Why Would Anyone Need a Gun in a National Park?

A Rough and Tumble With a GrizzlyThankfully, we can now carry in National Parks if the local laws permit it. Unfortunately for one 63 year old Montana man, hiking alone and off-trail while unarmed turn out to be a fatal proposition. Yes, I would carry in a National Park, anti-gun folks, because I have no desire for my mortal remains to include a few dozen pounds of bear poop.


Crosby was the sixth person killed since 2010 by grizzlies in the greater Yellowstone area, which has an estimated 750 grizzlies and includes the park and surrounding portions of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

Encounters between humans and grizzlies bears have risen sharply in recent decades as the region’s grizzly population expanded. But relatively few lead to death or injury, and park officials say the risk of being attacked by a bear is comparable to the chances of being struck by lightning.

Yeah, and despite the risk of being struck by lightning being very small, years ago when I was hiking in the Northern Rockies, I learned the hard way why it’s advisable to clear off mountain peaks before the afternoon comes around and storms start brewing. I wasn’t hit, but I did learn from a far closer vantage point than I was comfortable with that rocks can be blown apart by lightning strikes. The storm came up on the other side of the mountain, and I never saw it coming. This was before the days when you could just pull up the weather radar on your phone. I will tell you, I was not feeling very comforted by the statistic that I’m very unlikely to get struck by lightning. By the same token, I doubt a hiker who comes across a big ol’ grizzly bear is likely to be very comforted by the fact that he’s very unlikely to be eaten. I wouldn’t hike up a mountain in a summer afternoon, and I wouldn’t hike in grizzly country without a proper hand cannon either.

26 Responses to “Why Would Anyone Need a Gun in a National Park?”

  1. I bought a .44 Magnum for a trip that involved camping at Grizzly Flat Campground (aptly named) in Wyoming. And the last time I visited Yellowstone, I carried it.

  2. Ian Argent says:

    I was just reading an article on a bear attack in Yellowstone. Somewhat frightening stuff; basically we don’t know if bears will “naturally” attack humans because bears that do attack are generally put down.

  3. Brad says:

    typo alert!

    “…I have to desire…” ?

    Should read, “I have no desire”

    I have a friend who comically has frequent typos of this nature, changing intended words into correctly spelled wrong words which completely alter the meaning of his sentences.

  4. Carl from Chicago says:

    I didn’t think anyone was still questioning the need to carry in parks. Or if they still are, that anyone is listening to them.

    • Granny Grunch says:

      Oh I bet there are more than a few LL Bean clad wood nymphs who are horrified at the thought of someone carrying a weapon in THEIR woods. These are those trail skippers with granola where their brains should be. Hey??

  5. Ed says:

    I am taking my mom and her boyfriend to Yellowstone in a few weeks. When I told her a few weeks ago that we need to get to the airport early since we can not do curbside check in since I am bringing my Ruger Alaskan 44 magnum with me. She at that point in time questioned me taking a gun. Over the weekend when I was visiting her and this story first appeared, she asked me, “Your still bringing that gun, right?” To which I replied, “Yes.”

  6. Ed says:

    I wonder if his employment contract barred him from having a firearm in the park. I know they are banned from buildings that federal employees work in and the park’s main concessionaire Xanterra Parks and Resorts bans them in their buildings too.

  7. Jeff O says:

    Having run into (or over, depending on your point of view) a black bear during an out of control decent on a mountain bike some 25 years ago (God, I’m getting old), I will attest that even an encounter with a small one is enough to dirty one’s shorts!

    • Patrick says:

      One of my friends was riding a bike on a paved trail in Northern VA and got hit sidelong by a large buck. It was during a race and my friend was going fast. If not for his helmet he would have died.

      Obviously, we also need armaments on our bicycles.

  8. Patrick says:

    The wife and I spent a week in Alaska. As much as we loved hiking, we avoided going onto deeper trails because there were signs prominently placed at trail heads effectively saying that ‘beyond here walk big mean grizzlies, and if you don’t have a gun of sufficient caliber you should consider hiking elsewhere.

    So at least at some point, even the gubbermint thought it smart to carry in parks. This was in 2005.

  9. aerodawg says:

    I have an extreme phobia of being turned into bear poop….

    • Mark Matis says:

      But can you not think of at least one or two people who you would not mind being so modified???

  10. Aces says:

    Dovetailing onto this blog, The question remains what to carry when hiking. Big Bears need big calibers. But the problem with big calibers is backpacking weight and that many of us who carry in the city, may not (yet) own big enough caliber weapons for the likes of bears. And switching from Hollow Points to FMJ is probably a smart move as well. I have .45 Auto, which I could carry with FMJ. But is that likely to be too lightweight? 10mm might be better. And there are some who think revolver is better than Semi-auto, in the event that the amimal is on you (affecting the slide, due to contact). I’d like to see a Blog on this and especially the comments from those that have walked those trails.

