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Keywords:

  • Alaska;
  • bear deterrence;
  • bear–human interactions;
  • black bears;
  • brown bears;
  • firearms;
  • grizzly bears;
  • polar bears;
  • Ursus americanus;
  • Ursus arctos;
  • Ursus maritimus

Abstract

We compiled, summarized, and reviewed 269 incidents of bear–human conflict involving firearms that occurred in Alaska during 1883–2009. Encounters involving brown bears (Ursus arctos; 218 incidents, 81%), black bears (Ursus americanus; 30 incidents, 11%), polar bears (Ursus maritimus; 6 incidents, 2%), and 15 (6%) unidentified species provided insight into firearms success and failure. A total of 444 people and at least 367 bears were involved in these incidents. We found no significant difference in success rates (i.e., success being when the bear was stopped in its aggressive behavior) associated with long guns (76%) and handguns (84%). Moreover, firearm bearers suffered the same injury rates in close encounters with bears whether they used their firearms or not. Bears were killed in 61% (n = 162) of bear–firearms incidents. Additionally, we identified multiple reasons for firearms failing to stop an aggressive bear. Using logistic regression, the best model for predicting a successful outcome for firearm users included species and cohort of bear, human activity at time of encounter, whether or not the bear charged, and if fish or game meat was present. Firearm variables (e.g., type of gun, number of shots) were not useful in predicting outcomes in bear–firearms incidents. Although firearms have failed to protect some users, they are the only deterrent that can lethally stop an aggressive bear. Where firearms have failed to protect people, we identified contributing causes. Our findings suggest that only those proficient in firearms use should rely on them for protection in bear country. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.