Saturday, July 06, 2024

Handguns in Defense Against Bears by Caliber - .357 Magnum (14 incidents)

S&W  Model 66 .357 Magnum courtesy of Rock Island Auction

Many readers are interested in how various handgun calibers have performed in defense against bears. This is a complicated subject. Sometimes, any caliber will do. Sometimes a level of power may be required. Sometimes, a level of accuracy or speed may be required. Many permutations exist.  The most important aspect, if a confrontation occurs, is to have a firearm available, easily and quickly accessible. The specific caliber is less important. These updates include all the incidents we have been able to document to the date of the update, after several years of intense searches. We have always asked for examples of failures. Only four failures have been documented. Link to three failures. Link to fourth failure. We appreciate readers who help us document cases.

Here are all the cases which have been documented where .357 Magnum  caliber revolvers were fired in defense against bears. These cases do not include incidents where handguns were use with other lethal means, or a mix of handgun calibers were used. If more than one handgun of the same caliber was used, the incident is included.  There are 14 incidents with a .357 caliber revolver (3 black, 10  brown, 1 polar bear), 1 incident was a failure with a brown bear. 1 incident was indeterminate. The incidents are listed chronologically.

We have found 14 cases where .357 magnum revolvers were used to defend against bears. 12 were successful, one was unsuccessful against a brown bear, one was indeterminate.

September of 1956 or 1957 Highland Valley, Geologist Alex Burton, Highland Valley, British Columbia, .357magnum Colt revolver, Black Bear.

I interviewed Alex Burton. The details of his cases are at the link on Ammoland.

When Alex arrived at the scene, the Cook had gone back to the dump. Alex had to retrieve his 357 Colt revolver, unlock the box it was in, retrieve ammunition from another box, and load it. While he was doing this, the Cook came running back from the dump, with the bear chasing him. Alex shot the bear from about 100 feet away. The bear ran into the dense woods. Alex was obligated to follow it up, and, fortunately, found it dead a short ways into the woods.

Spring, 1961, Washington State, Grays Harbor County, .357 magnum, black bear, From The Education of a Bear Hunter by Ralph Flowers p. 115,116

I was standing in a little clearing about fifteen feet in diameter and I couldn’t see the bear until she burst out of the thicket, heading straight for me, clicking her teeth like castanets. I saw black in my sights and pulled the trigger and the old bear skidded to a halt, right at my feet. I put another bullet into the yearling, and then I sat down on the log by the trap, my heart thumping as I realized how close I had been to tangling with that mad sow bear. 

I walked over to look at the mother bear and saw that my bullet had hit her directly in the top center of the nose, just below the eyes, and had gone straight into her brain, killing her instantly.

The author, Ralph Flowers, was severely mauled twice in his professional bear hunting career. In both cases, he did not have his .357 revolver with him.


Summer 1976 – Grizzly, Montana, .357 magnum Allen Schallenberger

In Allen’s own words starting in the summer of 1976:

In the summer of 1976, I was working alone on the grizzly bear research and was on a trip in the Scapegoat Wilderness south of the Benchmark Road end on USFS land. I was riding my saddle horse and leading two pack horses with my equipment and camping supplies. I rode into a small grassy opening suitable for horse feed north of Half Moon Peak at about dusk. I unloaded the two pack horses and turned them loose to graze with hobbles and was starting to unsaddle my riding horse. A very heavy, tall, dark colored grizzly bear appeared walking on the nearby USFS trail about 30 yards away. He made no bad threats and kept walking. I had been out about two weeks and my flashlight batteries were dead. Quickly I threw some stove fuel on dry sticks and got a large fire going for light. I put a double halter rope on my horse so he could not break loose from the tree. I set up my small tent and then I stood outside watching my horses and listening to the bear circle the small clearing breaking sticks. The horses with hobbles were not eating and were pivoting sensing the travel of the bear circling around us.

After about two hours, I knew I had to do something to scare away the very large and aggressive bear. I fired six fast shots with my Colt Python and reloaded quickly. The bear left and I tied up all the horses, ate some supper and went to bed in the tent. The horses were allowed to graze the next morning before we headed back to our pickup and trailer at Benchmark Road. The bear’s tracks were in the trail dust for several miles. The front paw print was 8 inches wide which indicates a very big grizzly in Montana. That was the last trip I ever made in grizzly research without a 760 Remington pump 30:06 rifle with ghost ring peep sight and 220 grain loads or a short, barreled Remington 12 gauge 870 with sights and a combination of double 00 buck and slugs along with my revolver and hard cast lead bullets.

Spring of 1977, Byers Lake Campground milepost 147 of Parks Highway, Alaska, grizzly bear, .357 magnum.  Alaskan Bear Tales, Larry Kanuit, p. 156. 

