1953 Bella Twin Debate: .22 Long Power

bellatwin

bellatwin

Let’s take a little trip back in firearms history to 1953. The recently resurrected debate over Bella Twin, the woman who was reported to have taken down a grizzly with nothing but a .22 rifle. There have been quite a few debates over this big bear takedown, from how many rounds it actually took to what kind of rifle she used. Some say a single .22 Long to the head put the grizzly down while others say a photograph clearly shows as many as 9 wound cavities in the bear’s head, but here’s another question: ammo has changed a lot since 1953, not just velocity and energy but weight retention, expansion (or lack thereof) – so many changes over so many years – so, for a little good-natured Friday debate, who here thinks a .22 Long could take down a big, bad grizzly? Try to think in terms of the rounds produced 60 years ago – or don’t, reader’s choice.

My two cents? Shot placement is certainly king, but that would’ve had to have been one fantastic shot and some amazing quality in a post-World War II .22 Long. Possible? Perhaps…



katie.ainsworth

Katie is an avid shooter, hunter, military journalist, and Southern girl. Firearms are her passion whether at the range or on a spot-and-stalk after a big buck. She’s a staff writer at The Firearm Blog and writes about guns, hunting, and the military for various publications both online and in print such as Outdoor Life, Handguns, and Shooting Illustrated. Shoot her a message at ainsworth.kat@usa.com


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  • Martin Grønsdal

    Lady has a gun
    Bear spots lady
    Lady spots bear
    Bear stops, sniffs
    Lady shoots
    Bullet hits the brain
    Bear folds

    Now; she could be crack shot, or crap shot, God could have affected the shot, or a good trigger pull, but the thing is that a .22 placed perfectly could penetrate the skull and kill the bear.

    Was she lucky? oh boy, yes.

    Was she colder than a sharpshooter in Afghanistan? probably

    Was this divine intervention? you decide, but this could have happened.

  • M.M.D.C.

    Possible? I think so. Crazy? Definitely.

    The trick would seem to be to find a place from which to shoot that would also be pissed-off-bear-proof, place the magic shot and then wait until it died.

    • Katie A

      Supposedly she got off the lucky shot and then, when it dropped, emptied the next seven or so rounds into its head. Absolutely possible but admittedly one of those “holy crap” moments.

  • kipy

    When life gives you bears, make bear-lemonade

  • Andrew

    Was the bear in a zoo? That’s the only way I would try that!

    • Katie A

      Zoos do make hunting easier, but for some reason people get upset when you’re kneeling in the exhibit field dressing your kill…

  • Dukeblue91

    I wouldn’t want to try it.
    The only way I think this could have happened is that the bear had a head injure before and she was lucky to hit that part of the head or she shot through the eyes.
    Either way nice shooting if true.

  • joe schemo

    I would do it, but only if my backup gun is a scar 17:-)

  • gunslinger

    don’t think i’d go hunting bear with a 22

    but if my options while being attacked by a bear was a 22 or nothing. i’m gonna take the heat

    • Katie A

      Bella Twin was out hunting some kind of upland bird with a friend when this shot happened…pretty sure grizzly wasn’t her goal. I suppose if she was a crazy adrenaline junkie it’s possible she was out there hoping for some sort of When Animals Attack encounter, but it *seems* safe to assume she wasn’t…I guess anything is possible, though.

  • Phillip Cooper

    My first question is, who’s claiming they can count wounds in this photo? The resolution is barely good enough to make out the bear, let alone wounds.

    • Katie A

      There’s another photo showing the bear’s head and what appears to be multiple wound cavities. And then there’s this one, which is supposed to be the skull of the grizzly she shot.

  • Pete Sheppard

    The account I’m familiar with was that she was able to hide, then as the bear went by, she stuck the muzzle into the bear’s ear and fired. As mentioned, stone cold–no matter how scared she might have been.

    • Katie A

      I’ve heard that account as well, that she was out with a friend, Dave Auger, and they were grouse hunting with her .22 when they happened upon the bear.

    • politicallyincorrectshooter

      In “the Cheechakoes” Wayne Short tells the story of his younger brother snapping off shot at a Kodiak that bypassed him to get at his dog. The bear fell dead, victim of a miracle shot down the ear canal with a .25-20… They later threw the rifle in the bay because it was not “skookum” enough for clean kills on deer.

      Miracles can happen.

  • dan citizen

    Considering that there have been multiple documented elephant kills with .22 short, nothing surprises me.

  • USMC03Vet

    Katie A. Must read ammoland too!

  • jamezb

    The optic nerve channel passes through a foramen at the rear of the eye socket and leads directly to the brain. Follow that path with a bullet and few creatures survive the hit. Luck? Skill? Maybe a bit of both, but certainly possible.

  • Don Ward

    I work every summer as a commercial salmon fisherman in Bristol Bay. Given that we’re a set net operation, we spend a lot of time on the beach and have multiple run ins with brown bears. While they are impressive creatures physically (you should see the muscles when they’re skinned) they do die like anything else with the right shot placement.

    • Katie A

      Shot placement is definitely king of the hill but even so…a .22 Long…and in 1953? I’d say there was some luck mixed in with placement.

  • Tassiebush

    Cool topic! I believe it is probably true but I definitely wouldn’t want to try it! I assume it was probably a high velocity or standard velocity solid. Once had a truly awful “learning experience” euthanizing a cow with subsonic hollow points. Long story short it lacked penetration through skull but did stun it. On a Grizzly I could imagine either a well placed bullet doing it in one hit or the bear being knocked out then follow up shots finishing the task.

