handload when death is on the line!” 😁👍👍

  7. I got a report of a man’s encounter with a black bear in NJ. He said he used bear spray at a distance of 10 yards, and the spray hit the bear in the face. The bear shook his head and was unaffected. The bear got closer to the man, but some hikers appeared. They yelled and waved their arms, the bear left the man alone.

    Another man told me using a Byrna less lethal launcher, with balls filled with pepper spray works better to keep bears away than rubber buckshot. He has experience with bears at a campground. I guess last year’s bear hunt didn’t reduce the population enough. Some years New Jersey has a bear hunt, and some years it doesn’t. It depends on the mood of the governor. By contrast, New York and Pennsylvania always have bear hunts every year.

    Years ago I read that there should be between 1,000 and 3,000 black bears in NJ. More than that leads to too many bear and human/pet/car/garbage can interactions.

  8. Certainly, the use of handloaded ammunition was a bad idea, especially in this instance.

    Due to pressure limitations, the performance of the 30-30 cartridge cannot be greatly improved. Perhaps it might in a strong bolt-action rifle but not in a lever-action. The round is popular and factory ammunition is competitively priced. So, not much money is saved by handloading. Especially since the 30-30 is not, normally, used for high-volume shooting (maybe in some Cowboy shoots but not for hunting).

    When handloaded, the 30-30 cartridge would need to be fully resized for use in a lever-action chamber. If not resized adequately (and if loaded hot!) then a jammed cartridge is very possible. It is probably what happened here.

    Therefore, what was to be gained by using handloads for a 30-30 hunting rifle? Not much, that I can see.

    The sensible thing to do, in the case of a professional bear-hunter, would be to buy a good selection of factory ammo. Then test the ammo for (1) reliability in the selected hunting rifle, (2) acceptable accuracy, and (3) bullet performance (penetration and expansion). The ammo to use would be the factory ammo that proved absolutely reliable while also giving good accuracy and bullet performance from the selected firearm.

    You are not really going to improve performance over a top factory round. Not in a lever-action 30-30 rifle.

    Whenever your life may be on the line, factory ammo is (far and away) preferable. Bear hunting for stock and man-killing black bears certainly qualifies as life threatening.

  9. As I write this my son and his family are in Montana hiking several of the national parks. He asked me if I had anything he could take with him. I had several options for him but in the end we chose something that I had a good holster for and it could be carried discreetly or openly. One of the other reasons I call the Murphy’s Law factor. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong and at the worst possible time. So I wanted something that could be shot weak handed and something his wife could also shoot. If you get a chance check out AmmoLand handgun bear defense articles. 98 % effective but I will take their word for it and individual results may vary.
    The gun we chose was a Glock 22, Remington180gr fmj ammo, 3-15 rd mags, and a safariland holster.

  10. I didn’t grow up in bear country (we see more UFOs than bruins in south central Okla-by-God-homa), but I did grow up reading old Ben East stories, so I’ve known for a long time that black bears can occasionally be man killers and even man eaters.

    The Ammoland website has recently published a series of articles on the effectiveness of handguns for bear defense. Pretty much every cartridge from 9mm on up has proven very effective at defending human life from bear attacks, much more so than bear spray.

  11. IMO, if you are camping or fishing in bear country (brown or black) you will need to carry an effective caliber handgun at the very least. Other than that, I would carry a 12 gauge shotgun with an 18″ barrel and a large magazine full of slugs. If you are hunting bears then the appropriate long arm would be another story altogether.

    You can’t always rely on being located in the same place as your long gun, when Bruno pops up, so be sure that your handgun is holstered on you all the time. I would not carry less than a .45 LC in a wheel gun (.44 mag should be OK). The problem with many bear wheel guns is that they are single action meaning they are gate loaded (which is very slow reloading). Many of the large caliber revolvers also may be limited to only five rounds.

    I would have trouble maintaining on target hits with a large caliber wheel gun, so I would choose to carry a full size Glock 10mm that would hold enough ammo in the magazine to shoot all day and then some. Recoil is more forgiving and reloading is very fast, as well. I would aim at the bear’s nose and start firing until the bear went down or slide back – may the Good Lord rest my soul.

    No matter what you decide to carry, it should be loaded with Buffalo Bore ammo or that of one of it’s competent competitors.

    I thank God that I have never had to deal with a bear in the wild, and it is unlikely now that I ever will, since my remaining days will be saddled with arthritic knees and a cane or walker. However, I still enjoy reading about the experiences of others in the outdoors like this article. Thanks for forwarding it to us, Mas.

    • Your point regarding a 12 GA. and slugs is a good one. Quite a few black bears fell to that combination in the Southern Tier of New York State prior to our politicritters allowing us to use centerfire rifles. My Ithaca M37 rifled Deerslayer would be my choice of “Bear Gun”.

      Since I mostly hunt with a handgun, a 44 mag. Ruger Redhawk or one of my Colt Deltas (10mm) would be what I have with me. As Skeeter said “they’ll do to ride the river with”.

