Common question… Why didn’t you shoot the bear?

Todd Orr. 10/8/16
Update to Grizzly attack story on 10/1.

Common question…
Why didn’t you shoot the bear?

1.  I am a hunter and an outdoorsman and I do not shoot a bear just to kill it.
2.  It is illegal to shoot a Grizzly bear unless you can prove you were defending your life.
3.  I certainly wouldn’t care to shoot a sow with young, defenseless cubs that would likely not survive the winter without their mother, unless necessary to protect my life.
4.  Bear spray has been proven to be more effective than a pistol at stopping a bear charge.
5. The quickness of the charge and uncommon behavior did not trigger the thought of using the gun before the bear spray.
6. Shooting a Grizzly charging  at up to 40mph with a pistol and with accuracy is nearly impossible.
7.  I carried a large, heavy, scoped handgun made for hunting and not an easy quick-draw, self defense type pistol.
8. Shooting a charging bear at close range while aiming through a handgun scope is nearly impossible.


When I first saw the Grizzly and her two cubs of the year, they were approximately 70-80 yards away, and ran immediately into the timber upon seeing me. I felt quite comfortable that the situation was over at that time, due to my experience with other bears and known typical behavior of a sow with cubs. She would likely continue west, putting distance between us. I planned to continue up the mountain moving eastward and away from her.

But suddenly she appeared without the cubs and about 20 yards closer to my left and was at a full charge from the trees.  I pulled my bear spray out at that time, yelled a number of times so she was aware I was human, and slowly backed away.

Again it would be common behavior for a sow to retreat to her cubs, stop and smell for my scent, woof, snap her jaws, or change direction and run past me. Attacks are very rare.

A Grizzly can run up to 40mph. When I saw her charge from the trees, she was closer than before, so approximately 50-60 yards. At full speed, she could be on me in as little as just 3 seconds.

Bear spray has proven to be more affective than a pistol at stopping a charge, so my first instinct was to pull the bear spray.  Unfortunately, she did not behave as 99% of bears in that situation do, and she continued her full charge attack.  So I had about 3 seconds to notice the charge, pull bear spray from its holster, remove the safety clip, point and assess the situation.

No time for plan B and pull a heavy, long barreled and scoped hunting pistol from a shoulder holster, cock the hammer, locate her within the scope and somehow expect accurate hits on a charging bear.

The thought never crossed my mind to even make that attempt because I knew there just was no time to do so.

I used bear spray when I thought she was at about the max distance my spray would reach, and kept the trigger down until she burst through the fog and was literally on me. At that time I went to the ground and was protecting the back of my neck a face from the claws and teeth.

At no time during that first attack, did I feel comfortable exposing my neck or face or losing the position I was in, in order to attempt to pull the pistol, turn to face the attack and shoot. In my opinion, it would have certainly invited a frontal assault on my face throat and soft stomach area. Even reaching for the pistol would have exposed the back of my neck and spine, or reduced the stability of my position and possible allowed the bear to roll me over and gain a frontal assault.

During the entire attack, I used every ounce of strength and determination I had to keep my face down, hands and forearms protecting the back of my neck, elbows locked down protecting the sides of my face, and knees and legs tucked under me to lock along my elbows and protect from as many angles as possible with minimal exposure of my body.  Only one bite on my right side along the ribs and just above my hip, rolled me to the side for a split second where I viewed the side of the bears face, but I was instantly back in my almost a “ball” position before she could get to me.

Then the first attack was over and she was gone…

Within a few seconds, I was on my feet and immediately headed down the trail, in the opposite direction of where I had last seen her cubs and where she charged from.  I wanted nothing more than to put distance between us. I jogged for a few hundred yards and then alternated between a fast hike and a jog as the terrain would allow.

For some reason I really can’t explain, that was the only morning in my life that I had grabbed a second can of bear spray and hooked to my backpack before leaving the truck.

As a hiked, I shoved the 2/3 empty can into my pants pocket and grabbed the second full can to carry in my hand.  I think it just made me feel better even though I was quite sure the bear was now headed in the opposite direction with her cubs and I would never cross paths with her again.

