Mailbag: Brown bear hunt by handgun

We've asked for your impressions of hunting grizzlies by handgun, and here are some of your responses. If you haven't read the piece in question — "Bear hunt
with a revolver? You bet your life" — click here, get on it and offer your thoughts.
(See below for author's comment.)

Mark (Yakima, Wash.): Well, I must say that as a handgun hunter I was disappointed in the fact that 12 rounds from two Smith 500s were not enough. Goes to show you that when it comes to brownies, make mine a big rifle! The handgun is for backup!

Don (Los Angeles): I spent 2½ years in Alaska, and never thought of hunting brown bears with a handgun. More power to ya'.

Nathan Mueller (Belgium, Wis.): I was quite surprised when I saw this article about hunting bears by ways of a handgun. But now I find you guys are not so crazy, after talking to a few gun dealers about the punch that a handgun can pack into a big brownie. Congratulations on the big kill!

John Clayton (Ellinwood, Kansas): I agree with Andrew from Denver (last entry listed here). Seems to me that it is an ethical necessity to hunt any animal with enough gun to make a clean harvest. While I can appreciate the thrill that would come with sneaking up that close to a bear, and I also can see the danger that a bear like that would pose, shooting it 12 times with .50 caliber handguns and a 45/70 rifle seems a little over the top. If you are going to put yourself in the position of hunting dangerous game, then you owe it to the animal to use as much gun as it takes to make a clean kill. Using a handgun just to see if you can do it is irresponsible.

Gene Wallace (Staunton, Va.): Hey, good story. I say, if ya can handle a big handgun, go for it. Good job and well done.

Yakima, Wash: Well, by the sounds of it, the .500 isn't much in the way of a bear gun, unless the hits weren't very good — something not mentioned in the article. Since I sell guns for a living and I'm often asked about "protection" from bears, I'm not really sure what to tell them now, since the .500 was supposed to be the "ultimate."

Eric (Johnston, R.I.): As far as the ethics of hunting with a revolver goes, one must keep in mind that our ancestors once hunted these majestic animals with far more primitive weaponry. In regards to making a one-shot kill, I couldn't honestly believe that every hunter here has seen every animal they've harvested drop instantly. You know as well as I that a "one-shot kill" may take up to a minute or two to drop the animal. I would not take any unnecessary chances with an animal that could kill me in a fraction of that time. In regards to consuming the meat, anyone who has consumed their share of game would understand that a 1,000-plus pound boar is not going to provide prime meat. While the remains of the animal may not have fed humans, it is a safe bet that in such a wild place it was consumed in its entirety and that nothing was wasted. While this is not something I would attempt myself, I can only imagine the adrenaline rush of coming so close to such an immense creature. To me, hunting is a reminder that nature is not intended to be a spectator sport, or something to be caged and viewed from a safe vantage point. This article was wonderfully descriptive of an event that I'm sure will never be forgotten by all who participated. Keep up the good work Jim!

Dave T. (Quartz Hill, Calif.): Good job. Used enough gun? Tough old dude can take a lot of lead.

Michael C. Peck (Rapid City, Mich.): It takes lots of guts, and it actually raises bear population to shoot boar. Boars eat 75 percent of their own young. And I'm sure other bears had a feast, and other critters, too. Using the handgun was evening the odds of the bear of getting a piece of Oltersdorf, even with backup rifles. Sounds like a new sport to me. Sounds exciting.

Anthony Smith (Japan): Next time the bear should get a gun, just to make it a real sport.

Lewisburg, Pa.: Balls out

Armando Quiros (Vacaville Calif.): As a student in college majoring in English, I found this writing award winning. Such vivid description and lively detail brought in front of my eyes such a terrifying, yet fulfilling encounter. Great job in keeping the reader engaged.

California: Handgun or rifle, you still have an unfair advantage and you are still a coward. Hunting is not a sport.

Nate Speer (Missoula, Mont.): I think it's an exciting opportunity when done in a smart way. The backup and several guns is definitly the only way I would go about this. But to be that close … awesome. Thanks for an amazing story — well told.

Deon Nelson (Nederland, Texas): This is an amazing story. I'm a hunter who has always dreamed of going to Alaska on a bear trip. Still-hunting whitetail is a rewarding experience, but it cannot compare with this. I just graduated college, and as soon as I can gather funds and a group of people I'm doing a hunt like this. Although I may start off with a rifle, I believe handgun hunting is more sporting. With proper knowledge and experience, I think it is a great way to take bear.

Tom (Haddon Heights, N.J.): Somedays you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.

Jon S. (Williamsport, Pa.): This appears to be a very risky hunt, for both the hunter(s) and the bear. If all does not go well, you risk your life and risk wounding a magnificent creature. All 12 shots may have not been necessary on the first bear. If I were the hunter, I wouldn't declare it just "my" trophy. I'd share the glory, if you want to call it that. I'd let large bears like these go unhunted. Although the story is interesting and intense, it's a bit strange for ESPN's homepage. I'll stick to hunting my Pennsylvania whitetail. And if I ever decide to hunt the much smaller Pennsylvania black bear, I won't take an army with me.

