Don’t Trust Bear Stats or Advice – 27 US Bear Attacks So Far This Year

I'm not a wildlife expert. I don't work for some government research center. I'm just a guy who owns a firearm education and eCommerce business.

I pay loose attention to news reports of bear attacks especially when a firearm is involved.

That said, I think there is some misinformation out there and I'd like to share some things I've learned.

Bear Attacks Are Rare – Only 11 Per Year In The US – MYTH

This was a statistic I found on every site I checked when I searched for bear attack statistics. It is either outdated or just outright wrong. I did some of my own Googleing this morning and as of today (Oct 25th, 2022) there have been 27 bear attacks in the US that I could find with my Google Skills and about an hour of my time.

Of course, 27 attacks is still relatively rare. With a population of 329.5 million people in the USA, that means your odds of being attacked by a bear are about 1 in 12 million so far in 2022. That is however more than double the reported stats you would find and cite as a source if you were trying.

50% of Bear Attacks Involve Dogs – MYTH

This is another common statistic I found. Once again either outdated or just wrong. Of the 31 bear attacks, I found so far in 2022 (between Canada and the US), dogs were only reported as being present or involved in 7 of the 31.

That is 22.6% of bear attacks. Don't let that dissuade you from taking your dogs into the high country. In several of those incidents the dogs were not the bear's attraction but actually the human's rescuer.

Handguns Are Ineffective Against Bears – MYTH

From the National Park Service website:

Firearms are not recommended for stopping an attack. Using a firearm during a bear attack may only worsen the attack. An injured bear will be more aggressive, especially during a fight. It’s also harder to hit a charging bear with a firearm rather than bear spray, and a firearm can be dangerous to any hiking partners. While firearms have been effective at stopping an attack, they aren’t recommended.

Well National Park Service, that is some super bad advice.

In 2018, Dean Weingarten published a comprehensive study about the effectiveness of handguns against bear attacks.

In that original article in 2018, he pulled on a data pool of 37 bear attacks in which a firearm was deployed. In 2021, and again in April 2022, he published an update to his research, having now expanded his data pool to 123 total incidents.

His report flies in the face of conventional wisdom and the popularly held belief that handguns are “ineffective” against bears.

Turns out that isn't the case. Dean found that 98% of the time the handgun is effective as defined by situations in which “after the pistol or handgun was fired, did the bear stop the attack, leave, or was killed?”

Of the 123 incidents, the caliber of handguns is known in most of those. Long story short, regardless of caliber (ranging from .22 rimfire to .500 S&W Magnum) all handguns are just as statistically effective.

I met Dean for the first time in January of 2022 and applauded his approach to writing and research. You can read his bear vs handgun research here.

A Few Other Stats From My Research

In case you are curious, so far in 2022, here is a breakdown by state of the number of bear attacks I identified.

  • Alaska: 5
  • Colorado: 3
  • Connecticut: 1
  • Florida: 1
  • Idaho: 1
  • Montana: 2
  • New Jersey: 1
  • New York: 1
  • North Carolina: 1
  • Oregon: 1
  • Tennessee: 2
  • Vermont: 1
  • Washington: 2
  • Wisconsin: 1
  • Wyoming: 3

And of the 27 bear attacks on humans so far this year in the US, firearms were deployed against the bear 7 times. In all 7 incidents, they were effective.

Breakdown by type of bear:

  • 17: Black Bear
  • 12: Grizzly Bear
  • 3: Unreported or unknown

If you are interested in seeing my raw data just add a comment below with the request and I'll email it to you.

7 Comments

  1. Jay Willingham on December 17, 2022 at 7:54 am

    Excellent. How many are completely unreported by people who regard us as legitimate prey or competitors for bears or for instances when there are bo physical injuries? How about attacks on livestock?

    • Jacob Paulsen on December 17, 2022 at 8:58 am

      All I did is a Google search. Not exactly comprehensive but I did purposely skip over stories that were attacks on just livestock. I would assume that for every attack on a human I found there is probably one more I didn’t find or that wasn’t reported.