Lori Meade was camping with her parents. She and her sister were in a tent and her parents were in a camper. Here father's .357 revolver was in the cab of the pickup. A grizzly bear came into camp, knocked over trash cans and swatted the cooler with about 80 lbs of meat in it. The cooler landed a few feet from the tent. Her father tried to scare the bear off, but it calmly continued to eat
from the cooler. Her father then accessed his .357 magnum. From Lori:

"Dad then got his .357 and fired three rounds into the air. The bear dropped the package of sausage and looked at Dad. He shot another round, and the bear reared."

Dad then started shouting: "Don't say anything! Go out the back of the tent, fast! We have a bear!

"Being awakened at 5:30 a.m. anytime is a shocker, but with gunfire and a bear in camp!"

"Well, Lynn couldn't get out of her sleeping bag, so she took it with her - hippity hop, hippity hop. Instead of going out the back of the tent, which Lynn had to crawl under, I went out the front. Off to my right, about three feet, was the bear. Boy, did I ever boogie to the pickup!"

"The bear stood their looking at Dad straight in the eyes, not moving. So Dad had one heck of a decision - He knew he only had one round left.  He was close enough he could kill the bear if he got the bear either between the eyes or in the throat. He wasn't that sure of himself so he started walking toward the bear and shot his last shot i the air. Finally the bear lumbered for the trees. He picked up a steak on his way out!"

Lori's father only had five rounds in his .357 revolver.

Summer 1977 – Grizzly Bears, Montana, .357 mag as told by Allen Schallenberger

In spring 1977, I was flying with a small plane pilot out of the Choteau airport to check on the location of radio collared grizzly bears. My spring helper Roy Jacobs and I had a few snares set in aspen patches on Ear Mountain, a prominent peak on the mountain front adjacent to the foothills and prairie about 25 miles west of Choteau. I flew over the snare sets with the pilot to check for bears and I spotted two adult grizzlies in snares and another adult hanging out with a snared bear. We immediately stopped our radio monitoring flight and went back to the Choteau airport. Roy and I caught our saddle horses and a pack animal for our trapping and radio gear and loaded up my trailer at Choteau. Roy who was a local suggested we get Wayne and Chip Gollehon who ranched on Ear Mountain to help us handle the bears for safety. I called Wayne and we met them on horses on the mountain.

We had no trouble with the first large male and I quickly drugged him with a dart gun, and we measured him and put a radio collar on him. The other pair was about a mile away. We all tied up our horses to aspen trees and I gave my shotgun to Wayne Gollehon and told him his job was watch for the courting sow grizzly which had been hanging out with the adult male in the snare. After I drugged the bear and we were getting ready to put the radio collar on him, Wayne yelled, “ Look out here she comes”! She was charging us at a trot at about 40 yards. I jerked my Colt Python .357 out and fired two shots into the air and she swerved away and did not return. Roy had laid his shotgun on the ground and had to run toward the female to get it. We finished measuring the male and put the radio collar on him. We thanked the Gollehon’s for helping and they rode their horses home. Roy and I went to the Cow Track Restaurant and had late dinner and a couple of drinks to settle our nerves. Roy grew up in Choteau and had camped and hunted on Ear Mountain many times without realizing how many grizzlies were present.

August 29, 1978 – Montana Grizzly bear .357 mag, indeterminate, as told by Allan Schallenberger

When we had climbed to about 8,200 feet which was above timberline, we spotted a large adult grizzly at about 300 yards coming down a game trail on the mountain toward us. Keith checked the radio, and it was our courting male we caught on Ear Mountain in 1977. I said I guess I better let him know we are in the area, and I yelled,” Hey bear” loudly. He let out a string of bear cuss words and started running toward us as fast as he could run. I quickly fired two .357 magnum shots in the air which appeared to have no effect on him. I quickly stuffed two more shells in the revolver and gave it to Keith. I chambered a round in my shotgun and stuffed another slug round in the magazine. There was a five-foot-high boulder about 20 feet behind us and we got behind that. I told Keith when the grizzly appeared on top of the ridge, we were going to kill him. We waited with our hair standing up and the bear did not appear. A check with the radio receiver showed he had passed down the other side of the ridge headed for the dense forest on the river.

September 15 1985, near Healy, Alaska Ruger single-action .357 magnum, grizzly, Ben Moore: Bear Attacks of the Century: True Stories of Courage and Survival P. 23-24

The shots were slightly delayed because the revolver was a single action

The bear charged him. His first shot was from about 5 feet, into the chest. The bear grabbed him by the leg and threw him, then picked him up again. Ben missed a shot, the managed to get a shot into the bear’s stomach. The bear dropped him, then grabbed him by the head, shook him, and dropped him again. He shoved the pistol and both hands into the bears mouth, and fired.

The bear moved back, shook its head, took a swipe at Ben with its paw, leaving a sliver of claw through Ben’s thumb.

Then it walked off. The attack was finished.

Ben required reconstructive surgery for his face, but fully recovered.

