Saturday, February 16, 2019

Final Report: Was Bear Spray Effective in the Mark Uptain Grizzly Fatality?

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGF) has released a final report on the grizzly bear attack that killed hunting guide Mark Uptain and injured his client, Corey Chubon.

The report confirms previous information that the Glock pistol was found without a round in the chamber, and separated from its magazine. The magazine was fully loaded with 15 rounds of  F C flat nosed full metal jacketed rounds. The pistol had not been fired.

At some time during the attack, bear spray was used by Mark Uptain. The bear spray can was emptied. The grizzly sow was reported to have a strong odor of bear spray about her head.

Below is a hand sketch of the relationship of various items found at the scene by the investigators.

The weather was warm enough to compel Uptain to take off his shirt. Unfortunately, Mark Uptain also took off his holstered Glock 10mm.

The Glock pistol, in a shoulder holster, had been placed with the packs, about 5-10 yards from the elk carcass.

He placed it too far from him to be accessed before the sow reached him. By doing that, he negated one of the greatest advantages of pistols for defensive use. The advantage is having a gun on your person when you need it. Holstered pistols free up both hands to do other things.

To sum up the events: The guide, Mark Uptain, and his client, Corey Chubon, were processing the bull elk they had recovered. The elk carcass had not been molested by any predators. They were nearly finished when the bears attacked, from down hill and downwind.

The sow, about 250 lbs, attacked Uptain at the elk carcass. Corey Chubon ran to the packs and drew the pistol from the holster. At first, he did not fire for fear of hitting Uptain. Then the sow turned her attention to him.

Being unfamiliar with the Glock, he was unable to make it fire, because the pistol did not have a round chambered. While attempting to fire the pistol, he ejected the loaded magazine on the ground.

This has been known to happen when people unfamiliar with a pistol's controls are desperately attempting to make it fire in a life or death scenario. People try every control they can find, trying to make the pistol work.

When the bear started to maul Chubon, he attempted to throw the pistol to Mark Uptain. The bear then left Chubon and re-attacked Uptain. Chubon fled for help.

Chubon had bear spray, but it had been placed in one of the packs, making it inaccessible during the attack.

A rescue helicopter picked up Chubon about two and a half hours after the attack. The helicopter was being used on a fire,and had to be called back for the rescue. The report concluded that Mark Uptain had died about the time that Chubon called for rescue, two hours before rescuers reached Chubon.

The report states the use of bear spray likely halted the attack. Writers for other publications conclude this shows bear spray was effective in this incident.

Bear attack expert and author Dave Smith questions that assessment.  From correspondence with Dave Smith:
2. The bear spray spin. Uptain did not have time to use bear spray before the bear initially attacked and injured him. Is that a bear spray success, or a bear spray failure?The 2nd time the bear attacked, Uptain sprayed the bear but was killed. Is that a bear spray success or a bear spray failure? 
The WyoFile article begins by stating, " Evidence suggests bear spray stopped a grizzly bear attack after it mortally wounded hunting guide Mark Uptain." According to the WGF report, “Evidence suggests that when Uptain deployed the bear spray, it stopped the aggression, giving him time to escape, however, this appears to be after the fatal injuries were inflicted.” 
It is hard to see this event as successful use of bear spray. Bear spray was used, but the user was killed. The bear stopped attacking at some point, and Mark Uptain, fatally wounded, was able to move about 50 yards from the elk carcass before he died. The empty bear spray canister was found near his body.

There are several incidents where bear spray initially deterred a bear, which later returned to continue the attack. There are numerous incidents where bears left mauled victims, without being sprayed, then returned later.

By all accounts Mark Uptain was an outstanding man, hunter and guide. He will be missed.

Many people have suggested that while dressing game in grizzly country, one person should stay alert and guard, while other member(s) of the party dress the game.

Dave Smith added this useful tip: The person on guard should be on the downwind side of the  location. Bears almost always approach from downwind, as they did in this case. From Dave Smith:
"Given that it took Uptain and his client 2-3 hours to field dress the elk, it would have been wise for Uptain to have the hunter standing guard on red alert with bear spray in hand. Wind was broadcasting the scent of elk blood & guts; thus, the hunter should have been downwind from Uptain and the carcass. It's 100% predictable that the bears would approach from downwind. But the hunter was only 3 to 4 yards away from Uptain, unarmed. The hunter did not have Uptain's Glock in hand. The hunter did not know how to use Uptain's Glock. The hunter did not have bear spray in hand. Bottom line? Uptain and the hunter were not prepared for a worse case scenario. It's a bit surprising the bears charged the hunters, but it's no surprise the bears showed up. Does WGF offer hunters and/or guides any meaningful guidance on how to handle this field dressing an elk in grizzly country situation?"
This is a sad case. It appears to be an example of bear spray failure, rather than a bear spray success story.

If the 10mm Glock had been in the hands of someone who knew how to use it,  both men would probably have survived.

It is likely only one bear would have been killed.

©2019 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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