Five minutes later as I neared the first stream crossing, the second attack occurred.  I was regularly glancing over my shoulder as I hiked and jogged, but I had no warning of the second attack.  Likely a combination of the noise from the adjacent stream and the reduced hearing in my right ear didn’t help the situation. I heard something, turned and she was on me.

I don’t really remember if I fell to the ground or was knocked to the ground, or maybe a combination of the two.  There was zero time to use bear spray or a pistol. I hit the ground on my face and immediately went to the defensive position to protect myself from the attack and biting, which was more intense than the first time.  Her bites were deeper and would lift me off the ground when she pulled back, and then smashed me back into the dirt and squashed and almost hugged or pinned me. A very eerie and helpless feeling.

Then one more aggressive bite went deep into my forearm and I heard and felt the crunch of bone, tearing of tendons, and damaged nerves. My hand and fingers were completely useless. A claw ripping along the right side of my head also opened a 5″ gash to the skull, filling my eyes with blood.  I could do nothing but hold my defensive position as still and quiet as possible and hope she got off my back and left. Again, I never considered turning to use bear spray or the pistol and expose myself to likely further and much more severe injuries.

A minute later, I was left alone and all was quiet.  It was then I think, I feared a third attack would be the end of me and I would go out fighting.  While still on the ground, I slowly reached under my chest to extract the pistol without making any sound or movement, in case she was still nearby and watching me.  The holster and pistol were gone. They had been ripped off me during that second attack.

Desperate for that pistol, I wiped the blood from one eye, looked out under one arm and spotted the holster a few feet away. No bear in sight, I got to my knees pulled the pistol and cocked the hammer. If she had returned, I likely would have been shooting for my life.

Other considerations…

Had I shot and only wounded the bear, would she have been more aggressive and attacked with more ferocity or for a longer period of time, doing more damage?

If she was shot and wounded, would her sounds have called the cubs in to us, now putting me in the position of her not leaving the attack scene?

In conclusion:…

Had I a do-over, I may have drawn both the pistol and the bear spray.   However, with the speed at which the situation unfolded, the outcome may have been worse. Had I been lucky enough to get off a shot, it certainly may not have been lethal and could have led to a wounded and irate bear.

Thinking ahead……

I am going to look into a lightweight, short barreled revolver in a 44mag, that will be accessible quickly from my hip.  Although one more level of safety in a future incident, it still may not have made any difference in this situation.

Todd Orr

Comments (48)

  • brenda634October 10, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    People always tend to judge after thinking about what they would do in a situation, but until you walk in someone else’s shoes and know exactly what that moment was like, there’s no way to judge what you did was right or wrong.
    The most important thing is you did in a split-second what you thought was right and you’re alive and here to tell about it!!! Thank God!!

  • Jody SimonsOctober 10, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Hi Todd, I carry bear spay when hiking and archery hunting as we are not allowed a firearm in many of these places. Now wondering how good it really works in the real world. Can you say more about the kind, size, expiration date, distance used and any other condition or situation that can be passed on for future knowledge.

    • john di frusciaOctober 11, 2016 at 3:46 am

      Yes I was wondering the same thing. There’s a lot of brand out there. Lot’s of different power too. Because from what I know and experience, there’s no way for a bear to be able to see or smell anything after going thru a cloud of that stuff. That’s the one part of the story that makes me wonder.

  • BrendaOctober 10, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    Have you come to any conclusion of why she reacted like she did? Pre-hibernating behavior? And doesn’t the government investigate attacks and possibly put aggressive bears down?

  • Jackie H. BurnsOctober 10, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    I’m curious about how this attack has been characterized by wildlife authorities. Most sows with cubs come down as “defensive attacks” and in some jurisdictions the sows are dealt with more leniently. This case, however, sounds as though it may be a “predatory attack.” This sow left once, came back, attacked you, left again and then stalked you down the trail and attacked again. What did wildlife authorities say? What is your gut? Bears that attack people as prey are more likely to do it again, aren’t they?

