September 25, 2023
Polar Bear Attack Stopped with Revolvers in Norway iStock-1364796505

U.S.A.A plausible fourth failure of a defensive firing of a handgun against a bear has been discovered. The fourth incident was found in the incidents discovered in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a polar bear and human conflict database. The incident occurred near Churchill, Canada, as part of two incidents from October 19 to October 26, 1986. Bear spray had recently become available. There are two separate incidents. The first involves bear spray, which marked the bear. The second involved “cracker shells” and a .44 caliber handgun, probably a .44 magnum. From the FOIA, incident 41:

October 19-26, 1986 – Churchill, Canada. Handgun Failure.

Oct 19-26, 1986, PII,t Churchill. Tourists In temporary camp were observed hand feeding bears for several weeks. Sardines and lard had been put in the willows surrounding camp. During the 6 days researchers were in the camp, 9 bears approached. At the sound of movement within the camp, one bear repeatedly charged the structures and pounded the walls. In the 6 days, 7 charges were initiated by 2 bears. The charges appeared to be directed at the people in the camp. One bear almost entered the stationary vehicles. It was deterred with a broom and bear spray in the face. Four days later and 4 km SW, a bear with a red stain on its forehead, which may have been the bear spray, charged a group of 12 people. The bear ignored both “cracker shells” and shots from a .44 calibre handgun. The people involved were forced to climb a nearby tower or enter an adjacent building. This is probably the first account of bear spray being non-experimentally used under field conditions on a polar bear.

The objective definition of a failure when a handgun is fired in defense against a bear was decided when the project was started.

The criteria for inclusion in this study is a pistol had to be fired to defend against a bear or bears. If a handgun was not fired, the incident was not included. If the use of the handgun stopped the attack, it was a success whether the bear was killed immediately, or left the scene, as long as it stopped attacking.

In the scenario at Churchill in October of 1986, the report specifically says the bear with a red stain on its forehead charged a group of 12 people and ignored both “cracker shells” and a .44 handgun. No one was hurt, but the shots did not stop the attack. It seems likely they were warning shots. There may be political reasons why the person with the .44 handgun was not willing to shoot the bear; or maybe the person shooting the .44 handgun simply missed. There is no indication the bear was injured.

Of the four incidents where we have documented when a handgun was fired and failed to stop an attack, this is the weakest case. The other three are detailed here. In only one of the four incidents, the defender clearly attempted to kill the attacking bear. That occurred in the famous polar bear defense attempted with a .22 pistol.

The incident from Churchill, Canada, is graded as a failure where a handgun was fired in defense against a bear and failed to stop the attack. Readers are urged to read all of the incidents which have been documented where handguns were fired in defense against bears.

In about ten percent of the incidents, warning shots are sufficient. Most incidents involving warning shots alone are not reported or documented. They likely are the most common defensive use of a firearm against bears.  Most readers will understand if a bear is killed, it cannot go on to attack another person.  Repeated use of “cracker shells” or warning shots will, eventually, teach a bear of their lack of serious effect. This will make the bear more dangerous.

All three North American bears (black, brown/grizzly, and polar) have increasing populations. The small number of bears which would be killed if all aggressive bears were shot would not have a significant effect on bear populations. The number shot in defensive situations would be far less than the number required to be harvested to keep the bear populations at maintenance levels.

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

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