Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Handguns in Defense Against Bears by Caliber - .40 caliber, .44-40, .45 Colt 13 Incidents


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 .40, .44-40, and .45 Colt (long) caliber handguns were fired in defense against bears. These calibers are fairly close in power, although there is variation as usual. This grouping includes three calibers to include enough incidents to be illuminating.  These cases do not include incidents where handguns were used with other lethal means, or a mix of handgun calibers were used. There are 7 incidents with  .40 caliber handguns (6 black bear, 1 brown), 2 incidents with .44-40  revolvers (1 black, 1 brown), and 4 incidents with .45 Colt (long) caliber revolvers (2 black, 2 brown). All were successful. The incidents are listed by caliber, chronologically within caliber.

We have found seven  cases where .40 caliber pistols were used to defend against bears.  6 against black bears, 1 against a brown bear. All were successful.

June 2, 2006, Alaska: Black Bear broke into Anchorage home, AK Glock .40

A large black bear broke into an Anchorage home early this morning, rummaged around like a burglar and feasted on a box of chocolates before the homeowner shot him dead with a Glock.


Knowlton said the bear started back up the stairs toward his son. He shot the animal multiple times and it went back downstairs.

 September 23, 2008 .40 caliber Black bear bit deputy in Morrow County Ohio, near Gilead. 500 lb Black Bear.

MOUNT GILEAD, Ohio, Sept. 23 (UPI) — Authorities in Morrow County, Ohio, said a deputy shot and killed a 500-pound black bear that had bit him on the leg.

Another mention, Stuart Mattix the deputy.

One of his deputies was bitten on the leg by an escaped bear in September. Deputy Stuart Mattix shot and killed a nearly 500-pound black bear that had been kept at a home on County Road 24, just south of Mount Gilead.

email from Sgt Lance Plough/964 Morrow County Sheriff’s Office

Deputy Mattix is the one who shot the bear while it was biting his leg. He was carrying a Glock 23 .40 caliber with Winchester Ranger hollow points. He shot 9 rounds which were mainly to the bears head and neck. A few of the rounds glanced off the head. This particular incident took place early afternoon.

October 20, 2011, Ohio: Zanesville, escaped bear, duty pistol, .40 caliber (from Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office)

But soon, he was facing another, much larger, problem. His commanding officer told him a lion had been cornered back at the Thompson home. He headed back, but instead of finding a lion, he was confronted by an angry bear.

“The black bear turned in my direction and ran directly towards me,” Merry told ABC News. “I fortunately was able to pull my duty pistol, fired one shot, killing the animal instantly. The black bear fell approximately fell seven feet in front of me.”


Fred Polk watched in disbelief as he watched the bear charge Merry and a lion leap over a fence into his yard about 5 p.m. Tuesday night.

“One of the bears charged the deputy and the deputy shot it. After that one of the lions jumped the fence come down here and the deputy shot it in my front yard,” Polk said.


May 28, 2016 Bear Creek Drainage 16 miles N. of Dubois, Wyoming, .40 cal Grizzly bear, AmmoLand article, FOIA page 432

The son yelled at the bear and drew his Springfield sub-compact. He did not have a round in the chamber.  The Springfield comes with a 9 round and a 10 round magazine.  He chambered a round and checked to be sure the safety was off. The pistol was new. He had never fired it before. His father had owned the same model for some time.

The son noticed, as the bear continued to run at him, that it appeared to be in full charge mode, with its ears laid back. He noticed a cub was with the sow. As the sow came within 30 yards of him, he started firing at the bear and moving to put a small tree between him and the charging grizzly.

The son fired his final rounds as the charging bear approached within feet. The bear went down and slid downslope about five yards where it died. In the investigation which followed. Ten .40 caliber brass were found at the scene. The brass was within 2-3 yards of the dead bear.


May 13, 2017, New Hampshire: Bristol, Officer shoots, kills Aggressive Black Bear with .40 cal Glock

Police Chief Michael Lewis said Thursday that, on May 13 at 12:25 a.m., officer Thomas Seager responded to a 911 call from a resident on Riverdale Road about a bear breaking into a garage.

When the bear advanced toward Seager, he fired a “scare” shot, causing the bear to leave the area, Lewis said.

Seager reported the incident to the state’s Fish and Game Department but, nine minutes later, the property owner called to say the bear was back and up in a tree.

The second time the officer responded, the bear came down out of the tree and advanced on Seager again, according to Lewis.

“One round was fired, terminating the bear,” Lewis said.

The animal was killed with the officer’s .40-caliber Glock handgun.

October 12, 2020 – Black Bear, .40 Caliber Katchmak State Park Alaska

The attack occurred as the Bates family, Weatherly Bates, her husband, their 12-year-old son, Rockwell, their 10-year-old daughter Vera, and two family dogs, on leashes, were hiking on the Glacier Moraine Trail in Kachemak Bay State park.

Weatherly Bates had a .40 caliber S&W in her backpack. The bear came at them at about 3 p.m., even though they yelled at it and bunched together.

Weatherly Bates explains what happened:

“It did attack. It was a predatory bear That year we had a lot of problems. The bears were starving. There was, like, no berries. We were hiking and we noticed there was a bear spray cap on the ground. A couple of minutes later a bear came up behind us.  I tried to yell and scare it away, but it kept coming. I did have a gun in my backpack, so I started backing up to my husband.”

