A Bear Charged Me – Epic Story of Self Defense in the Field

As the wind swirled on the plateau I caught the smell of death. With the smell’s strength wavering between faint and nauseating, I kept working into the wind in the thick timber to locate its source. My eye caught movement directly in front of me about 20 yards into the brush and my hand dropped to the grip of my pistol as my brain registered what my eyes were seeing. A chocolate color phased black bear, gaining speed straight towards me.

Bears get aggressive when defending a kill, especially in the fall.

Let me start from the beginning. The date is August 31, 2021. My client has been with me since the opening day of archery season and has hunted with a bow a long time. He was born in 1947 and has never killed a big bull elk— we are working on making that happen. Over the past couple of days, he has had some good opportunities but hasn’t let an arrow off its leash— waiting for the perfect shot.

On this morning, he is sitting a stand over a wallow by himself. The wind stays steady and elk come through the wallow in small groups until a mature six-point hits the water alone. The bow is drawn and the arrow released. My client texts me on his Garmin InReach and tells me he’s shot and it was a good hit. As soon as I get the message I start gearing up.

My tracking kit includes two GPS’s, a radio, flagging, binoculars, some hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle, and a gun. Back in 2017 in this same part of the woods, an elderly client was following his guide who was blood trailing an elk when the hunter felt something was behind him. He turned to see a bear also following the blood trail and was able to get an arrow knocked, drawn, and fired into the bear. While mountain lions, bears, and wayward humans are not a common threat, I still consider it a responsibility to carry a gun while in the woods. I might need to shoot something.

Typically I bring a Marlin 45-70 with 400-grain hard cast gas checks. The rifle has a ghost ring peep sight and a section of rail attached to the side of the barrel near the end of the magazine tube where I have a 400-lumen Streamlight attached. The light is positioned in a way that it illuminates my front sight post in its halo, so if I have to shoot in the dark I at least know which way the gun is pointing.

But, I am not immune to making comfort-based decisions. Guiding early-season includes brutal hours. I am up by 0330 to prep gear, make coffee, wake up clients and get into the field well before shooting light. Evening hunts are followed by dinner and clean-up, and I’m not done until 2300 at night, even later if we kill an elk in the evening and need to get him packed out and hanging. As it happened, we had killed a big 6 point bull the night before and I was running on little sleep.

As I’m lacing up my boots I look at the gun options on the bench near the door of the lodge. I refer to them as casual, business, and emergency. Casual is my Sig P365 9mm. It is the standard P365 slide on the XL frame with a 12 round magazine. Emergency is the 45-70. Business is a P220 hunter in 10mm. Mine is a bit of a frankengun. The frame is finished in Kryptek while the slide is finished in First Lite. I wanted a slide that was cut for the new Romeo 2 red dot and this was the only one available. The Romeo2 is the only reflex sight from Sig that is enclosed and can survive the beating issued from the recoil of the 10mm. The enclosure makes it possible for outdoorsmen to actually use this sight, otherwise, a single drop of rain or a pine needle can block the red dot, making it useless.

Based on the information I have at the moment, a good shot has been made by an experienced hunter and I should just be going to recover an elk that didn’t go very far. So I choose my 10mm and head out the door.

Twenty yards from the wallow I find a single drop of blood mixed with the tracks of 100 head of elk. No arrow. No more blood. My apprentice guide, Aaron, the hunter, and I begin gridding. We find lung blood 200 yards later and start working hard on hands and knees, picking up a drop or two of blood every fifty yards or so. Mostly we track the bull by the extra weight he puts on his front right hoof.

This is the kind of blood I like to find, from the bull killed on August 30th.

Three hours into the trail I hear a raven and leave Aaron to work the trail while I go to investigate, hoping to get lucky. As I get closer I hear more ravens calling and start to pick up the sound of their wing beats and then smell the unmistakable odor of death.

