Can I shoot a bear in self-defense? Will I face fines and jail time if I do?

  • 48
    Really, if a bear is about to kill you, do you care if stopping it gets you in trouble with the law. I want that to be my last thought when a bear is eating me "well at least I won't have to see a judge" Jan 29, 2012 at 22:30
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    In addition to what @RussellSteen just said, if you plan on shooting at the bear, you better shoot to kill as if you don't, you're screwed big time. If I were you, I'd rather try to shoot in the air first and hope it'll scare the bear off. In majority of the cases it will. Especially if you stand tall, put your hands in the air, try to look as big as you can and yell at the same time. May 3, 2017 at 8:53
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    @RussellSteen your comment should be an answer. Aug 16, 2017 at 18:15

4 Answers 4


For hunting bears you have to check with your local rangers for hunting season, permits and so on.

Self-defense is self-defense if your mental state does not allow you to think and you feel killing is the only way out than it the only way out.

BUT Bear Defense Spray is more effective and easier to obtain than .45

Also Noise will scare them off. So if you shoot don't shoot the bear just shoot in its direction to spook it away from you.

  • 7
    FYI - I'm not too familiar with different caliber's but have heard that many will just bounce off the skull of a Griz (which is what you will be presented with if one is charging you - not a nice broad-side heart/lung kill shot). To wit, when I worked in Griz country (Alaska) we were required to carry 12-gauge shot-guns loaded with slugs. +1 for bear spray.
    – Lost
    Feb 2, 2012 at 3:05
  • "So if you shoot don't shoot the bear just shoot in its direction to spook it away from you" - Sure, I will probably shoot at his direction but not at him ;)
    – Kyle
    Mar 8, 2016 at 11:11

You can. Bear spray is a more humane option; however, you do ask about legal repercussions. You can shoot pretty much any animal in self defense in the USA. After you shoot the animal it is important what you do if you want to avoid fines. Once the fight is over and you know you are safe you need to call the forest service. If you don't know their number call 911 and they can and will help you.

Source: Last year a buddy of mine killed a Mountain Lion (cougar) in self Defense and didn't have a tag for one. A guy came out and looked at the Cougar, asked some basic questions like what weapon was used. Where was he standing. Where I was. What was the Mountain Lion doing that made him feel he had to kill it. When did it happen. The last question was "Will you help me carry it back to my truck?" He filled out a piece of paper with our info and that was it.

During the carry back we asked about what happens and he told us that depending on very technical qualifications such as if he wants to eat the animal or not and how far is is from his truck determines if he hands the hunters a tag and says have a nice day or takes it himself. Also, he said that if it was obviously not self defense or he had a bad feeling about it he could get the police involved but usually doesn't have to.

  • 6
    Personal stories always make for good answers!
    – Sponge Bob
    Aug 20, 2012 at 16:50
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    -1: If nobody is in immediate danger, do not call 911. Call a non-emergency number; if you don't know it, call 411 and try to find a number for the appropriate authorities. (It will only be the Forest Service if you shot the bear in a national forest.) Jun 19, 2013 at 4:57
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    @NateEldredge No, do call 911. If you are in a life threatening situation to the point that you had to kill another (large) living creature, they would have no problem hearing from you. I know these people deal with a lot of crap calls (apparently people use 911 as an answering service for anyone who works for the city) but one where someone's life is/was very recently in danger, they will help. The first question will be "Are you safe now?" and when you say yes, the next question will be "Do you need medical attention?" If no, then they will give you the number you need to call. Jan 23, 2014 at 0:18
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    If you have to hike to get reception, then yes, don't call 911. Find the number for the forest service, but if you have reception where the attack happened, the 911 operator that you are connected to will be used to people in the wilderness calling in. Jan 23, 2014 at 0:21

You can shoot a human in self defense in many countries, so don't worry about shooting a bear if you have to. I have UK military experience, and let me tell you, shooting a moving target with a handgun is difficult. If a 400kg bear is coming at you, and you only have 5 seconds to get an accurate shot away with all the adrenalin flowing, then chances are you will not stop the bear, even if you are well practised with the handgun.

The only firearm I would consider for a CLOSE encounter with a bear is a pump action shotgun. Easier to aim and far more stopping power. Not a particularly convenient or inconspicuous piece of kit to carry when hiking! But you do have that as a legal option here in the U.S.?

But bear(!) in mind, your mindset will change if you are carrying a firearm. You may be tempted to go for the gun too readily when there is perhaps a better alternative course of action, e.g. talk loudly, avoid eye contact and move away slowly.

Still, if I had a shotgun and bear spray, I would instinctively go for the shotgun first, which may be less effective than the spray. Given enough time though, I would fire shots in the air, before aiming at the bear. I have seen u-tube videos of Grizzlys scampering away in fear from the noise of a shotgun.


The TL;DR answer: Yes.

You can always kill in self defense if your life is in serious danger* from the animal or even person you're shooting, e.g. if you have good reason to believe they are trying to kill you (for instance because they're a bear and they're charging) in any jurisdiction I know of. It doesn't matter if that animal/person is the last white tiger or the queen of Britain. It even doesn't matter whether in hindsight you were actually in danger. If the bear is drawing what after the fact turns out to be a fake gun on you (I know, great example) you were still in the right, because you had no way to know it was fake.

If you ever die messily, let it not be because you wondered about local laws.

*Some jurisdictions like several US states use a more relaxed idea of serious danger, while other places like much of Europe are stricter, but getting mauled by a bear counts everywhere, even in places without bears.

See all the other answers for things to consider and some great alternatives.

EDIT: Oh wow, didn't see how old this question was.

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