It's a miracle this Alaskan fishing guide and his clients lived to tell the tale.
Phil Shoemaker was guiding a couple of clients on a salmon fishing trip near the Becharof National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Alaska back in 2016 when they had a close range encounter with an angry brown bear. Phil runs Grizzly Skins of Alaska and has guided hunters, anglers, and photographers in bear country for over 33 years without ever having to shoot an unwounded bear to defend himself or his clients.
That all changed during this particular trip.
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 chose not to carry his S&W 629 chambered in .44 Magnum on this particular outing.
Few people recommend carrying a 9mm handgun as a bear defense gun. Regardless of what you think of his decision though, this episode shows that it is indeed possible to stop a bear with a 9mm pistol with good ammunition, good shot placement, and a little luck.
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 10mm Auto, .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.
At the same time, most 9mm pistols have larger magazines and offer the shooter the ability to take multiple rapid follow-up shots. As you'll see here in a minute, those characteristics certainly came in handy in this case. Additionally, many 9mm handguns (to include the specific one Phil was carrying that day), are lighter, smaller, and easier to carry than large framed revolvers or long guns.
Sure, you could certainly make the argument that it's better to carry a .44 Magnum or a 12 gauge shotgun in bear country. Neither one will do you much good if they're still in the truck or your gun safe back home at the moment of truth though.
The end result was that, while he was carrying a handgun on the lighter end for the job at hand, he at least had something to defend himself with and things ended well for Phil and his clients.
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.
Have you ever heard of another similar event? If so, reach out on our social channels!
Have you ever heard of another similar event with somebody stopping a big bear with a smaller caliber handgun? If so, reach out on our social channels!