  2. John on March 23, 2023 at 10:05 pm

    I’d like to see your data. FWIW, this afternoon I spent an hour or so talking with a friend. Our conversation started about a kitchen remodel and then on to hunting and bears. The carpenter/remodeler mentioned he grew up in Montana. Then we moved on to bears. He said his brother told him a guy he grew up with (Jamon – spelling???) was killed by a bear two to four years ago in Montana. I looked for any person whose name was similar to Jamon in Montana. No luck. Don’t know if the story was true of a former school mate’s death, if the brother who mentioned it has his facts right, or if I didn’t hear right. In any case I found no mention of his old school mates name in my google searches (and I spent a lot more than an hour at it). 😮

    I agree that if we use the population of people to calculate risk of a bear (cougar or wolf) attack the numbers are small. However, if we look at the population numbers for bears compared to injury attacks or fatal attacks the odds look a lot different. If a fatal grizzly bear attack on a human then the real stat of interest is what is the likelihood that an individual bear will attack a person during its lifetime? According to Google Montana has about “1800 to 2000” grizzly bears. The bears are long lived, so not a lot of bears join the cohort, nor leave the cohort in any given year. For simplicity, I’ll assume that the Google estimate is all adult bears, and that those bears will survive for the 10 years. During that decade we saw 3 human fatalities attributed to grizzly bears. So the odds are that, more or less, about 1 in 600 bears will kill a human. That really puts a much better focus on just how dangerous the critters can be.

    • Jacob Paulsen on March 24, 2023 at 7:50 am

      John, I sent you an email with my data. I like your angle on this. Looking at the likelihood of a bear attacking vs being attacked by a bear.

    • Chris on March 18, 2024 at 1:30 pm

      1 in 600 is low because your not factoring how many lives were saved by being in a group of over 3 or 4 people or more, how many were saved by spray, flare, horn, whistle, firearm etc, I even saw a video where a aprox. 250-300lb black bear walked up to a small boy on a bike and the boy froze and a neighbor guy intervened and walked at the bear with his arms outstretched

  3. John on June 30, 2023 at 6:18 am

    Jacob:
    Have you updated your data for the full 2022 year, or located any data for prior years?

    FWIW, I find it’s rather difficult to locate injury stats by State for a given year, and even more difficult to find even a semblance of data for bear spray. I doubt that all cases where bear spray was deployed are known. I believe from my reading that a possible super majority of bear spray deployments were likely against non-predatory or non-highly motivated animals… animals that would be unlikely to be defensively shot by a human.

    I bought a couple cans of 9.6 ounce capacity UDAP. The advertised time from trigger to empy is 5.6 seconds. Looks like a lot… Considering wind effects, range in no-wind and even gentle winds, etc. I wonder how much effect the bear spray will really have in a dire defensive situation. I haven’t used the real stuff, but did deploy an inert can of equivalent size (9.6 oz). The range in 0 wind conditions is about 25′. However I deployed it with about a 3-5 mph crosswind (headwind effect about 2-3 mph) and got a face full of spray that really spattered my sun glasses. I REALLY doubt that even in that gentle crosswind with a head wind component of about 45 degrees that the inert bears spray product got more than 15′ of range. From my reading I found that a black bear charge is about 30 mph (4.4 feet per 1/10 second), and a grizzly bear charge can approach 40 mph (58.7 feet/sec, and 5.9 feet/tenth of a second). A grizzly would penetrate that cloud of pepper spray in about a quarter of a second, and a charging black bear in about a third of a second. I doubt a full charge bear would get much pepper in either their lungs or their eyes before contact with the bear spray wielding human occurs.

    FWIW, I’ve not seen any discussion of the role of inertia in a 400-600 pound bear at the 15′ point of a full charge, the time for a bruin to process discomfort from bear stray, and the ability of a bear moving at 30-40 mph to both feel the effects and effectively process the discomfort sufficient to alter course (i.e. deflect from contacting a person).

    In any case, accounts in the past few years record ineffective bear spray resulting in either injuries from a mauling or fatalities where bear spray was deployed.

  4. Donna Forte on April 29, 2024 at 6:47 am

    Our “Leaders” have just had the brilliant idea to reintroduce Grizzlies to Washington State. They are using the typical one-liners….”We need them for our ecosystem”…..”Bears were here first”. It is maddening to see the total disregard for human life and safety. I have shared your findings on a lot of the Facebook pages that are up in arms about the reintroduction of grizzlies to Washington….. I’m at the point if they reintroduce them in Washington, DC, I would be just fine with that.

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