  • AtxOctober 10, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    What type of bear spray and size did you have?

  • Tom ThomasOctober 10, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    I often carry UDAP brand bear spray in the largest size myself. Was that what you used also? For doing so my thinking has been 4, 6, 8, 5, 7 and I do not carry a short barreled 44 mag Blackhawk but now feel I really should. My first goto would be the bear spray though. Time and time again it’s proven more effective. Bears are becoming more and more common in years past and it worries me, these types of encounters. Get well soon Todd.

  • Joan NelsonOctober 10, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    You lived. Nuff said. And you did it exactly right. Shooting it with a small pistol- you may have well as just kicked her in the ass. So glad you are ok. My Dad built rifles, and we all hunted for food not sport and you did it all right.

  • Steven MOctober 10, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Thank the good Lord you walked away with as few injuries as you did. That bear and her cubs could have very easily had Todd Orr for supper.

  • SamOctober 10, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    Interesting that this was the only morning you had ever grabbed two cans of bear spray… and even though you didn’t have a chance to use the second, it sounds like God was watching out for you and giving you strength. Amazing story. I think Animal Planet needs to stick you in an episode of surviving animal attacks so you can share your incredible story with more of the world. Have they contacted you yet?

  • mikeOctober 10, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    thanks for the backround info Todd. Good stuff for those of us that love and live in the backcountry. I personally keep a large caliber medium length barrel revolver in a chest holster…no scope. It seems to be what many in Alaska use so if its is good enough for them I’m following their lead. Stay safe out there.

  • Kathy HamiltonOctober 10, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    With such little time you did he right thing. She was just defending her Cubs and you are a responsible hunter. God had a plan for you and now you are telling it to help other people. God bless you and here is to a long and adventurous life.???

  • Melissa Visto PalmerOctober 10, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    I’m a little bit annoyed at the idea that you felt like you had to justify your decisions in that split second of time. I guess I understand it on some level considering how many comments have come through on various articles describing your story but jeez, dude!, of all the people I know, there is NO ONE I’d rather have by my side while hiking or camping. You, of all people, know exactly what to do when faced with a bear since you’ve encountered them many dozens of times. Not that it matters to the public at large, but I’m crazy proud of your quick thinking and screw all those who think you should’ve done something differently – most of them would be dead right now had they been in your shoes.

  • MinderellahOctober 10, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    How big was the bear!? Unbelievable story. Just like the Revenant.

    • JohnathanOctober 10, 2016 at 10:57 pm

      Exactly what I was thinking about when I read it

  • Graeme RobbinsOctober 10, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    God speed recovery todd…

  • Graeme RobbinsOctober 10, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    Good on you mate…GOD SPEED BACK TO HEALTH

  • Johnathan mobleyOctober 10, 2016 at 10:56 pm

    Mad respect for you Todd I would have been shooting away with that pistol even though I wouldn’t have hit it I would have been to scared to think about anything.

  • Jane McCabeOctober 10, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    still thanking God daily for your survival!!

  • Doug AddamsOctober 10, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    Stay away from the Smith & Wesson 44 ultra light, had one, too much power for such a light frame, not reliable. I’m now more comfortable with a Springfield xd 45 with the 460 Rowland conversion. Same magnum velocity and more round capacity. Food for thought. Glad you are well.

  • Alexander KozikOctober 10, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    Your level of composure throughout the attack is downright amazing. The judgment calls you made to not react by relying solely on your sidearm, to protect yourself and endure the trashing of this incident takes a discipline many never practice, let alone possess.

    Many people have held my respect over the years during my careers in the Army and civilian sector being great mentors, leaders, and friends. That said, none have ever been so inspirational that I could ever begin to consider them the Role-Model you have become to me. I feel like a kid when I say you are a Hero in my eyes.

    Recover quickly and stay resilient Mr. Orr, we are all rooting for you!

  • MonikaOctober 10, 2016 at 11:47 pm

    Todd I am so very glad you survived this. I have hiked in grizzly territory and now live on an Island where black bears are abundent. Cougars are an issue as well. I am always aware but to be honest don’t know how prepared I actually am. I think about it all the time. Again … so glad you made it through this!!

