Bearanoia victim

angel heaton

Angel Heaton/Facebook

Since 26-year-old Angel Heaton shot herself in the hip with the .40-caliber handgun intended to save her from bears, she’s pretty much become the poster child for the worst that can go wrong when Alaskans turn to firearms for wilderness protection.

Heaton was rescued from the Talkeetna Mountains by the Alaska National Guard on Saturday after tapping out a cry for help on a Garmin In-Reach GPS and two-way, satellite communication device.

What happened to her might have gone unnoticed had she not posted an account of her accident on social media earlier this week. On her Facebook page today, she added that she wrote about the shooting “to raise awareness of gun safety. My easy-going, I know how to shoot one gun so I must be fine, almost cost me my life. Also how important it is to have a GPS with the SOS feature on it when going out on trips like mine.”

Heaton, who now lives in the Anchorage metropolitan area but hails from Fairbanks, was discharged from the Providence Medical Center on Tuesday and messaged Wednesday via Facebook that she was willing to talk about her bear-fear-inspired nightmare near the Mint Glacier, but added that she was “still trying to wake up from it.”

She has since stopped responding to messages amid questions raised on the Mountaineering Club of Alaska (MCA) Facebook page about firearm safety and apparently other comments made elsewhere on social media.

“It’s easy to call me a moron, to laugh at my stupidity,” she wrote today. “To say I deserved to die for it. And yes I’m talking to the many people who’ve shared this story only to make me feel even worse.”

Though dozens of people commented on the MCA page, no one there called her a moron or suggested she deserved to die. In fact, it appears almost the opposite.

Most of the comments are sympathetic and supportive with most observing that accidents happen, expressing sympathy and wishing Heaton – who also goes by the name Angel Harrison – a speedy recovery.

An MCA post saying “it might be a good idea to do a bit of research on bear behavior and gun safety” appears to have been the harshest comment, and the references to bear spray are generally oblique even though a debate about firearms versus pepper spray for bear protection has raged for years now in the 49th state.

Widely available bear spray has proven effective in stopping dozens of bears attack, but a Wyoming hunting guide using spray was killed by a bear last fall. After his death, authorities located the grizzly sow that had attacked him and killed her.

The pepper spray still in her fur showed that she’d been sprayed, but no one will ever know if that happened before or after the guide was mortally wounded by the animal.


There are no known deaths from anyone accidentally dosing themselves with pepper spray though that is theoretically possible. Physicians for Human Rights and the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations say they have documented two deaths and 70 cases of people who “suffered permanent disabilities” after being sprayed with capsaicin-powered weapons.

Capsaicin is the eye and respiratory-system irritant in pepper-spray weapons designed for use against bears, humans, dogs and other mammals. Bear spray contains a lot less of the chemical – a concentration of 1 to 2 percent – than “pepper sprays used in law enforcement (which) reportedly have a capsaicin content of between 10 and 30 percent,” according to Medical News Today. 

Unlike bear spray, firearms have a long history of involvement in accidental deaths. Heaton, according to her account, nearly joined the list of victims because of a moment of carelessness.

Lost in the dark only 200 yards from the MCA’s Mint Hut on Saturday night, she wrote, she pitched her tent, crawled into her sleeping bag, and pulled a .40-caliber, semi-automatic pistol into the bag next to her hip.

“I was scared a bear would mistake me for a Hot Pocket,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, I failed to remember that this gun I was borrowing had no safety.”

When she fumbled with it, it went off.

“I was dazed at first trying to register what just happened,” she said. “I expose(d) my thigh and sure enough, BAM. I thought that mortifying until I noticed the entry wound on my hip.”

The bullet had gone in her hip, shattered the top of her pelvis on the right side, traveled down her leg and come out her thigh.

“Instantly, (I) hit my SOS call button on my GPS at 1:12 a.m.,” she wrote. “I could feel deaths cold breath on my neck. All I could do at that moment is lay there frozen.”

That didn’t last long.

Medically trained, she used what she had to staunch the bleeding. She wrapped her belt around her thigh as a tourniquet and pressed her sports bra against the entry wound on her hip. Then she resumed messaging for help.

She would wait three hours for rescuers to arrive and later express surprise it could take so long, although by search-and-rescue norms for the Alaska wilderness three hours is fast.

When at last she heard an approaching helicopter, she switched on her headlamp and began waving it out the window of the tent, she said. Two pararescue-jumpers (PJs) from the Guard’s  210th/212th Rescue Squadrons were at her side in minutes.

“These men saved my life,” she wrote. “They even gathered all of my gear so I wouldn’t need to leave it behind.”


“I never should’ve carried a gun I didn’t have the proper training with,” Heaton confessed on the MCA Facebook page. “So many things I should’ve done differently. I took weeks to prepare for this trip. It wasn’t just some rash decision. At the last moment I decided to leave my gun, the gun I was trained with. To take my friends per recommendation.”

She does not mention her oversize fear of bears that popped up in earlier posts about her plans to hike to the Mint Hut on what was to be her first real wilderness adventure.

“I’ve posted a few times regarding my upcoming hike to the Mint Hut,” she added. “I had almost 0 experience in hiking. True hiking that is. Well it ended horribly. lol.”