    • Matthew Carberry says:

      Penetration is the key, break or punch holes in bones and get into the vitals under all that meat and fat.

      Buffalo Bore and a couple others (Double Tap?) make flat nose hard cast lead hot rounds for most calibers. Obviously not ideal in the lower calibers but few people are going to buy a whole nother gun just for hiking.

      For your .45 you can get hard cast .45 Super (ACP with heavier brass base) loads which should work just fine, since you aren’t going to be shooting a ton of them. A simple spring change is all you need to protect the gun anyway. A 9/.40/10mm/.357/.44 Mag would all want the same ammo type. Hard flat points to punch deep.

      I carry a mag full around town as a spare in case I decide to walk on a bike trail near one of our urban salmon streams for some reason. If I take a planned walk I carry my .460 Rowland, same 1911-style pistol I usually carry, just with an upper change and a comp.

    • Alien says:

      Several years back I did weekend RSO duty at my gun club in rural Florida; one Sunday I was the only one on site at sunset (we operated sunrise-sunset) and was checking the facility for sunset shutdown. Walking back from the shotgun range I encountered a half-dozen feral pigs who came out of the brush about 20 yards ahead. Mom and Pop (both of which were >150 lbs) studied me while the kids went into the brush, then they disappeared, too. Until that moment I never felt a 1911 in 45 was inadequate.

      Shortly after that I ran across a deal on an S&W 329, and that became my “range gun” every time I was on the property. Easy to carry, painful to shoot, but it does project power (I’d prefer a 45-70 rifle, but…..).

      I do not believe there is any such thing as “too much gun”, and if S&W made the 500 Magnum with a 5″ barrel I would own one.

    • The National Foest Service published a paper in 1981 with a title like “Bullet Performance on Grizzzly Bears” because as the article politely explained it, traditionally their employees in bear country had lots of experience with guns, but increasingly they were hiring bunny-huggers who had not a clue.

    • Kristophr says:

      12 gauge is the caliber Alaska State Troopers carry when they fear bear attack.

      A big caliber pistol is OK, but I think a .45 ACP would be kinda weak.

  11. thatturahguy says:

    It’s been my experience, in the lower 48 states, you need a gun for protection from two- legged varmints than bears, moose or mountain lions. All kinds of lowlifes hang out in the woods these days. An SUV full of expensive camping gear parked at an isolated campground is just begging to get ripped off. Alaska is different- more and bigger bears. But bears don’t grow acres of pot on public land. Keep your eyes open.

  12. Carl from Chicago says:


    When I’ve gone backcountry in AK, I carry a 4″ 44 mag revolver. I’ve made some bear loads that are pushing max. Can’t remember the charge of H110, but it was new brass with 320gr hard cast flat nose has checked projectiles. I have chrono data and they were remarkable at muzzle. In lieu of checking and toting another gun, I just carried the 44 with hollow points when not in backcountry. Honestly would hate to put down a griz, which are magnificent animals and a symbol of a sadly decreasing wilderness. With 7.2 or whatever billion people now, I can’t help but root a little for the Bears.

    • Mark Matis says:

      I would bet that a half dozen grizzlies could do pretty good riot control in Ferguson. Or Baltimore. Or…

    • Aces says:

      From what little I’ve read since my original comment, I’m thinking .44 Mag is probably the right place for Grizzly country. Where I live, in Western WA, Cougars are the more likely threat, with a rarer chance of Black Bears (meaning that the bears will likely leave you alone). I’ve carried .40 S&W with a mix of HP & FMJ in the past. But if I ever go to Glacier NP, or AK, I’m looking to see what would make sense. Thanks for your insights. I recently got a .45 Auto. But it’s a G30S, which would be an improvement, but likely not the best option.

      • Matthew Carberry says:

        Within the caliber, the .45 hot loaded is (IMO) just fine for your cats and black bears.

        It all comes down to what you want to spend for grizzlys. Definitely worth picking up a can of bear spray as a Plan A if you will be with someone else.

        • Mark Matis says:

          Or even a .22 pistol as long as you’re with someone else. You don’t have to outrun the bear. You just have to be able to outrun your partner…

  13. Adam says:

    My buddy who lives in northern CA was told, by a ranger, that .357 mag was the MINIMUM size he should be carrying while hiking. He carries a 44 mag with hot hollow points. The ranger told him they’ve taken aggressive bears and have seen .45 acp rounds that were embedded and didn’t make it through their pelt.