I know this isn’t the bull I’ve been after, this is old stinky death. I still want to know what it was, and as I work my way into the wind I see the bear.

It’s hard to describe how it was moving. To begin with, it was popping up and down in a gallop and as it did so it appeared to be making up its mind to charge flat out. I drew my pistol and as soon as I saw the red dot with brown hair behind it I pulled the trigger. The bear stopped, roared, and spun as I fired again. At the impact of the second shot, it fell flat dead. The 180 grain V Crown had punched a hole through its heart.

Sig V Crown 180grain 10mm vs bear heart

I immediately started looking around for cubs or other threats as the adrenaline flooded. My breathing got heavy and my hands shook. I dead-checked the bear then went into the brush where it had come from and discovered a dead mature 5×6 bull elk with some of his velvet still on. My guess is he had died about 10 days earlier.

I had a fall bear tag in my pocket so I punched it. I called Aaron on the radio to let him know what was going on and we backed off the bull we had been tracking to give him more time. A few hours later we came back and found the elk who had been hit in one lung and died roughly 1/4 mile from where he had been shot. A beautiful 6×6 that was as full of character as the hunter who had killed him.

My thoughts on carrying a gun while bow hunting or guiding haven’t changed much since this bear charge, but rather have reinforced them.

First, carry a damn gun.

Secondly, there is a phrase in motorcycle riding regarding gear— “dress for the wreck.” This applies to backcountry carry as well. The gun you pick has to be convenient enough that you will bring it with you, but it also has to be capable of doing the job. The P365 has unmatched convenience, but once you are in a gunfight with a bear, do you want to have that or the heavier full-framed 10mm? I’m team 10mil on that one. Hindsight being what it is, I would still choose the 10mil over my 45-70 carbine for speed, and in this case, speed mattered. This bear died 8 yards away from me. They cover that distance in less than a second.

Third, get trained and keep training. I draw my pistol a lot. I have the same ammo struggles as everyone else so I can’t stand on the range and bang steel all day. The standard I train to is to be able to see a target, draw and have a good grip on the gun with the dot on the target in about 1 second. I practice that a couple of times every time I put the gun on. I owe a lot to Daniel Horner, who taught me grip and stance in a way that kept that bear from getting any closer. 

Lastly, in selecting your carry pistol for hunting I suggest some additional criteria. Get a gun with a grip angle that matches your body. Carry it in a way you can access it quickly. Chest holsters are a great option when you are carrying a pack. If it’s inside your pack it might as well be a rock. Don’t stress about magazine capacity, it’s going to be over with before you get to the bottom of a single stack, one way or another. Carry the gun with a round in the chamber. I didn’t have time to rack the slide.

Stay vigilant out there folks. These animals aren’t civilized.

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About the author: James Nash is an outfitter, professional hunter and cattle rancher from NE Oregon where he resides as the fifth generation of his family to raise cattle, hunt, and fish on the 6 Ranch. He studied history at Adolf Øien Videregående in Trondheim, Norway where he also competed on the Norwegian National Greco-Roman wrestling team, then studied Literature and Writing at the University of Montana Western in Dillon, Montana. Afterwards, Nash served as an Armor Officer and platoon commander in the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank in the US Marine Corps for five years. Nash was wounded in Afghanistan and received two Purple Heart Medals and after a period of convalescence was subsequently retired. He returned to the 6 Ranch and resumed guiding and outfitting, with a focus on other combat wounded veterans. Nash has guided salt and freshwater fly and gear fishing, all kinds of hunting, and back country wilderness trips since age 14. He hosts the 6 Ranch Podcast, and you can learn more about him on instagram @6ranchoutfitters.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • steven baum October 13, 2022, 11:41 am

    Well penned and easy to grasp why you chose the gun you did.
    I hunt and carry a light pack,so the pistol is my preference too.
    Just picked up a Glock 20 and find it pleasant to shoot and a bit bulky to carry.
    BUT that is what I want if all I have is a pistol when “that moment” happens = if ever.
    Thank you,I too go with Sig ammo.

