Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Could a Pistol Have Made a Difference in the Fatal Bear Attack on Mother and Child in the Yukon?

File image by Troy Nemitz

On 26 November, 2018, a young Canadian mother and her 10 month old child were killed by an adult male grizzly bear. It was a horrific tragedy. Two sides quickly emerged in the discussion that followed. One side suggested that the woman "got what she deserved" because she and her partner were trappers. The other side suggested she could have been saved if she had a gun to use for protection. Lost in the push from these sides were the suffering of the father, the young couple's friends, and the Yukon community they were part of.

The coroner's report has now been released. It has worthwhile information about the terrible events that occurred last November.

 Valérie Théorêt was the mother and partner and Adèle  Roesholt the 10 month old daughter of Germund Roeshot. 

Gjermund Roesholt found his dead family after being attacked by the same bear that killed them. He used a 7mm Remington Magnum to stop the bear attack with multiple shots, including a shot to the head of the grizzly bear. The bear was stopped only six feet from him.

From reading the coroner's report, and from my researches of actual incidents where people used pistols to defend themselves against bears, it is plausible that if Valérie Théorêt had been carrying a holstered pistol, she, and her baby would still be alive.

Bear attacks are rare. Pistols do not guarantee survival, of course. Bear attacks are very dangerous, and often fatal. Perhaps the most dangerous is the surprise attack with predatory intentions, which it seems, is what the attack on Valérie and Adèle was.

The coroner's report states the bear had hidden itself two meters (six feet) off of the small trapline trail Valérie was walking down while carrying ten month old Adèle in a backpack like carrier.  The coroner's report does not state how far the bear was from Valerie and Adèle when it started to charge at them. It could have been as little as two meters. It could have been more.

The bear started its charge at Germund from fifteen meters (50 feet).

If the attack started from 15 meters, and if Valérie had been armed, she would have had a chance to stop the attack before the bear reached her and Adèle.

If the bear impacted Valérie before she had any time to react, she might still have been able to defend herself, if she were carrying a pistol.

Bears generally do not kill adult humans quickly. The death of an adult human attacked by a bear usually takes some time. It is seldom instantaneous. It is usually from blood loss and shock due to multiple injuries. From the coroners report:
I therefore find that Valérie Théorêt came to her death on November 26, 2018, from Unnatural causes, to wit: Multiple Injuries due to Grizzly Bear Attack and classify her death as Accidental.
Further, I find that Adèle  ROESHOLT also came to her death on November 26, 2018, from Unnatural causes, to wit: Head Trauma due to Grizzly Bear Attack and classify her death as Accidental.
Only a few seconds are necessary to draw and fire a pistol decisively.
Valérie Théorêt's body was found near to where the bear was killed. The 10 month old girl, Adèle Roesholt's, remains were found lying nearby.

I and colleagues have been able to document 63 instances where pistols were used to defend against bears. The defense was successful in 60 of those instances.

In the 63 instances I and colleagues have been able to document, most defenses were successful without any injury to the human, or another human used the pistol to defend the person being attacked by the bear.

There were six cases where the pistol shooter was impacted before being able to shoot the pistol. The pistol carriers were still able to successfully stop the attack. One more case was found since the original article was published, making seven in total.

 It is worth noting there were two victims in the Yukon attack. In one of the following events, when the bear turned its attention from one victim to another, it gave the opportunity to use the pistol effectively.

The Yukon attack was in broad daylight, between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

Here are summations and links to the seven attacks where the pistol was not in hand before the bear impacted the victim:

June 26, 1987, .357 Magnum Montana:  Grizzly Bear Killed After Biting Warden in Montana Forest 

Pictures at Field and Stream Article here
‘’I wouldn’t want to have another go-round,’’ the 60-year-warden, Lou Kis, said from his hospital bed after undergoing surgery for the bite, which was so powerful that it broke the leg bone below the knee.

Mr. Kris, a warden captain here for 22 years, killed the 400- to 500-pound bear with six shots from his .357 caliber Magnum revolver as it bit him.