August 1986, Tsiu River south of Cordova, Alaska, .357 magnum revolvers, grizzly bear

A group of seven people on a fishing trip, with a guide and a cook, had to deal with an increasingly aggressive grizzly over several days. The group included Bob and Marietta Herron and their friend, Bill. They kept a watch at night, and repeatedly drove off the bear with warning shots. About 1 am on the fourth day, the bear ignored warning shots and came within 15 yards of the group. During more warning shots, the guide’s .30-06 rifle misfired, and one member fired at the bear, with his .357. The bear moved off. after the sun came up, the group found the bear, dead, with two .357 slugs in it. Page 312-313 Safe with Bears.

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

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.

June or July, 1991, Ontario, Canada, Garden Lake, black bear, .357 magnum (Colt Python) Mentioned in Comments on Ammoland.

I interviewed George Scott in 2019.

Government geologist George Scott had an ATC (Authority to Carry) while in the performance of official duties. A black bear raided coolers and ate steaks and pork chops, punctured all coke cans. The next morning, it was foggy and Scott went out fishing, leaving his Colt Python Stainless steel revolver in the holster, loaded, in the cabin. He heard gunshots and returned to the cabin. His partner had fired at the bear, but had missed. The next morning, approached the outhouse with toilet paper in one hand and the Python in the other. The bear came out from behind the outhouse when he was 20 feet away. He fired one shot, and the bear ran 40 feet and expired.

July, 1992, near the town of Central, Alaska, Grizzly, .357 revolver.

A 600 lb grizzly breaks into a mining claim trailer. 14 year old Clint Reynolds shoots the bear seven times with a .357 revolver. The bear leaves the trailer via a window. There were three shots to the chest of the bear with the .357. The bear died outside the trailer. Anchorage Daily News, as reported by Craig Medred, J-8, 1992 as reported in Safe with Bears, page 314.


February 27, 1993 – Barents Sea, Norway FOIA Polar Bears Rubber bullet from a special handgun or .357 Mag.

The bear was observed around 12-13 hours by Joan and Jill at the first cabin on Vestpynten after the camping place. The next cabin is Ralph. They saw the bear on the shore, walking towards Ralph’s cabin. The dogs (8) Ralph had with him had warned him about the bear and he started taking them inside. To the witnesses on the other cabin it looked like the bear was smelling the dogs and getting interested. Ralph said he had 3 dogs left outside when the bear arrived at the cabin. The witnesses only saw 1. Ralph tells that the bear had a dark spot on the belly, maybe from oil spill and that it was very aggressive. He went to get a special weapon, “rubber-bullet gun”. At about 1m distance he fired one shot at the bear. He think it hit the bear in the side. Joan couldn’t see the weapon properly, but she thought it was a pistol because he was holding it with one hand. She could not see it if the bear reacted after the first shot, but she said that he fired one more shot and that the bear then jumped and ran away towards the sea. Ralph himself claims he only fired one shot. Jill also thought she saw Ralph fire 2 shots but she wasn’t certain. She was certain that he didn’t use a rifle/ shotgun sized weapon, but a smaller type of weapon.

The rubber-bullet-gun was never shown to the police, and at the next interview, Ralph had destroyed it.

The rubber-bullet-gun was purchased in Canada 20 years before. The same goes for the ammunition. The day of the incident was the first time Ralph used the gun, and it was the last of the ammo. 20 year old rubber bullets can get hard as rock and since it was fired at very close range it might have made serious injuries to the bear. Ralph also had a .357 revolver. Ralph claimed it was inside the cabin when he shot at the bear.


June 20, 2010, Alaska: Geologist Pistol Defense failure Grizzly Bear, .357 Magnum

Miller managed to pull out his .357 Magnum revolver and squeeze off a shot, possibly grazing the animal. Then he fell onto his stomach, dug his face into the dirt and covered his neck.

The bear went for his exposed right arm, gnawing and clawing it and chipping the bone off the tip of his elbow. The attack lasted 10 to 15 seconds, then the animal lumbered away.

As Miller rolled over and was getting to his knees, the bear, only about 40 yards away, came at him again.

He managed to fire two more shots, but with his right arm badly injured he thinks he missed the bear. Then he lay still as the animal gnawed and clawed at him.

After the second attack, Miller played dead again, lying still for three to five minutes. He tried to move and realized he couldn’t. He was too badly injured.

“I was just hoping my radio was still in my vest pocket and it was,” he said. “I got it out and started radioing mayday, which nobody answered.”

July 26, 2014, Montana: Glacier National Park: Bear first sprayed, then shot with a .357, grizzly bear

Murphy first sprayed bear spray at the bear when it was 15 to 25 feet away, firing one shot from his .357 revolver when the bear had approached to within 7-10 feet. The bear was charging uphill at the time. He only fired one round at the bear, which fell back and stopped moving when shot. Many have suggested that he should have continued firing, but it is hard to argue with success.


©2024 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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