  • Ken October 10, 2022, 11:08 am

    I am not a hunter… but great story.

  • Loggerman September 24, 2021, 1:29 pm

    I have always been amazed at the attitude people in the east have about black bears. The vast majority of them think that they are cute, cuddly, lovable, teddy bears and are harmless. I adamantly disagree. I carry a S&W .44 Combat Magnum in a chest holster anytime that i am fishing which is a lot. Numerous times i have came upon other fisherman who looked at me, then at the firearm, then back to me and on several occasions they have asked “what are you carrying a gun for”. I always answer “bears and or rattlesnakes” and with that, they smirk. Several years ago i was fly fishing and while standing in the middle of a stream, i had the feeling that something was behind me. When i turned around, there was a monster sized black bear also standing in the middle of the stream just looking at me. She was approximately thirty yards away. A few seconds later, she laid her ears back, snarled and started that popping sound. It didn’t take me long to have the weapon out and trained directly on her. At that exact moment, out of the woods came three little cubs that were just big enough to wade through the current of the stream. Once they got up to “Mama”, Mama led them to the shoreline then Mama stopped, turned, looked back at me grunted and with her three babies she disappeared into the woods. As James Nash said “first, carry a dam’n gun”. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Phillip DeWitt September 24, 2021, 9:43 am

    I wouldn’t shoot a Bear unless I had to. I’ll give him the moose,fish or a hamburger for that matter and walk away.

  • Tom Hart September 8, 2021, 2:53 pm

    Great Story and having archery hunted Elk in MT, WY, AZ, NM & CO in the back country I agree with the author, if its not loaded and accessible its useless. Ive had more issues with black bears in the east in states where they just don’t get enough negative human reinforcement conditioning. When you least expect it expect it! Train Train and dry fire train some more in the gear you hunt in, BECAUSE IT MAY JUST SAVE YOUR LIFE! theres always the Montana Rule if all else fails in a deadly bear or cougar encounter SSS… Shoot – Shovel – Shut Up! ALLEGEDLY!!!!!

  • David September 8, 2021, 7:00 am

    1972,Hearts Content,Pa..wife&our 2 little girls at a picnic spot,2 spots away was a table full of 6 elderly folks w/table full of food.Brush line right by them. we saw a bigger than a house black bear following his/her/she/they/it`s nose to their table.W/wife&kids in our car,I grabbed the only gun I had w/me. A H&R mod. 949, 9 shot,22 revolver. I ran at the bear&fired 2 rds into grd. as I ran. Gratefully, bear turned inside out&ran back into brush. I didn`t want to hurt that bear,but could have put several rounds into it`s eyes. I totally agree with the concept of Practice,Practice, until that gun is a part of you. I always carry a gun, afield. And out where the wild things are.

  • Jeffery September 7, 2021, 9:31 pm

    Great article 👍

  • Dan Crocker September 7, 2021, 5:56 pm

    Train train train and then do some more training. Then do some practice practice practice until you develop muscle memory. I was (eventually) able to draw and fire my Beretta 92F from a department issued Level III security holster in give or take one second. And hit what I was aiming at. But that took lots of practice.

    When the SHTF you will hopefully react automatically with no hesitation. That only comes with training and practice.

  • Steve G September 7, 2021, 11:11 am

    Great story and write up. Daniel Horner training? I don’t know what makes you more lucky, that training or plugging that bear. Daniel is amazing.

