Yes, you read that right: an Alaskan fishing guide recently killed a charging brown bear with a 9mm pistol and lived to tell the tale.
Phil Shoemaker, an experienced Alaskan hunting and fishing guide, was guiding a couple of clients on a salmon fishing trip in the Becharof National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Alaska when they had a close range encounter with an angry bear. Fortunately for everyone involved, Phil stopped the raging brown bear with a 9mm pistol at close range. Phil and his two clients walked away from the incident without a scratch.
Gun enthusiasts will likely debate the merits of his decision to carry a S&W 3954 handgun in 9mm for defense for years to come, especially considering the fact that he also owned a S&W 629 chambered in .44 Magnum but chose not to carry it. Regardless of what you think of his decision, this episode shows that with good ammunition, good shot placement, and a little luck, it is possible to stop a bear with a 9mm pistol, even though it is not known as a great cartridge for a bear defense gun.
One of the major limitations of using a cartridge like the 9mm Luger for bear defense is the lack of penetration of most 9mm bullets compared more powerful cartridges like the .454 Casull or .500 S&W. In this case, Phil was using 147gr hard cast bullets made by Buffalo Bore that are designed specifically for deep penetration, which mitigates some of the risk of using a 9mm against a bear. On the other hand, one of the benefits of using a 9mm for bear is that most 9mm pistols have larger magazines and offer the shooter the ability to take multiple rapid follow-up shots, which certainly came in handy in this case.
Below is the story of how it all went down in Phil’s own words in a letter he wrote to Buffalo Bore ammunition:
Two days ago I was guiding a couple from NY on a fishing trip and decided to pack my S&W 3954 pistol. When we were approaching the stream we bumped into a large boar who must have been sleeping as we were talking loud just so we wouldn’t suprise one. Over the past 33 years I have lived and guided here on the Alaska peninsula I have never had to kill a bear in defense of life, but this bear was different.
We were in thick brush and I was only 8 or 10 feet from the bear when he started growling and huffing. I began yelling and it eventually ran around, behind my two clients, into the brush. But within 15 seconds it came charging back from the area behind us and popped out of the brush 10 feet from me! I had the little S&W in my hands and was thinking I was probably going to have to shoot it but as it cleared the brush it headed toward my clients. The man had enough sense to grab his wife and fall backwards into the tall grass. The bear seemed to loose track of them, even though it was less than 3 feet away from them and it was highly agitated! It then swung toward me, I was 6 or 8 feet away, and I fired the first shot into the area between the head and shoulder. It growled and started wildly thrashing around, still basically on the feet of my clients. My next shot hit it in the shoulder and it began twisting and biting at the hits and I continued firing as fast as I could see vitals. Five shots later it turned into the brush and I hit it again and it twisted and fell 20 feet from us!
Brown bears are big, tough animals and it pays to be well armed and to shoot straight if you ever encounter one that’s mad at you. I don’t necessarily recommend carrying a 9mm pistol for defense if you’re in bear country, but it will clearly do the job in the right hands.
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