Saturday, September 24, 2022

Realistic Bear Defensive Shooting Drills


Image by Troy Nemitz, with permission.

Realistic bear defense drills can help prepare gun owners for actual situations.

The success of Eli Dicken in stopping a mass murder in the early stages, with excellent marksmanship at a claimed 40 yards, has engendered a plethora of people making and executing some form of a "Dicken Drill" of ten shots at 40 yards.

There have been a number of "bear defense" exercises, usually arranged to simulate a worst case scenario.

I know of one such scenario, as it was related to me, by the inventor/trainer who ran it for a major agency.

The "bear" ran on a cart, as I recall, starting 10 yards away.  Speed was determined by the person who ran away from the shooting line, pulling the bear, which also moved up and down on the terrain, toward the trainee shooter.

The trainer prepped the trainee, to be tested, thus:

The trainee was armed with a pump shotgun with a sling. There were rounds in the magazine, but none allowed in the chamber. The shot gun had to be slung on the shoulder, with the safety on, and the bolt locked forward.  To engage the target, the trainee had to unsling the shotgun, disengage the bolt lock, work the action, disengage the safety, then shoot.  Alternatively, the trainee could unsling the shotgun, disengage the safety, dry fire the shot gun, which would disengage the bolt lock, work the action, and then shoot.

Once preparation to do the drill was ready, the trainer would engage the trainee with a question or small talk. When the trainee's attention was off the "bear" the trainer would give the secret signal to start the bear charging at the trainee.

Unsurprisingly, few trainees managed to get off a shot and hit the "bear".

Trainers can create a drill to obtain the effect they want to establish.

A bears brain is reasonably close to the size and shape of a 12 ounce beverage can. To build confidence in shooters concerned about bear defense, I suggest these drills, taken from actual bear defense situations. The 12 ounce can should be oriented close to how it would be in a bear. :

The Ralph Fletcher Drill

In 1960, as three people were having lunch by an Alaskan lake, a black bear charged out of the brush and grabbed Francis Canton.   Her friend, Johnson, grabbed a stick and beat on the bear, which dropped Francis, charged him, but stopped to eat the lunch. The other friend, Ralph Fletcher, retrieved a .22 pistol from the float plane, walked to within a few feet of the bear, and killed it.

Here is the Ralph Fletcher Drill. Set up a target, a 12 ounce can will do, behind  a target of a bear head, side view. The can should be located behind the target, similar to  where the brain is located on a bear.  The shooter is unarmed, five feet from the target. The pistol is placed 30 feet away, loaded.

On command, the shooter retrieves the pistol and returns to within seven feet of the bear target. Once the seven foot line is reached, the shooter has 15 seconds to shoot the bear in the brain.

The Dusel-Bacon Drill 

On August 13, 1977,Geologist Cynthia Dusel-Bacon  had been dropped off by helicopter.  She was hiking along a narrow path on a ridge a few miles from the Salcha River, about 60 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska. A “small black bear” startled her with a crash in the brush. It appeared to her, staring at her, from about 10 feet away. She yelled at it. She pounded a rock with her hammer to make noise. The bear was not intimidated.  Cynthia took a step back, which was also higher on the rock.


The bear moved out of her sight, then struck her from behind and knocked her down. She had been told playing dead was the best strategy, so she did. She lost both her arms, but survived.

Cynthia had time to draw a pistol and shoot the bear, but as a condition of work, she was unarmed. Here is the Dusel-Bacon Drill:

Set up the bear target 10 feet from the shooter. The shooter has a holstered pistol.  On command, the shooter has 10 seconds to draw and shoot the bear.

The  Cecil Rhodes Drill 

In October of 1947, Cecil Rhodes was backpacking in Alaska. He had a .38 revolver. A big grizzly approached him. When it reached within 11 feet of him, he shot it in the head, deliberately aiming off center, afraid the bullet would "bounce off".  At the shot, the bear "slumped" but did not go down. The bear retreated.  Then he heard cubs, indicating the grizzly was a sow.  The bear returned, and moved past him, only 15 feet away. He did not shoot, even though he had a clear shot at her head.  The bear did not cause him any more trouble.

For this drill, the shooter is situated 20 feet from a bear target, head on.  A 12 ounce can is placed behind the area where the brain is inside a bear head.   The shooter, pistol in hand, is told to move to the 11 foot line. When the shooter reaches the line, they are to fire the pistol at the bear head target. They have 3 seconds.

