Saturday, June 26, 2010



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The bearded, sandy-haired geologist was on a job in the remote Alaska wilderness when a grizzly bear suddenly emerged from the brush just yards away.

So Robert Miller did what he was trained to do — he fell to the ground, clasped his hands around his neck to protect it and played dead.

Robert Miller, 54, recovers from a bear attack in his hospital room in Anchorage, Alaska, on Wednesday, June 23, 2010. The bear attack occurred June 20 as Miller, a Millrock Resources Inc. geologist working near Rainy Pass in the Alaska Range, waited for a helicopter to pick him up. Miller was using a small handsaw to clear brush so the helicopter could land when the bear emerged from the brush about 25 feet away. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Miller was fortunate to have survived, said Rick Sinnott, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist.

He should have been packing a more powerful gun, Sinnott said. "You have to be a very good shot or very lucky to stop a brown bear with a .357 Magnum."

This I knew - .357 barely gets you into the club considering the size of those monsters they grow up there in Alaska. - S.L.

Miller did the right thing to play dead with the grizzly, Sinnott said.

"Most of the time they just want to neutralize you and if you are playing dead after they swat you or hit you, you are pretty much neutralized. But if you try to run or stand right up or are screaming or waving your arms around, then they think you are still a danger," he said.

This I DIDN'T know - but it makes perfect sense, when you think about it, and it almost worked the first time until he got up. We've got bears around here but they keep to themselves for the most part. I teach my kids to keep good situational awareness about themselves when they're in the woods - good general advice anytime, in any kind of environment - especially when picking berries; that is the most dangerous time you might find yourself between Mama Bear and her cubs. - S.L.



  1. 357 mag is not enough for a Grizzly bear,44mag or 454 casells maybe, best up close is a 12gauge loaded with slug.

  2. Yes, ajdshootist, my preference is an 870 with slugs.

    Another tactic is ... to make noise as you wander through the woods. Seems counter-intuitive but the thinking is this: bears, wolves, most forest creatures do not want to be near us stinky crude humans. They usually sense us before we see them and depart the area. Between a mama and her cubs or between a predator and its kill, yes that is different but by and large making some noise, like banging on a tin can or hitting sticks together will help avoid unpleasant encounters. A dog is valuable defense, even a small mutt.

    Unless you are hunting the thing or playing stealth ninja. In that case watch your six and be strong.

  3. As far as caliber, .45-70, .50 Alaskan, .338 WinMag and the various .375 Magnums and .458s are all popular. Pistol calibers and shotguns, less so, at least among friends and family that spend a lot of time in Grizzly country.

    Cousin is a conservation officer in Grizzly country, he goes with .458 Winnie.

    FWIW, statistically, in a human bear kill incident, the odds of the human having gotten off a shot are not particularly good and the odds are VERY bad for a human to get off two shots, so pistol calibers need not apply, except if it's all you have. Bears cover a lot of ground fast when they want to and even a fatal wounding shot might not be fatal before you're dead.

    I've only seen one bear kill, large brown that was killing a friend's livestock. He got a permit to kill it after relocating it didn't work, as it found it's way back twice. Friend used a .338-.378 WbyMag.

    Slugs work, buck works, but 12 gauges seem less popular amongst people I know that intentionally spend a lot of time around where bears might be. The reason is that even a standard 405 grain .45-70 load will penetrate way better than buck and better than slugs. Slugs have lesser sectional density and will not penetrate as far given the same muzzle energy. Buck isn't even close. Give me 300+ grains going FAST and penetrating far over deer slugs going slow. My preference.

    The more energy the better but penetration is a large part of wound ballistics. Like Elmer Keith said "Overkill? Is there such a thing as killing an animal 'over dead'?"

  4. Something to contemplate, BTW.
    .308 develops as much or more energy as slug loads and has a way better sectional density.

    If I had to pick, I'd take an M-14/FAL/AR-10/etc over an 870 or the like for bear defense. YMMV.

  5. He was lucky it was a grizzly that got him. It was probably just protecting its range. That is why he only got smacked around a bit. As soon as he was deemed no threat he was ignored. That is a grizzly trait even for a sow protecting cubs except in the spring when they come out of hibernation and are extremely hungry.

    If he had been unlucky it would have been a black bear. When they attack it is for one reason only. They want to eat you. That is why the whistle blowing and noise making is not such a good idea in black bear country. It makes you easier for them to find you. By the way you will not generally find black bears in grizzly country because they get run out or killed by the grizzlies just like there are seldom coyotes in wolf country.

    If a bear is stalking you or if you surprise one a firearm of any sort is probably useless to you as no one can react the fast to an attack. The best defence it know the country your in and pay attention at all times to your surroundings.

  6. Cousin says the most important thing to do with your guns in bear country is file the front sights off so it doesn't hurt as much when he sticks it up your ass :-)

    People rarely get one round off if attacked or surprised, as above.

  7. Bob D - thanks for the info. I don't know very much about bears. I'm not in bear country a lot and rely on what others say. Your info sounds like the true goods. We have more mountain lions than bears in the hills around here but I wouldn't go near them without dogs if I have a choice. As to defending against attack by any of 'em, forget it. It's not the firepower but the surprise and speed of the attack. Be over before ya can snick the safety and there's always the "pucker factor". Success or failure is measured in seconds.
    Tom - If I'm going out on purpose to kill something I'll take the biggest gun I can carry (I like the Keith quote!) but many times I compromise due to circumstances or laziness. 1911s or .44 Mags are what I choose for serious work, but when I'm going to the store or just hanging around town I'll stick a .357 snubbie in my pocket or a Glock 19 on my belt.

    Although things are getting sticky down here on the border and I'm carrying heavy. An 870 or Bushmaster doesn't seem so out of place these days.

  8. Well, I was always told to use as small a gun as possible so that, when the grizzly takes it away from you, it won't hurt so much when he shoves it up your a$$.