 16 July, 2002, Seneca Lake, San Carlos Indian Reservation, Arizona, .44-40 Ruger Vaquero, black bear.

My name is Rod Black. Last month I was fishing with my brother at Seneca Lake Arizona, on the San Carlos Indian Reservation. Just after midnight on the 16th of July, 2002, a bear wandered into my camp and attacked me while I slept. He clawed my head open, severing a small artery, and bit me on the back before throwing me off my cot onto the ground.
I found myself on the dirt, in the dark, with blood gushing and literally squirting from my wounds. I was in a state of absolute panic and horror. I had a Ruger Vaquero by my cot, but in the chaos and confusion I could locate neither the revolver nor my glasses, and could see or hear nothing. I was paralyzed by fear and terrified that the bear would come back from out of the darkness and resume his attack on me at any moment.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was perhaps less than a minute, my brother could see the dark form of the bear moving and began to scream. I realized that we were going to die if I didn't come to my senses, and I fell to the ground and located my shooter in the dirt. I asked my brother to try to make it to the pickup and turn on the lights. (He could not find the flashlight, as the bear had knocked it on the ground before the attack.) Without my glasses and in such darkness, I was nearly blind.

After repeatedly asking my brother to go, he somehow made it to the truck and turned on the lights. (Later, I realized that by asking my brother to go into the dark to turn on the lights, I might have sent him to his death - that will haunt me forever.)

The lights came on and revealed my worst nightmare: Not three to four feet away and looking straight at me was the bear. The bogeyman. The thing that goes bump in the dark. This thing had come to kill me and eat my flesh that night... and I knew it.

When he turned for an instant to look at the light, I wiped the blood from my eyes and fired my first shot from the caliber .44-40 Vaquero. I was painfully aware that if my first round was not a good one, I may not have a chance for another. In all my life, I will never forget the sound of the blast or the acrid smell of the gunpowder. The bear was knocked from his feet and hit the ground hard. He thrashed about while I fired again and again - and cursed him while I did - until I was hammering on empty cartridges.
Article from The Blue Press November 2002 Issue #125.

 Last week of June, 2003,  Montana, .41 Magnum: Bear attacked, man mauled, used .41 Mag to stop second attack

Bozeman daily Chronicle
Then the bear attacked again, he said, moving incredibly fast, and that's when Johnson, still on his back, reached for the pistol he wore in a holster on his belt.

"I had my hand by my side," he said. "I pulled the gun and went boom. Tell me how fast that is."

The bullet struck the bear just below the snout and it collapsed immediately and almost landed on him, he said. Then he rose to his feet and put three more 240-grain slugs in it.
 7 September, 2006, Alaska, .44 magnum,: Grizzly attacked Moose Hunters,  The Longest Minute
 When Reed distracted the bear from its attack on me, I had time to concentrate on the holster. I saw a buckle with a strap running through it. I could not figure out how it held the gun in place, so I grabbed the buckle and attempted to rip it off. To my surprise, the buckle was actually a snap and the strap peeled away. As I pulled the revolver out, a sudden calm came over me, and I knew everything would be fine. I looked in the direction of Reed only to once again see the bear charging at me. He was about ten feet away coming up and over the initial log that I had tripped over. That was when I pointed the revolver and fired at center mass. The .44 magnum boomed in the night and the boar fell straight down, his head three feet away from where I stood. As he fell, he bit at the ground and ended up with a mouthful of sod. I stood in a dumbfounded stupor. I had no expectation that the pistol would kill the bear. My hope was that the shot would sting the bear and help scare him away along with the flame and loud report. As his head sagged to the ground, I shot him three more times in quick succession, out of fear and anger.
19 July, 2009, Wyoming: Clark, .41 Magnum, Grizzly,
Jerry Ruth saw the grizzly for just a fraction of a second before it was on him.

Within seconds, the 275-pound animal had crushed the Wyoming man's jaw when it bit him in the face, fractured his rib and punctured his lung and left deep bite wounds in his calf and scratches across his back.

After the attack, the bear left him for her three cubs that Ruth saw for the first time as he lay bleeding on the dirt. When it reached the cubs about 15 yards away, the bear turned toward him again, "squaring off" as if to charge, Ruth recalled Friday.
Ruth grabbed for the .41-caliber magnum revolver he was carrying in a hip holster and relied on his training and experience as a police officer to save his life. He fired three times, saving three bullets in case his first shots failed.