    • Katie A

      1953, and a .22 Long, not going to find a high velocity round, and even the standards back then weren’t great. Their velocity may not have been entirely atrocious but energy certainly was. CCI did make a high velocity .22 Long at one point, just a little late for Bella Twin. I’ve had to euthanize horses with my handguns on a couple occasions – experiences that made me glad I carry large caliber handguns loaded with good quality defense rounds.

  • Grindstone50k

    Impossible? No. Improbable? Very.

  • Wetcoaster

    Magic BB’s happen, and people win lotteries, but I wouldn’t want to count on either

  • skusmc

    Try story; when I was a kid, I killed a rabbit with a bb gun by shooting it in the eye.

    So basically I’ve done the same thing this lady did. Basically.

    • Cal S.

      Sounds legit…

    • Katie A

      It was a killer rabbit the size of a Doberman, right?

    • Phil Elliott

      Killed lots of rabbits, 1 pheasant , several Quail and 1 skunk with a BB gun

  • Darren Hruska

    Countless numbers of 1,500+ pound cattle are put down with .22 LR rifles each day. While a steer is a MUCH more docile animal than a wild grizzly, it still shows that the round is capable of killing animals that are a hundredfold heavier than the animals the round is actually meant to be used on. So, I think it’s possible for a single .22 LR round to kill a grizzly, but I most definitely won’t attempt that! That’s unless such a rifle is all I got. . .

    • Katie A

      True, there are some beef operations that slaughter cattle with .22LR (which I won’t get into my opinions regarding). But even that isn’t like a .22 Long, which has a ballistic performance considerably inferior to the .22LR – and when you call a cartridge inferior to the .22LR you know it’s not good. Odds are her .22 Long produced half the muzzle energy of your average standard-weight .22LR. If I was choosing between the two cartridges I’d definitely go for the .22LR not the .22 Long, and I do actually have rifles chambered for both.

      • Cymond

        on a barely-related note, does anyone even make 22 Long ammo anymore?

  • phuzz

    Don’t forget, we’re not looking at the pictures of all the people who tried to shoot a bear with a .22 and weren’t lucky.

    • Katie A

      Probably because there was nothing to left photograph…I’m just saying…

  • Martin Grønsdal

    can be lethal? a 9 mm can be lethal? I would presume it is lethal, and take anything else as a bonus.

    • Katie A

      I have to fall on the side of Canadian Vet…”can.” Yes, ammunition has vastly improved in the century-plus the 9mm has been around, but even so it’s still all about shot placement. And even with decent shot placement the type of bullet makes a massive difference, as any soldier/Marine/sailor who’s seen combat can tell you; a FMJ round fired from a 5.56 can simply produce a wounding through-and-through, and the insurgent will go on fighting. Nail them with a proper defense round in the same spot and they’re down. A 9mm loaded with target rounds in combat isn’t the most effective weapon. Yes, it’s improved over the years, but personally I’ll take a larger caliber any day. So the 9mm “can” be effective but I would never simply presume its lethality.

      • Martin Grønsdal

        Ok. I both agree and disagree.

        While I wouldn’t use a .22 nor the .223 for bear hunting, we both agree that at least the .223 is very dangerous to the bear and would kill it.

        This was my point about the 9 mm as well. While there are cartridges of similar size, price and recoil, that are more powerful and dangerous, describing the 9mm as only potentially lethal is not correct either.

        Even the .22 is extremely dangerous, and implying anything else can only make untrained people, especially children, mishandle firearms.

        But to give you some credit: i wouldn’t choose the 9mm for bear hunting:)

        • Katie A

          Yeah, safe to say the 9mm isn’t on my list of guns to hunt with, either. But if you’re going to go down the danger of a bullet road, sure, everything has the potential for lethal results. That said, I’m pretty confident all the guys here (am I really the only female?) know a bullet is a bullet, not a feather duster. In my experience mishandling firearms takes place out of various forms of idiocy, regardless of caliber, and when it comes to children their parents should be teaching them gun safety. Fortunately we’re not having a debate about phrasing and how it might or might not be interpreted…right?

          • Martin Grønsdal

            Yeah, sure – but since we are not debating phrasing, then we can both end this “discussion” with the agreement that 9 mm is very, very dangerous, and lethal.

            one thing parents often forget is that physics are not only related to firearms and cars, but to slingshots and bikes too. Take the mass of an appropriately sized rock, slung from a slingshot, and compare that to the energy of bullets. Many will be surprised.

  • Katie A

    Yes…I just might have his book, “Bears” about ten feet away from me right now on a bookshelf…

  • Katie A

    I’d think a witty moment like that would be worthy of a name…

  • Katie A

    Absolutely my point, that the .22 Long isn’t, and certainly wasn’t sixty years ago, a fantastic performer from any standpoint.

  • Katie A

    That’s right, it was quite a few years back. I think the sow and her cubs were raiding his chicken coop, if memory serves. I wouldn’t want to go up against a grizzly with a .410, either, that’s for sure.

  • Katie A

    I know .22LR can penetrate a skull; since .22 Long produces significantly less energy I’m not positive about its ability. Definitely true .22LR can ricochet and scramble everything in its path. Sounds like you all have some nice bear skin rugs, and that means I’m jealous.