Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Two Successful Defensive uses of .22 Mag Agains Bears in Boundary Waters Canoe Area


A Boundary Waters Canoe Area camp site, image courtesy Chris Larsen

On Tuesday, August 30, at about 6:50 p.m., James Little was settling into campsite 674 in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). His youngest child was a few feet away.  His youngest cried out, and James grabbed the child, and took a couple of steps, uncertain what had happened. 

Then his oldest yelled "Bear!", and James turned around. The bear was about six feet from him. It had been within 3-4 feet of his back when the child was startled. This was the start of the remarkable incident. In James' words:

 Just finished a trip to Horseshoe that should have been three nights, but turn to one.

(Campsite 674) Had a bear walk right into camp and within four feet of my youngest! Nothing would discourage him till I fired a couple of rounds. 

We packed up and bolted to an open site (campsite 677) a half mile away on the other side of the lake. Weren’t there five minutes and was pulling up the food bag and my wife screamed. There was another bear fifteen feet away heading to our canoe with our kids in it. I had to fire another round before he would be deterred. 

Left that site and unexpected BWCA.com member Ausable and his crew took my family and me in for the night. (Campsite 672)

Early the next morning, we broke came and headed out. My family had had too much. Across from the portage from Caribou to Lizz, (campsite 645) the campers there had their breakfast intruded upon by a bear who would not be deterred till he had taken their food bag. 

This correspondent was able to talk to James, who reported the incident to the BWCA authorities. 

James used a North American Arms mini revolver, the Wasp model in .22 magnum, with a 1 5/8 inch barrel. The revolver was loaded with Speer Gold Dot defensive ammunition. 

James was certain there were two bears, not one. To reach campsite 677 in time, the first bear would have had to swim across a lake. The second bear was not wet.  Both bears were adults, weighing over 200 lbs. In James’ estimation, the bears were in the 300 lb range.

Both bears were persistent and would not leave. They would retreat a few feet, then come back. 

With the first bear, when James fired the warning shot, the bear ran off about 100 yards, then stopped and looked back. James fired a second warning shot, and the bear ran out of sight. 

The .22 magnum mini-revolvers are quite loud.

At campsite 677, the second bear came within six feet, then retreated, then came back, then moved toward the canoe where the children were. That is when James fired a warning shot in the second encounter. At the warning shot, the bear retreated to the surrounding forest.

Acknowledged bear expert Stephen Herrero considered just such a possibility when musing about the utility of firearms as a defense against bears.  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.

In James’ case, the bears were sufficiently startled by the warning shots to run off. Whether the bears would have returned is uncertain.  

James’ wife questioned the utility of a firearm on a camping trip. Now she is glad James was armed.

In about 10% of documented cases where a pistol was fired in defense against bears, warning shots were sufficient. Some cases are uncertain because people aimed at the bear but it could not be determined if the bear had been hit. 

It is likely one of the two bears scared off by James pistol shots stole the food supply of the campers at campsite 645.

This correspondent believes most cases of successful warning shots are not recorded. No person was injured, no bear was wounded or killed, so the event was not newsworthy.  

One of this correspondent's colleague's related an incident which happened 30+ years ago, in which warning shots from a .41 magnum worked to dissuade a grizzly bear. Because there was no precise date or location (other than central Alaska), the incident is not considered documented and is not included in the data base. 

In a significant number of cases, using a firearm as a noisemaker is sufficient to deter problem bears.

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

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