Weatherly’s husband accessed the pistol from her backpack. Weatherly continues:

“I could tell this bear wasn’t stopping. Our dog got in between the bear and our son. She didn’t even bark at it. It tackled her and started biting her head. We let our other dog go, he was on a leash. He started biting the bear. We think that is what saved our female German Shepard. My husband had to grab the bear and get it so he could dispatch it without shooting our dog. He shot it point blank in the spine. It took two shots before it let go. Then he shot it about five more times.”


August 13, 2022 – Colorado Steamboat Springs, Black Bear, .40 Caliber

A bear entered a home in Steamboat at 2 a.m. Saturday. Kelly Mauldin heard her dogs barking and got up to investigate and discovered the 300-400 male bear in her house. She screamed for her husband, Ken, who got up and shot and killed the bear.

“When I went to my bedroom door, I saw the bear about 10 feet away and shot it instantly with a 40-caliber, semi-automatic handgun. Then the bear charged me. I continued shooting at it as fast as I could. The bullet hole in the floor suggested the bear got about five to six feet from me when he backed up, changed directions, and crashed through the bannister railing onto the stairs, where he collapsed at the bottom of the stairs.”

We have found two cases, both successful, where a .44-40 was used to defend against a bear, 1 brown, 1 black.

1890’s, Headwaters of the South Fork of the Klamath River near the California/Oregon border, grizzly bear, .44-40 in a Colt Single Action revolver.

The bear invaded the camp and treed the men. Captain S.C. Kyle had a creel full of fish and a .44 Colt (Most likely a .44-40, the second most common Colt revolver caliber of the period) on his hip. He shot the bear, creasing the top of its head from front to back; the bear was able to jump, climb, and grab his boot, then dropped back. He continued to fire at the bear, which eventually wandered off to the side, and expired from shots which reached the lungs.

Colt on the Trail, published 1934, p. 30-32

July 16, 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.

There have been four cases where .45 Colt (long) revolvers were used against bears, 2 black, 2 brown, all succesful.

20 September, 2005 Washington State Bear Attack .45 Long Cold Revolver (black bear)

In 2005, Travis Newman was archery hunting in Washington state. He had drawn an archery elk tag for the Blue Mountains near Walla Walla. Late in the evening of the 20th of September, he was on a familiar elk trail.

As he approached a corner, he thought: “I don’t remember seeing that stump before.”  The “stump” was close, about 10 yards.  The “stump” transformed itself into a big bear coming at him full bore, furiously chomping its jaws. Travis thought the bear would bluff, took a step back, and speed drew his Taurus Tracker .45 Colt from a cross-body holster made by Uncle Mike. The revolver was loaded with Remington 250-grain jacketed hollow points.

October, 2015, Idaho: Bear Attack on Sleeping Man Stopped with a .45 Colt/.410 revolver, black bear

Steven Vouch reached for his gun when he realized he was being attacked, but it wasn’t there. That is when his friend shot the bear with a .45. Vouch is on the left in the Cowboy hat.

More extensive account in Field and Stream Here. The pistol was a Taurus Judge

I yelled and started reaching for my pistol, but the bear had shoved it out of reach while rummaging around. But then Bobby woke up and saw him standing over me and grabbed his Judge revolver. He lifted the tarp to see and then, sticking the gun right above my head, shot the bear in the face from, like, a foot away.

September 29 2012, .45 Long Colt, Wyoming, Venus Creek, Shoshone National Forest, Grizzly bear, Pages 36 and  1302 FOIA

Two elk archery hunters had processed a bull elk they shot at about 12:30 p.m.  At about 3:30 p.m. they were returning to camp when they saw another elk and were discussing how to approach it.  They were about a quarter mile from the processed elk carcass. They saw a grizzly sow and one or two cubs. They retreated a short ways, but the sow decided to charge them. The hunter who had arrowed the elk drew a Ruger Blackhawk revolver, chambered in .45 Long Colt.  He dropped to his left knee, as the bear charged from 25 yards away.   He fired and missed at 12 yards; fired a  second shot at 8 yards, and hit the bear.

The bear retreated toward the cub or cubs, then charged again. The hunter fired three more shots. He hit on the fifth shot. The bear fell and started spinning around. As this was happening, the hunters retreated. The pistol shooter retrieved ammunition from his pack and reloaded. The sow went back to the cub, grabbed the cub by its back and shook it.  The hunters retreated to camp. The next day they investigated and found the dead sow and a cub with what appeared to be a broken back.

2022 September 27 Bell Flats Alaska .45 Colt from Taurus Judge three hits, killed by neighbor with shotgun

On Sept. 27, 2022, a massive Kodiak bear made a bad decision to break into Aaron Olsen’s house; he lives just five doors down from Heilman in the small Bells Flats community.


Despite Olsen’s immediate decisiveness, he knew he had to take his shot carefully. He had to shoot around the corner of a bedroom where his two youngest children were sleeping. 

As he pulled the trigger to send a .45 Colt round through the bear’s shoulder, his inner voice reminded him, “Don’t hit the kids.” 

“When I pulled the trigger, I couldn’t see its head. I hope the first shot hit him in the shoulder,” Olsen said. 

Whether from pain or fear, the bear managed to turn its mammoth body around inside the confines of the home’s tiny hallway, likely in an attempt to get back out the way he’d come in. Olsen followed the bear through his house. 

“I was pulling the trigger while shouting ‘Get out of my house!’ along with a lot of logger and fisherman words that I’ve learned over the years,” he said. “There was not an ounce of fear in me in that moment. It was all business. It was just rage, the maddest I have ever been. I could not believe this thing was in my house. I was furious.”


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

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