  • Gordon ToddOctober 11, 2016 at 12:47 am

    Todd, thanks for this report update. Nobody can second guess and say what you should have done or what they would do. I commend you for not killing the bear and the fact that you didn’t try may have saved your life.
    I got my copy of the Madisonian newspaper from a week or two prior to your incident and read where the N fork of Bear Cr was closed due to a possible wounded grizzly. Apparently an outfitter had fired a shot at a sow with Cubs and was unsure if he had wounded her. Do you think this may have been the same bear? Was the closure still in effect? Just some questions. Thanks and I am glad you are alive and hopefully, achieve full recovery. Your openness will no doubt save lives of both species! GT

  • DaveOctober 11, 2016 at 2:22 am

    Just curious, any thoughts on why the bear spray didn’t work?

  • Diane Randolph CristOctober 11, 2016 at 2:46 am

    Lifting you in prayer, for healing &blessings

  • Susan (Gall) TurnerOctober 11, 2016 at 3:11 am

    Wow, I’m glad u made it out of that ok, someone was definitely looking out for you.
    I’m not sure if u remember me but my dad , Jim and your dad were good friends. We visited you a few timed out in Montana a long time ago.

  • Ross LeakeOctober 11, 2016 at 4:30 am

    Todd, I hope your pain is getting better and that you are sleeping better. We are sending our prayers your way. In reading the above, I think that you did what you could and the fact that you are here is testimony to it’s effectiveness. Definitely one pissed off sow. Just when you think you understand mother nature, she throws a curve. I had a close call back in the day. Although I had a bow in hand, the sights were worthless, it was just too close. End result was a poor shot on a quartering in black bear. The recovered arrow looked like I had shot it through a can of Crisco. I figured I had shot it in the butt at about four steps. It wasn’t alerted to me and I had been at full draw for what seemed like minutes. He was coming down the rock ridge straight at me for about 40 yds. What we do in the moment of truth can be second guessed and analyzed to no end. I for one am proud for you and hold you in high esteem. Be well and keep the faith!

  • KashOctober 11, 2016 at 4:41 am

    You must be one in a million for a second attack.
    I hope you are all good.
    You are one tuff man.

  • damian burnettOctober 11, 2016 at 10:30 am

    You dont kill something tgat has babys

  • Rickey SandersOctober 11, 2016 at 11:01 am

    first off G_D bless you for your survival ..Glad you knew what to do and could rapidly exercise proper judgement calls 2). YOU did the right thing ,quite obviously 3) you have angels somewhere watching over you 4) GOOD IDEA re: the future hand gun carry of a .44Mag… peace!~~

  • Rickey SandersOctober 11, 2016 at 11:03 am

    you are hitting this matter head on! Good fer ya!

  • Brian RheadOctober 11, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    Your story gives me chills. I shot a charging grizzly in Alaska last month. It was shot by my hunter and immediately charged. I was in on 4 grizzly hunts this year. They do get very enraged and viciously aggressive when hit. I became very fearful of ever shooting one with a pistol at close range. Your assessment and actions were spot on I believe.
    I believe a pistol would be useful to give warning shots if given the time. The consequences of wounding a Grizzly with a pistol at close range would be quite severe.

  • Shawna FloydOctober 11, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    Thank you for describing your incident for the rest of us outdoors people. We ride horses in the woods and we live in bear country. I carry bear spray and my husband carries a pistol. Based on your experience, I plan to “spray, drop, and roll” Praying for you to have a fast recovery!

  • Debbie AnnOctober 11, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    I pray your writing this out helps you heal as well as confronting feelings you may have to what people post, both in favor and against, and assist your processing of what happened to you. All I want to know is how well your physical wounds are healing. And of course the emotional ones will take time …throughout the rest of your life. Trauma no matter what kind doesn’t just go away quickly….unfortunately!

  • Melissa kochellOctober 11, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Love this not that you need to explain yourself to some doubting assholes who would have died in the first attack!!