  • Giovanni September 7, 2021, 9:51 am

    I had a confrontation with a Kodiak bear while I was duck hunting.He came swimming toward my blind and got riled up when his claws got tangled in a decoy’s cord. He stood up in the shallows and shook the decoy off. The hair on his hump was standing up. Not a good sign. I had changed the shells in my 11-87 12/76 from duck loads to 3″ Brenneke slugs when I saw him coming toward me. I ordered my Lab to stay put while I stood up on in front of my blind whistling, yelling,, waving my arma and doing all those things magazines tell you to do in such situations. I assume the bear hadn’t read those magazines, because he kept on coming. When he was about ten yards in front of me I expended one of my three precious shells to shoot in the muck in front of him, a scant three feet from his nose, hoping to turn him away. At that distance, and in front of the muzzle, the noise must have been deafening. Neither the noise nor the muddy water splashed on his face by the slug fazed him. But he took notice of me, finally, and turned a bit to the right to stop on solid ground downwind from me, sideways, but with his head turned toward me, staring at me, sniffing the air, and standing on slightly splayed legs–another bad sign. This moment was frozen in time.It is like a vivid phorograph in my mind. I kept the bead of my shotgun, into which I had inserted another shell, pointing at his nose. I was ready to pull the trigger if he’d just hinted at a charge. He was at eight yards from me. As the story above says, a bear can cover that distance in a second. Then, suddenly, he lost interest. He slowly turned away from me, and walked along the shore toward the blind of a friend of mine, who jumped in his john boat with his dog and rowed away so fast the little boat almost got on step…
    Why didn’t I shoot preventively? The bear specialist at the Dept. of Fish and Game told me that most people would have killed the bear. Even when the season is closed it is legal to do so in defense of life and property. Yes, but there is a catch: you need to skin the animal and take the skin with the complete head (skull included) attached and deliver it to the Fish and Game Dept. They will not return it to you. This is required to discourage idiots who would love to kill a bear and keep the trophy just to prove they are macho guys from doing it unless they are truly in danger. Skinning an animal that big and hauling maybe 200 pounds of skin and head in the mud through swampy ground to get to my car did not strike me as a pleasant thing to do.
    My blind was in the middle of Kodiak bear habitat. Salmon came through the lagoon (which at high tide gave access to salt water and to the fish through a huge culvert) to spawn in the creeks that fed into the lagoon and then die. The bears feed on their carcasses. Behind my blind there was a bear highway, the grass trampled by ther passage. Often my dog, sitting next to me in the blind, would begin to growl, a ridge of hair coming up from her neck to her rump. I knew that a bear would be passing by between my blind and the wooded hill behind it. In the morning, while walking through the swamp to reach my blind, I’d often find spots where bears had bedded down, the swamp grass flattened out by the weight of the big beasts. I often saw bears around the lagoon and in the salmon creeks I always loaded my gun with slugs and held it in my hands while walking to the blind in complete darkness, relying on my dog to sense a bear’s presence and bark. I held a powerful 500-lumen flashlight in my left hand, together with the forend of the gun. I hoped that if hit in the eyes with that dazzling beam of light a charging bear would have hesitated for a moment, giving me a chance to shoot at the animal. Maybe.
    And even with a 12 gauge loaded with very effective slugs (the Brenneke black slugs) i felt very undergunned. But duck hunting was good on that lake: mallards, widgeons, gadwalls, teals, a few pintails. They were worth the risk of a bear confrontation. Everyone knows duck hunters are somewhat insane…

    This story, as narrated by me to Mike Rostad, who used to write of Kodiak things in his “Kodiak Tapestry” by-line appeared many years ago in the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

  • James “Storm” Jarrett September 7, 2021, 9:44 am

    Great story. Great writing. As a Viet Nam special operations type I was born even earlier than the competent hunter in this story. Nearing the end of my race, such stories still make my heart beat fast. Most touching though is to read the stories of brother combat veterans from the newer generations to whom the torch has been passed. Many thanks.

  • Ron September 7, 2021, 9:24 am

    Nice informative article. Very nice outcome. Forever vigilant.

  • Shaggy September 7, 2021, 8:25 am

    What was the load that you used in your 10mm that was so devastating?

    • joe September 7, 2021, 9:58 am

      Sig V crown 180 grain.

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