But the bear dropped and didn't move, ending the furious encounter as swiftly as it started.
 31 August, 2015,  Idaho: Bear Attacked Bow Hunter, Could not Reach Bear Spray, Drove off Bear with .44 Magnum pistol shots, 
The hunter reportedly was carrying bear spray, but apparently couldn’t access it when the attack occurred. Fish and Game officials said the man was able to scare the bear off after he tried to shoot her several times with a .44 magnum revolver pistol at point-blank range.

The archer sustained injuries to his hand and wrist, but hiked out under his own power and was transported by ambulance to Madison County Hospital in Rexburg.

May 22, 2016, Oregon,  Shane Thomas, 30-06 Rifle, and semi-automatic pistol, black bear
Finally, Thomas said he was able to kick the bear hard enough to knock him back and grab the pistol. Just as the bear went for his leg again, he fired two shots: the first did nothing, but the second pierced the animal’s gut and forced it to retreat.

Battered and bloodied, Thomas got to his feet and scrambled back to the top of the ridge where he could use his cellphone, which still worked despite being damaged.
There are two other cases that are relevant. In the case of Craig Medred, it is not clear if he had the pistol in hand before he was impacted.

About 1993, Alaska, Kenai peninsula, .454 Casull, Craig Medred Grizzly Field & Stream February, 2003 Letters. (numerous mentions in Medred's columns)
And here I thought the Kenai Penisula brownie I shot off my foot with a .454 Casull about 10 years ago got the worst of it.

In this last case,  Bridger Petrini had shot at the bear with the pistol, before it contacted him. He was able to continue the fight and eventually kill the bear that was attempting to kill him. This illustrates how a pistol can be effectively used while under attack.

25 July, 2018, New Mexico:  Man stops New Mexico bear attack with 10mm Glock 20, black bear

Bridger Petrini is attacked by a near 400 lb cinnamon Black bear. He kills the bear with his Glock 20 10mm during an extended fight. I interviewed Bridger. The case is detailed at the link.

Valérie Théorêt and Adèle Roesholt were found on the trail of a small trapline that could be easily be checked on foot, in about 20 minutes, from the cabin. They were about 275 yards down the trapline trail, heading away from the cabin, when they were attacked.

The bear that killed them was in bad shape. It weighed only 300 pounds. It had no body fat. It was recovering from a severe abdominal wound. It had numerous internal injuries from porcupine quills.

Bear spray is not as effective in cold weather. The coroner's report makes note of "their effectiveness/limitations in winter environments" The coroner does not mention the effectiveness/limitations of pistols or rifles. If bear spray could have been at all effective, a pistol could also have been effective.

Bear spray would not have deterred this bear. A porcupine had not deterred this bear. The bear was so desperately hungry it had killed and eaten a porcupine. To quote the coroner, the bear had: "..multiple porcupine quills penetrating its digestive system from mouth to stomach."

This bear was in such bad shape it was not going to survive the winter. This is not unusual. It is how old bears die, most commonly. They become too old to defend territory and gain enough food to hibernate. Then they die.  Many are killed and eaten by other bears. Most people do not know that bears are cannibals. The biggest mortality factor for bear cubs is likely being killed and eaten by a mature boar.

In Alaska, trappers often carry handguns while checking traplines. In Canada, this option is severely limited. In a search of the trapping regulations for the Yukon, I did not found any potential to allow the carry of a pistol on the trapline.

Eva Holland, a writer based in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, has many people in her circle of friends who knew Valérie Théorêt. She refrained from writing about the incident until the coroner's report was released. She came to a different conclusion than I have.
From outsideonline.com:
The investigators’ reconstruction of the attack made it clear: even if, somehow, Valérie had had a loaded gun in her hand when the bear made his move, she wouldn’t have had a chance. The only thing she could have done differently, I realized, was not be there. Not have gone for a walk with her child in the freshly fallen snow, not have been in the backcountry to begin with.
With all respect, Eva, it is a common human characteristic to rationalize events after the fact.

People who do not wish to learn about or to use handguns often find rationalizations as to why they would be ineffective or of no use. In Canada, handguns are so severely restricted,  speculations about their effectiveness are politically incorrect.

In this case, we know Germund's rifle was very effective in stopping the bear attack. If Valérie Théorêt had carried a handgun, and known how to use it, she and Adèle might still be alive. There is no certainty, of course. But, it is entirely plausible she could have used such a defensive tool to survive the bear attack. Several other people have done so.

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

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