Grizzly Bear Attack in Montana Stopped with 9mm Pistols
Arizona -(Ammoland.com)- – On 16 September 2019, Chris Gregersen and Donivan Cambell were bow hunting elk in Montana, in the Gravelly Mountains, when they were attacked by a grizzly bear. They had gone out for an afternoon hunt, and had hunted up steep drainage, climbed the opposite slope, and had been calling for elk on the opposite side of the ridge with a bugle call.
They were returning to their truck and camp. They stopped calling on the top of the ridge, crested the ridge, and were on a steep downward slope, moving toward the creek at the bottom, on an old game trail. There was no cell service in the area.
The weather was clear, in the 50s, with a slight breeze. It was 6:30 p.m. The sun was low in the sky. They wanted to get back before dark.
In addition to their archery equipment, both men had 9 mm pistols. Chris Gregersen had a Glock 43. Donivan Campbell had a Sig Sauer P320. Both guns were loaded with full metal jacketed (FMJ) cartridges.
Chris said he carried the Glock 43 because it was small enough to be taken every day.
Both men are professional biologists, with degrees in wildlife ecology, working in their chosen field. They are familiar with bears and bear behavior. They live and work in Washington State. They are both longtime hunters and fishermen. They are proficient woodsmen.
The way back to the truck was north, down a slope, through the timber, and up the other side. They were in thick timber of mature lodgepole pine with some spruce, and patches of brush and blowdowns. In the picture, the attack occurred across the creek and up the slope in the timber in the upper right.
As they crossed a small bench, they heard an animal jump up, downwind, in the brush to their left (West). It was close, within 20 yards. Their first thought was: elk! As they turned to look, the grizzly bear erupted from the brush, charging at them, woofing and breathing heavily, only feet away. Chris ran and jumped downhill. Donivan attempted to dodge uphill, but the bear veered and grabbed him by the thigh, shaking him like a dog shaking a rat. The initial attack happened in seconds.
Chris said, even if he had a deterrent in hand, he would not have been able to deploy it fast enough.
Chris had just landed when he heard Donivan scream. He immediately drew his pistol and ran uphill toward Donivan and the bear. The bear had shaken Donivan again. Donivan was on his belly, the bear holding him down by standing on his back. The bear had let go of Donivan's leg and was attempting to bite Donivan's head. Donivan had both hands behind his head, trying to protect his neck. His thumbs were in the bear's mouth, trying to hold the bear's teeth away from his head. He could feel the bear's teeth on his hands. To this point, the action had taken about fifteen seconds.
The attack was aggressive, fast, violent. Chris could see the bear going for Donivan's head when he shot.
Chris said he had no choice. He had to fire. If he did not fire, Donivan would be killed or injured more severely. He had run to within 15 feet of the bear and Donivan, the bear facing away from him, on top of Donivan. He took a snap sight picture and fired at the bear's rear. It was probably 16 seconds into the attack. The point of aim was the bear's hind quarters. There was no other choice. The bear and Donivan were up slope with brush on either side. There was no time to flank the bear, on a steep hill side, with considerable brush, when fractions of a second could make the difference between life and death. Chris had a clear shot. He has considerable experience shooting under stress while hunting. He says he has “shot a lot.” He had a brief worry about hitting his friend, so he had to do it right.
Chris believes he hit the bear in one of the hind quarters, from the rear. The searchers reported finding a little blood, but it might have been Donivan's. From the back, a 9mm FMJ would be unlikely to reach the bear's vitals or penetrate far enough to reach Donivan. On a large bear, with lots of fat in the fall, a significant blood trail was unlikely.
Chris expected the bear to turn on him. At the shot, the bear leaped away from Donivan and disappeared into a thick wall of brush only 5 feet away. The bear could not have acted faster to a cloud of bear spray.
Chris did not know if Donivan was alive or dead. Donivan drew his Sig Sauer as soon as the bear jumped off him. As Chris approached Donivan, he saw his friend was alive and armed. They immediately heard the grizzly coming back from about 30 yards out. As a snap plan, Donivan agreed to fire to deter the bear, with Chris in reserve to fire as soon as he saw it. The friends are yelling at the bear. As it got to within 5 yards, still unseen, Donivan fired two shots into the brush, toward the bear. The bear stopped, started walking away, and retreated perhaps 20 yards.