The Tanner Allen Drill 

On August 8th, 2009, in Wyoming, Tanner Allen defended himself against a grizzly bear with cubs.  After a couple of misses with his .41 magnum, in a chaotic situation involving his dog, the bear ran off. Tanner started climbing down off the mesa he was on, only to have the bear come at him from the bottom up, in the narrow chute he was descending.  He climbed a couple of feet to a more stable position. When the bear reached within two feet of him, he fired his pistol into the bears head, killing it.

For this drill, the shooter is started 50 feet from the target of the bears head.  The target is obscured by a blank target four feet in front of it.  The shooter walks toward blank target, pistol in hand. When he reaches the blank target, the trainer pulls/moves it down remotely. That is the signal to fire at the revealed bear target.  Shooter has two seconds.

The purpose these drills serve is to inculcate the necessity of shooting and killing the bear to stop attacks, and to show most bear attacks do not occur with complete surprise at extremely close range.  In a large number of bear attacks, there is some warning, and there is time to make ready before firing.  It is important for shooters to know where a bear's brain is located inside a bears head.

There may not be much time. In a deadly force situation, two seconds is plenty of time to draw a holstered handgun and fire, with just a little practice. If that is found to be difficult, try a different holster.

We may never know what is an "average" bear attack.  Those who wish to minimize bear attacks define "bear attacks" as only those incidents where contact between the bear and the person is made. Such a definition automatically excludes all attacks where the bear is stopped before contact is made.

It is a silly definition. If a person is yelling "I am going to kill you!" and running at you with a knife, it is an attack, even if you shoot the person before they make contact, close a door to keep them out, or they trip over a curb and knock themselves out before they reach you.

A more reasonable approach would be what is used to justify deadly force.

Is the bear close enough to pose an imminent danger?

Stephen Herrero says if a bear is "charging", 50 to 100 feet may be the appropriate distance.  (Bear Attacks, 3rd ed. published in 2018, p. 243.)

Did the bear knowingly approach humans from further away?

Did the bear refuse to give way to humans?

Does the bear show no fear of humans?

Bears do not understand or recognize human laws or human morals. Bears tend to be cannibals when the opportunity presents itself. Mature boars often kill and eat bear cubs.

The famous bear researcher, Stephen Herrero, wrote an aggressive bear which refuses to leave a campsite, may need to be killed. The advice has remained the same since 1981. From "Bear Attacks" third edition, 2018, p. 243:

A firearm is also useful when a very aggressive bear shows up around camp and cannot be persuaded to leave. Such bears normally have a history of feeding on people's food or garbage, and may have to be killed.

If a known large human outlaw approached you armed with numerous contact weapons, refused to keep their distance from you, and attempted to steal your property, you would be justified to use physical force against them, and likely, deadly force.

There is no reason to give bears more protections than human outlaws.  None of the three species of bears in North America are endangered. The few shot because they threaten humans have no significant effect on bear populations.

In 1976, it was different. There were estimated to be between 229 and 312  grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone Park. Now there are over a thousand, and the population is growing.

©2022 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

Gun Watch

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello, Mr. Weingarten.

I have a potential addition to your “handguns vs. bears” statistics.

The case was happen on 29 May 1928 north of Svalbard, during the failed Italian Arctic expedition led by Umberto Nobile. It was a very famous case. It is well documented. On 25 May 1928 airship “Italia” crashed on the ice, there were 9 survivors (from the crew of 16). They had only one gun: a Colt .38 revolver. After 4 days of the ordeal one of the survivors Finn Malmgren (despite his left arm was broken during the crash) managed to kill a polar bear with three shots from this revolver. It provided meat allowing the others to hold out until the rescue (unfortunately, Malmgren was the only who survived the crash but perished before the help had come).

Primary source: “Umberto Nobile And the Arctic Search for the Airship Italia” by Garth Cameron.
Chapter 6 “Red Tent: 25 May 1928–6 June 1928”, available in preview:
Description of the situation; declaring the revolver was the only firearm left with the survivors (except the flare pistol); identifying the revolver as “Colt”; description of the confrontation with the bear and its killing.

Secondary source: “Ice Crash” by A. McNee. Unfortunately, I couldn’t found a full text. Only a declared quote from the book, on this forum:
Representation of the guns on board of the airship prior crash (3 rifles and 3 revolvers); declaring the caliber of the revolver was .38; more about confrontation and killing the bear.

In 1969 a fiction movie “The Red Tent” about this expedition was filmed. It is VERY BARELY based on the real events so it couldn’t be considered as a documental source (for example, the revolver in the film initially was a Reichsrevolver M1883, but later it transformed off-screen into something looks like Colt Official Police).

Sorry for my English. It’s not my first language.