Longtime bear biologist Tom Smith and colleagues analyzed 269 incidents of close-quarter bear-human conflict in Alaska between 1883 and 2009 in which a firearm was involved. They found the gun made no statistical difference in the outcome of these encounters, which resulted in 151 human injuries and 172 bear fatalities.
"It really isn't about the kind of gun you carry. It's about how you carry yourself," said Smith, lead author of the study published online in the Journal of Wildlife Management.
Caliber doesn't matter nor does the type of gun. It's avoiding the confrontation and if you have the confrontation, it appears to be the speed at which you respond.While Smith said his data set was not perfect, it did tease out some surprising findings. For instance, handguns slightly outperformed long guns, resulting in a positive outcome -- meaning the gun stopped the bear's aggression -- 84 percent of the time versus 76 percent.
"That's surprising because some believe that handguns have no place in bear safety," Smith said. "But they are much more maneuverable and carried more accessibly. A majority of bears go to extreme lengths to avoid people. When an encounter occurs, it is in close quarters and poor visibility. They are on their back shooting the bear in the mouth."