  • prairieroseandthesidekickOctober 11, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    My brother showed this to me last evening. Your story is amazing! I can’t help but feel the Lord gave you the wisdom you needed to do what needed to be done. Praise God you can share your story at all. God’s Blessings. Cathy U. (PS I guess my brother’s friend’s son, is a friend of yours…and that’s why he had to share your video.)

  • Jeff BuszmannOctober 12, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    Why won’t you do an interview with local media?

  • RalphOctober 12, 2016 at 9:08 pm


  • DixieOctober 12, 2016 at 11:12 pm

    Sure this is a dumb question but here goes. Being from Texas the only bears around these parts would be black bears Which u could throw a sack lunch at and easily be bffs. I get not wonting to kill this thing of beauty and im amazed at ur pain level… firing shots in the air i assume scares nothing off…

  • GerardoOctober 13, 2016 at 6:25 am

    This is by far the most incredible history about wild attacks I’ve ever seen, hope you are well now, unfortunately you are a hunter, I could call it Karma, anyway my best wishes to you.

  • Preventing Bear Attacks While Hunting | HuntCraftedOctober 13, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    […] recent bear attach on Todd Orr shared on Facebook has kicked off a huge firestorm of discussion around bear spray vs firearms when […]

  • Daniel SommerfeldOctober 13, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    Excellent explanation, I wasn’t critical of you using the spray to begin with although I was curious as to why the spray didn’t work. Do you think you sprayed to early thinking it would deter the sow making the spray less effective? Or was this truly a uniquely pissed off bear?

  • KeliOctober 14, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    Are you ok now!!!

  • Peter KirmerOctober 15, 2016 at 2:54 am

    Wonderful story. How are you sure it was the same bear?

  • Mark A BennerOctober 15, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    Todd…Thank You for that amazing story Bro’… I am sorry you had to go through that..evidently you did all the right things you could to survive such an encounter. I hope you can release any bad and keep all the good to come out of this experience that will make you stronger and wiser in any future Nature outings you may take. I often wonder in Bear attacks what goes through that bear’s mind and how he or she views humans after such an encounter . . . it sounds like your story was Nature protecting her own and she just reacted perhaps at the close distance you were to her and her babies…All Mother’s will fight for their kids every time…Happy Nature Experiences Todd to you in your future…I am glad you will recover and heal and get through this so you can move on with your life Bro’…God’s Speed and Blessing, Protection, and Provision for you Todd Orr and Your Family !

    ~mark~ LoneEagle’ Enjoy Your Day Sir’ Thank You for Surviving n Sharing your story ! ! !

  • Darlene SpragueDecember 29, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    Todd no matter what, I am glad you lived and survived to tell your story…
    Good luck to you…Are you healing well ? …Are you related to the Tom Orr on the TV show Mountain Men, who also lives in Montana? Thanks

  • Darlene SpragueDecember 29, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Todd, I have an after thought. Why if a hand gun is ineffective at a charging bear mostly because it is being said that more often than not it will just be wounded and madder than hell and more ferocious…so my question is, why do folks in bear country carry pistols if that’s the case ? I hope this is a reasonable question, just saying I am trying to think this out so it makes sense.

  • Larry JantzFebruary 8, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    To Darlene Sprague.. There is a miss conception handguns are not effective. This includes common carried handguns with special hard cast bullets. Effectiveness has been said to be as low as 50%. While another 279 bear attack study by Tom Smith puts it at 84%. I have spent three years studying every bear attack with intensity for an up coming book I am involved with. This includes going back to 1997. The most recent brown bear defensive kill was August 2016 by a guide with a 9MM using +P 147 grain hard cast bullets. Three of seven went clear through the bear. Shooting distance was under 8 feet. While a shotgun with Breneke slugs might be a best weapon the handgun is the one you can carry while hiking and fishing etc. And the one you may fall back on when your rifle runs out of ammo or bear spray is ineffective. Bear spray claims 87%-92% effective which is zero when the can is defective or the spay just does not have a strong enough deterrent effect. Author of Pistols and Bears.

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