Saturday, December 05, 2020

Tanner Allen, Bear Defense in NW Wyoming, .41 Magnum Single Action

Image of Grizzly shot in Self Defense, by Brian Berg, used by permission (Bob Marshall Wilderness, not in Shoshone National Forest)

While researching pistol uses in self defense from bears, it was noticed the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) bear mortality data base listed a self defense killing on 8 August of 2009.  The database did not indicate what kind of firearm might have been used. 

Years later, Bridger Petrini gave a lead to the person who had been attacked, and had defended himself with a .41 magnum single action revolver.

Tanner Allen, who lives in Wyoming, is an accomplished hunting dog trainer and dog breeder. His hounds are sought after by big game hunters to improve their packs. They are noted for there ability to trail and hold mountain lions and bear.

In August of 2009, Tanner was not seeking bears or mountain lions. He had drawn a coveted permit to hunt mountain sheep. It was a lifelong dream to harvest a trophy ram.

He took one dog with him, a bitch named Ovada, who was a great mountain lion dog, and a favored pet.  Tanner took his mules and gear to the Shoshone National Forest, to Ishawooa Mesa, on 7 August, 2009, to scout the mountains for the trophy ram he sought.

It was a five hour muleback ride into the mountains to where he set up a base camp.

Early the next morning, Tanner woke, and before breakfast, accompanied by his dog, Ovada, he prepared to glass for sheep. He had seen signs of bears digging for roots on the mesa. Almost as an afterthought, he strapped on his Ruger Blackhawk .41 mag in its holster and pistol belt. The pistol was loaded with five rounds of factory ammunition. Loops on the belt held six more rounds.  To Tanner, the pistol and rounds were another piece of gear. He wasn't know for babying himself or his gear. His friends had kidded him about his old and abused ammunition.

There wasn't much wind at sunrise. As he gained elevation to the top of the mesa where he would be glassing for sheep, the wind picked up. The visibility was excellent. He did not see any sheep.  By 8 o'clock, he was thinking about heading back to base camp, a thousand yards away, looking forward to coffee and something to eat.  A sound caught his attention. He looked toward the sound.  There was Ovada, a sow grizzly bear and two cubs, charging full tilt at him from a hundred yards out.

Tanner drew the Blackhawk .41.  He does not consider himself a pistolero, but the big revolver was comforting in his hands.

He fired a warning shot over the sow's head. It made no impression.

He fired again. A miss.   The bears and dog were close, now. The sights lined up. A pause, perfect sight picture... click and misfire!  He fired again. Another miss, but now the bears and dog ran off, out of sight.

One round was left in the Blackhawk. Tanner had six rounds in his gun belt loops. He reloaded. He decided to leave the area, in case the bear came back.

50 yards away, a narrow chute gave a less than vertical way done the mesa. He started into it. He had only descended 20 feet when he heard and saw the sow again.  It had circled around the bottom of the mesa and was now coming up the chute, directly at him! He reversed course, climbed up, and scrambled onto a rocky outcrop.  Sow, dog, and cubs all moved as fast as they could up the steep slope of the chute.

Tanner cocked the pistol and held it steady. As the sow's head came to within two feet of his position, he fired directly into her forehead. Instant death. The sow tumbled backward and rolled over and over down the chute, with Ovada in pursuit. She came to rest 150 feet away.

Tanner stayed at base camp overnight. He took his mules back to the trailhead the next day. Then he reported the shooting to Wyoming  Game and Fish.

He and the investigating officer went back to the mesa.  Ovada ran off as they rode into the wilderness. They could hear her baying.  They continued to the defensive shooting site, and recorded the incident. Pictures and measurements were taken. 

On the way out, they located Ovada. She had treed a mountain lion, and held it, by herself.

Tanner says bear spray would not have worked, because of the wind. He says the wind is almost always strong at the higher elevations.

 Once, he says, he was riding a small mule, and both he and the mule were blown off the trail. He says the hunters, who were on large horses, laughed at the incident.

The self defense shooting of the grizzly bear was never reported in the media. Only the brief mention of the shooting was recorded in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem database of bear mortality.

If Bridger Petrini had not recalled hearing of the incident from Tanner Allen, and put me in touch with him, it would remain one of many, unrecorded and unknown, to those who were not intimately involved. 

©2020 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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