  12. Over the years, I’ve heard many national park rangers tell me and others that black bears won’t harm you. Not a fan of that propaganda. The only reason I can come up with is that they don’t want you carrying, but that’s just a guess.

  13. Here if Northern Minn. there are always black bears around except during hibernation season. Piles of scat & multiple sightings in the last 2 weeks (including in our driveway) means going for a walk with the dog in the woods or on our dead-end dirt road I always carry either a 357 mag. or a .45acp full of Hydra-Shoks. Killing one out of season would be a last resort (horrendous paperwork) but I could sure scare one enough to go away.

  14. Bears are dramatic but deer say “hold my beer”. Bears don’t launch kamikaze attacks on cars. Even cows kill more people than bears.

    In other news, the woman attacked by a shark last week said “I thought it was just a big fish”

  15. Back in the day, we used to wonder how many people the “Gentle Ben” TV show got killed/injured. Ron White made some guy who apparently viewed “Grizzly Adams” as normal behavior for the breed a subject of much humor.

    The local black bear population is about man size. Being fluffy, they can appear to be much bigger, NFL lineman appears to be practical upper limit of actual weight-locally. Wonder if they did a necropsy on the bear in question to see if there was any physical reason for his attitude?

    Jumping on handloading per se as something you shouldn’t do when important stuff is on the line is a wee bit questionable. If you have to go through a lot of ammunition, the cost savings can be significant. However, the real issue is how much detail one goes into when producing your own ammo. Are you full length sizing, trimming cases as needed, checking to make sure the case web isn’t degraded (case stretch/head separation) and so on. Loading defensive (from critters)/match ammo isn’t like putting practice ammo together. The LeveRevolution powder does permit some performance improvements at safe pressures, but you still need to be very painstaking in your approach to the issue.

    • I myself do not reload, but I understand the appeal of it. I don’t think the article was implying that you should not use reloads for any reason. As a practice type of ammo, it is certainly a bit less expensive than FMJ rounds that you can purchase. But the cost difference is minimal if you watch the online sales.
      But using handloads for black bear defense is a totally different critter. Factory ammo is simply more reliable than using handloads when you could possibly encounter a black bear. And with companies like Buffalo Bore making very useful cartridges in a number of calibers, your chances of stopping a overly friendly and/or charging bear.
      Most handloaders do so in order to either save a few cents per round, or to develop the best cartridge for your particular handgun. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but I don’t see many handloaders following all of the advice you give for ensuring a safe and well performing round.
      As for the ever present and useful 30-30 round, in any bear encounter that requires you to shoot the bear, a 30-30 round is likely a very good choice. The distance that you could possibly be called on to shoot a black bear doesn’t lend itself to arguments that the round is not accurate enough. In nearly all encounters with a dangerous animal on this continent, it would likely be up close and personal. Unless you are over 100 yards from someone being attacked and you feel the need to shoot in order to save that person from death or severe trauma. Then you could be a bit more forgiven if you are using a different caliber. But as someone else mentioned, the Leverevolution lends itself to longer range with the 30-30 caliber.
      Of course every person has an opinion, and this just mine. But black bears have continued to be spotted in my area of West Michigan. So even just hunting mushrooms in the woods in the spring and fall means that I carry my best option for handguns. You can’t always buy a larger caliber gun to use as bear defense in the wild. So I carry my Ruger SR9c, with the 17+1 magazine loaded and my 10 round magazine kept for reloading in case of a problem with the other magazine. And like everyone, the best defense against any wild animal that potentially could cause harm or death is awareness, of what is going around you and any tracks etc. that you come across. Just like a self defense situation with a 2 legged adversary the best way to win the fight is to not be involved in one in the first place.

  16. I always have a revolver on my person while in bear country…I have a chest holster that isn’t uncomfortable to sleep with..in fact I sleep very well. My wife is also very accustomed to carrying daily and does the whole time we are camping as well. When camping and exploring with my four daughters we try to be bear smart. I’ve never warmed up to the idea of canned spice spray…the one and only time I needed it( 2 legged threat) A big ole can of Fox Labs had a catastrophic failure where the whole top of the valve blew off and blew the contents skyward in one large pop. Hard cast placed well is my plan.

  17. Been in bear country almost since I was born.
    Mostly black bears but moving to Alaska put me in contact with browns and grizzlies.
    I wouldn’t even take the trash out without either a .41 Magnum or a 10mm. Having relocated back to the lower 48, not typical bear country, I find a J Frame 38 Spl sufficient. Having been charged by a black bear when I was sixteen that was stopped by someone with a rifle I refuse to go forth in bear country without what I consider sufficient armament. Fishing in Alaska I had a handgun, usually the 10mm, and a shotgun with Brenneke Slugs.
    Bears need to be respected for the dangerous critters they are. Also of importance, more so than the firearms is knowing bear behavior. Bluff charges are scary. Real charges exponentially more so.

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