Bella Twin’s 1953 World Record Grizzly
.22 Long, Bella Twin, Big Game Records, Grizzly Bear
In this famous photograph by Bruno Engler, Bella Twin is shown with the hide from the world record grizzly bear that she shot in 1953 with a single shot .22 rifle.
Dean Weingarten in Ammoland:
On 10 May, 1953, Bella Twin was hunting small game with her partner, Dave Auger, along an oil exploration cutline south of Slave Lake, in Alberta, Canada. She was 63 years old.
They saw a large grizzly bear coming toward them. Wishing to avoid an encounter, they hid off the side of the cut.
But the bear kept coming closer and closer. It got so close that Bella Twin thought it less risky to shoot the bear than to not shoot it. It was probably only a few yards away. Some accounts say 30 feet. Perhaps she saw it stop and start to sniff, as if it had caught their scent. We may never know.
She shot at the side of the bears head. Knowing animal anatomy very well (she was an experienced trapper, and had skinned hundreds, perhaps thousands of animals) she knew exactly where to aim to penetrate the skull at its weakest point.
She shot, the bear dropped. It was huge. She went to the bear and fired the rest of the .22 long cartridges that she had, loading the single shot rifle repeatedly, to “pay the insurance” as Peter Hathaway Capstick said. She made sure the bear was dead, and not just stunned. My father taught me the same lesson when I was 13.
For those curious about how to place that shot on a live bear, the place to aim is half way on a line from the center of the eye to the ear hole.
From the front, you would aim directly up the nose. If the bear’s mouth is open, aim for the back of the roof of the mouth. Aiming above the nose will likely miss the brain.
What rifle did Bella use to shoot the world record grizzly in 1953?
I wrote an article asking for help in 2014. Several alert readers replied over the intervening period. Because of their efforts, and the Internets, I have been able to find more detail about Bella Twin, her rifle, and the event. One reader was able to track down the current location of the rifle and send me pictures taken by the curator of the museum. The rifle is a Cooey Ace 1 single shot .22 rimfire.
Bella Twin used the rifle for many years on her trapline. The rifle was produced between 1929 and 1934. From a commenter at Ammoland:
here is a quote from the curator of the museum about the gun when i talked to him via email:
”I can tell you that the rifle is a .22 caliber single shot Cooey Ace 1. I can also tell you that the rifle’s condition, which has remained as it was when Bella Twin shot the bear, leaves a lot to be desired. There is corrosion on the receiver and barrel, the front screw that holds the stock to the barrel is missing and has been replaced with hockey tape. There is a piece of rubber under the barrel – probably as a method of “free floating” the barrel. There is no finish left on the wood. The stock is missing a part by the receiver and there is a wood screw reinforcing a crack in the stock.”
Bella Twin was a Cree woman. She had a reputation for being a deadly shot. Her grandson, Larry Loyie became an award winning writer. He wrote a fictionalized account of the bear shooting to include his grandmother in his prize winning children’s book, As Long as the Rivers Flow….
In As Long as the Rivers Flow, Larry wrote that he was with his grandmother when she shot the bear. It made sense to put the story into the book, but Larry was not with his grandmother when she shot the bear. In 1953, Larry had been gone from Slave Lake for five years. I suspect his grandfather, Edward Twin, had died. Bella was 63 and was spending time with another man. Larry refers to Dave Auger as Bella’s partner in a family picture. Dave Auger was with Bella when she shot the bear.
What ammunition did Bella Twin use? The written accounts say .22 Long.
Bella Twin is specifically recorded as reporting that she shot it with .22 Longs, not Shorts, not Long Rifles. I recall that into the 1960’s Longs were more expensive than shorts, but cheaper than Long Rifle ammunition.
The High Velocity .22 Long dates back to the 1930’s and uses a 29 grain bullet at 1240 fps. The High Velocity .22 Short dates to about the same period, with the same bullet as the Long, but a velocity of 1125. The difference in velocity is 1240 – 1125 or 115 fps. That amounts to a 21% increase in energy for the Long, but far short of the Long Rifle, which is almost double that of the .22 Short.
The energy figures are listed as Short 81 foot pounds, Long 99 foot pounds, and Long Rifle 158 foot pounds, all for High Velocity loads of the period. A standard velocity .22 Long Rifle is listed at 1140 fps, with 120 foot pounds of energy, or 21% more than the High Velocity Long. The modern CCI standard velocity .22 Long Rifle travels at 1070 fps, with 102 foot pounds of energy, still 3% more than the High Velocity Long.
What was the location where the bear was shot? During my research, I came across a photo of the right side of the bear’s skull. The right side has the location where the bear was shot written on it. The bear was shot in Section 24, Township 71, Range 6, W 5th Meridian. That is a section of land about 7 1/2 miles south of Slave Lake. The bear was likely shot just west of Florida Lake. A section is one mile square.
We know the date the bear was shot, because it is recorded on the top of the skull. Most written accounts only say it was the spring of 1953. It was on May 10th of that year.
Bella Twin was only a name for most of the time I knew of her. I wondered about this famous huntress for many years. Now we know that she was an expert trapper, hunter, and a crack shot. She was a beloved grandmother who taught her grandchildren well and knew the Cree traditional folkways. She lost one man and found another. She was shrewd enough to parlay the world record grizzly into cash. She sold the skin and skull separately, and sold the old, beat up rifle as well.
Here is a picture of the bear’s skull and the .22 caliber holes in the left side.