Spokane, Wash.: Kill the animal with as few as shots as possible … and without the help of anyone else.

DRC (Milwaukee): Sounds more like a slaughter than sport. Now maybe if some of you sportsmen would go hunting with a bowie knife …

O.J. (Charlottesville, Va): I'm no hunter, and this story is awesome. However, I would think proper choice of firepower with the least amount of shots used for the kill would show the skillful art of hunting. With 12 shots, where is the skill? I suppose anything will die if you shoot it enough times.

Tim (Albany, N.Y.): Not as dangerous as going after one with the bow!!

Ionia, Mich.: Awesome story. It sounded very exciting. I hope someday I will have the courage to take on such a big animal. For now, it's just whitetail for me.

Andrew, College Park, Md.: This is a sickening, horrendous display of human aggression toward animals. I would respect boys (not men) like the author, had they hunted with more primitive weaponry. But the tools they use now amount to military-strength weapons on animals. Twelve shots? That's not a humane way to kill any animal, particularly for a so-called sport.

Chris Wagenschein (Corpus Christi, Texas): Awesome. That would be the bear I would like to take with a bow. I would like to have heard they didn't use the backup shots on the first bear, but safety always comes first. Awesome hunt.

L (California): Our family has hunted/fished for years; we eat what we harvest. This is total waste of magnificent animal. I agree, 1 shot, 1 kill. 12 shots is a disgrace. You shame us ethical sportsmen and women!!!

David Chapman (Michigan): As long as you have the firepower AND backup, it's not as insane as it sounds. I grew up watching Fred Bear hunt brownies and polars with a bow (with backup), and I would bet my life that a .500 handgun slug, slightly off-target, has a tad more stopping power than a misplaced arrow. Thanks for a great story.

Lexington, Ky.: It is a shame that ESPN allows such awful stories to be glorified on this Web site. I love sports (basketball, football, etc.) and love to watch them. But Walking up to a bear, pulling out a handgun and shooting it until it dies is not a sport. … Maybe next time, your gun will malfunction, then you could see what it is like to be in a fight with no chance of winning.

Bill Watters (Midland, Mich.): It's simply foolish. However, if two people are shooting with handguns and a backup is shooting with a rifle, then I would not consider this hunting with a handgun. I would consider it hunting with a mixture of guns. Normally, a single client does the shooting and the guide is there as a backup in case the bear charges. If the normal process is followed, then the client with the handgun is putting everyone at risk because if his shots are not fatal, then you begin the process of tracking a wounded bear that is really pissed off. Sounds like someone is trying to prove his manhood and boost his ego at the expense of his hunting partners and at the risk of wounding the great creatures that brownies are. I would like to know if these individuals had ever shot a brownie before. My bear took 4 shots from a high power rifle all in the vitals before dropping. After seeing that, I would never go with someone using a handgun because I would hate to have to be the one that tells his family what occurred and I do not like to risk associated with charging brown bears.


Matt (Houston, Texas): Four guys to shoot a bear a dozen times for a story and a picture. Not crazy, just brutal and wasteful. Take a rifle with one shot, maybe two. More humane and sensible.

Andrew (Denver): I hunt with the "one shot-one kill" mentality. I also harvest all edible portions of the game. While it may be quite a thrill to hunt a griz with a handgun, I would hate to see an animal shot 12 times. And I doubt that meat was used. When I hunt big game, I simply do not count on anyone else for backup. And I carry enough firepower to take the animal with one well-placed shot.

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Author's comment

Seems that so many have a huge disgust for "sport" hunting. That a
"moral" hunter somehow only hunts for meat. Hummm … my response?

We employ in this great nation the highest trained, educated and
biologists in the world to ascertain for the species benefit, what can be
(killed) and what cannot. It is always for the benefit of the entire
no matter if it is a quail, pheasant, duck or bear bag limit. They wouldn't
let us take
even so much as a hair off a bear's hide unless it was apparent the
species would greatly benefit from it. Then we have these "urban experts"
try to give advice on what really should be done, yet, they give absolutely
funding to assist in any form of game management. And of course, very little
experience infield.

Although statistical data about velocity, trajectories, grain, drop, etc., of
ammo is great, the real world
out there can be much different. When hunting any animal that has potential
to cause injury, indeed it is
prudent to have a back-up. In the real world, things can and will go wrong.

Believe me, it is
no game out there when hunting the Alaskan brown bear and one should be
aware of that. As a former
deputy sheriff and being the No. 1 firearms marksman in my class, there was
nobody on earth who wanted
to make a one shot kill more than I yet, that can't always be the case.

I had a very long conversation with the official state bear expert that is
employed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. We both
concluded that it is most probable that this bear was dead with the first shot
fired. However, contrary to popular belief, one shot into a bear that has
the potential to run for long distances (either at or away from the hunter)
while fatally hit is not in the best interests of ethical hunting. Hence,
multiple shots. An Alaska brown bear can stand, fight and kill for an
incredible amount of time before it falls down.

So, when hunting bears, until the animal is down and dead, put all the lead in
it as you can. Keep firing until you are sure the animal has been expended. You cannot take any chances.

Jim Oltersdorf

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