The friends heard the bear charge a third time. Donivan fired another shot at the noise as the bear closed to about 10 yards, still without being seen, hidden by the thick brush. Indexing on the sound, they had a good idea of where it was. The bear stopped, and the friends hear it slowly walking in the brush, then slowly walking away. They heard the sounds of the bear's retreat faded. The only clear shot fired at the bear was the first one fired by Chris, it was effective in stopping the attack, driving the bear off of Donivan and giving him the opportunity to draw his Sig.
Chris emphasized bear spray would not have been sufficient. The spray would have been directed at the bear's backside. If the spray had reached the bear's head, it would have disabled Donivan as well. When the bear charged again, the bear spray would have been unlikely to reach the bear through the heavy cover.
Chris believed the sound of the shots and the yelling stopped the second and third charges. He thinks all three shots fired by Donivan missed the bear. It could not be seen. Donivan was on the ground, firing at the noise of the bear crashing through the brush at them. There was a lot of brush.
Chris checked his friend's wounds. The bear had torn up Donivan's thigh with six lacerations, ripped into severe wounds as the bear shook Donivan. One of them was large enough for the doctor at the hospital to put his entire hand inside while cleaning it out.
There wasn't any arterial bleeding. The emergency “first aid” kit was useless, designed for minor cuts and insect bites. The friends improvised bandages using game bags and t-shirts. Chris improvised crutches from trekking poles. They believed they could be attacked again at any time, as had happened in several other cases, with Todd Orr being the classic example. Chris kept his Glock in hand and put Donivan's Sig in his pants pocket. He reloaded his Glock 43 with a spare magazine. Donivan would have both hands full staying upright and moving back toward the road.
The sun was nearly down, with deep shadows across the valley. They had to make it down to the creek, and across it, a three-quarter-mile hike. Then there was an uphill climb to the road and the truck. At the camp was a 4-wheeler, five miles away.
Chris cleared a trail for Donivan, helped him over logs, and provided security as they hobbled their way, as fast as they could, toward the road, the truck, and safety.
Once they got to the other side of the creek, they were able to make it to an area of sagebrush. Donivan was spent. The two decided, rather than risk further injury by carrying Donivan, Chris would go and get the 4-wheeler at the camp. Chris returned Donivan's Sig P320 9 mm and left him in a relatively open area, covered with clothes, in a defensive position. The sun was below the horizon.
Chris ran upslope for a quarter mile to the truck. He drove five miles back to the camp, returned with the 4-wheeler, found a way downslope with the vehicle, and loaded Donivan on it. Donivan had his headlight out and turned on. The evening sky glow was fading. As they headed up slope in the 4-wheeler, it was dark.
On the road, they headed back toward camp. Part way there, they were able to flag down someone to go and call 911 from a local cabin with a land line. The call started an ambulance on the way up. They loaded Donivan into the truck and started down the mountain. Just as they reached cell phone service, 40 miles from the attack site, they met the ambulance coming up. The ambulance took Donivan to the hospital.
A search party with a big crew and helicopter were organized to look for the bear.
Based on descriptions, the bear was a mature, dominant boar. One of the searchers told Chris the chances of two dominant bear attacks this close together is very low. Chris was told the bear was likely hit. This might cause it to den up to recover, or to leave the area. If not hit, denning or leaving would be less likely, for such a territorial, mature boar.
One of the first responders recommended Quick Clot, a wound dressing, and a tourniquet as a kit to cover most serious wounds. A warden suggested more power, and a large magazine capacity gave a better chance of hitting the central nervous system. He recommended the Glock 20 in 10mm.
Chris believes it was probably the same bear. He thinks the bear spray used in the attack 11 hours and less than a mile away, likely aggravated the second attack.
Chris Gregersen has purchased a Glock 20. Chris bought a quick clot kit for future hunts.
Donivan Cambell is recovering. It will be months before he can hunt again. Donivan's wife is expecting their first child. Fortunately, the bear attack did not sever any arteries. A gofundme account has been set up for his expenses.
Chris says bears are highly individualistic. There are aggressive bears and mellow bears. Without legal hunting for bears, aggressive bears tend to be taken out when, or after, they attack. With a legal hunt, bears that did not fear humans would be more likely to be harvested before they attack a human.
Chris Gregersen says they did not expect to be attacked. They believed if they acted properly, they would be safe. Now, he knows there are bears in the woods who will attack and kill you simply for being there. If it could happen to them, he says, it could happen to anyone.