It is not, however, a laughing matter as she later made clear:

“That night consumes me. I can’t sleep for more than two hours without waking up, thinking I’m in that tent screaming all alone. I can’t function without thinking about what I did wrong. It was an honest mistake. I was trying the best I could for my first hike. I didn’t know.

“I just wanted to share this story in hopes of preventing someone else…making the mistakes I did.”

Some the mistakes, however, aren’t really pointed out. Heaton never saw a bear. There are bears in the area of the Talkeetnas where she was hiking, but there are not great numbers of bears.

As things turned out,  she would have clearly been better off with no weapon than a weapon with which she was unfamiliar – a weapon which she claimed had “no safety” and in which she left a round in the chamber.

One of the first firearm safety rules is that a gun with an empty chamber won’t fire, but if the chamber is empty, it does take a second to ratchet a round into the chamber. Heaton’s fear of bears might have led her to believe she wouldn’t have the time to do that, although bear attacks on people in tents in Alaska are even rarer than bear attacks in general.

About eight attacks per year is the average for this decade, according to bear researchers Tom Smith and Stephen Herrero, and most people survive. The death rate is less than one per year on average.

Fears of bear, however, have been heightened by an uptick in fatalities in the past two years. Grizzly bears killed two Alaskans last year, and black bears killed two people the year before.

Since 2010, black bears have killed three people, and grizzlies – which are generally more aggressive – have killed four. The seven fatalities, while tragic, pale when compared to the number of deaths on Alaska roadways. 

On average, more than 65 people per year die in motor vehicle accidents, according to data from the Alaska Highway Safety Office, and more than 465 per year are seriously injured. 

And yet people do not fear driving. Instead, like Heaton, a lot of them fear bears.

That fear and a moment of carelessness – not the bears – almost got her killed.

















36 replies »

  1. Craig, I apologize for my rough approach prior to this. For whatever reason I took offense to your post.
    I actually like what you wrote.

    Thank you

  2. America’s problem with gun abuse will not be fixed by banning or even controlling guns. America could completely ban or control guns right now by implementing extreme police state penalties. But America is not ready to accept those kind of extreme solutions. The real problem is that America desires to maintain a free and open society while also ending gun abuse.

    Americans are very different from other people in that they intensely value their freedom to disagree with their government. This actually includes them bearing arms against their own government. The United States Of America is here today because its forefathers kept guns at home and ended up using them to force the British to leave them alone. You can argue gun safety, crazy mass shooters or anything else but none of it comes close to protecting your family.
    American’s believe guns to be their final survival backup plan therefore removing guns threatens their survival. This is why the NRA resists anything attempting to take those guns away.

    The problem isn’t gun abuse, it’s America’s desire to maintain a free and open society while also preventing gun abuse

  3. Guess I have bearanoia . In my opinion for good reason. I’ve watched to many from a spotting scope. They are really savy at stalking. They use tricks like pushing game with their scent then rushing to the front to hide and intercept moose herds . I’ve been stalked at 2 am . Watch your back trail . I was looking in front only to get lucky and look back to see a brown bear carefully using shadows to avoid moonlight silently carefully sneaking to within 25 feet of me before I shot him . I’ve had lots more close calls . Without a rifle I would have been eaten at least 5-10 times . In Alaska firearms are warranted. To bad that poor lady hurt herself. Firearms are more dangerous than bears if safety is not used. A fire arm helps a person give off confidence which reduces close encounters imo

    • Opinion, good read. Glad you are still with us. Brownie, moonlight, stalking, 25 feet, and a shot to kill. I am standing on my table saluting you. Good job is all I can say. I’d forgo that sweet smelling salmon deodorant next time. Ha

  4. Pnw51, that is my point. If I quoted Fox, Breitbart, etc.. you’d prattle on “of course you quote Fox, etc..”
    Listen, we have 360 million peoole in this country and millions of illegals and inner city criminal gangbangers, of course there is going to be violence. Occassionally, some white guy flips his lid. More guns save lives and the 2nd was written to protect us from those who want to disarm us.
    Like that fraud “Global Warming”, liberals act like society is so violent, yet make movies about liberal killing Patriots (The Hunt) . America is safer today then it ever has been.

  5. Craig you are 100% wrong claiming she would have been better off without a gun. You have no way of knowing if a bear would have attacked and ate her alive on that trip. I will guarantee you that when a bear is on top of you eating you alive that access to even an unfamiliar weapon is preferable to your no weapon at all. I would prefer to endure two accidental bullet injuries than a lifetime of your “being better off without a gun”.

      • I agree with you Medred. Guns in the hands of those who are not hep are waiting accidents as in this story.

    • Don,
      I fail to see the highly traveled trails near Hatcher’s Pass as a “grizzly corridor” so in this case Craig is definitely correct given the reality of the outcome.
      From all the data collected on firearm safety…one thing always stands out.
      If you choose to carry a firearm make sure you are familiar with it and practice frequently.
      The variable of an unfamiliar weapon (and poor choice of placing it in her sleeping bag) is what caused this preventable trauma…from which the pain and recovery will be a long healing process.
      Heaton said herself:
      “Unfortunately, I failed to remember that this gun I was borrowing had no safety.”

  6. Bryan – has it occurred to you that Mother Jones is one of the most liberal news sites out there? So you are going to complain about “Dems” and be completely ignorant of the liberal news source you are using to make your point.

    • Hi pnw51,
      I actually give Bryan kudos for using a media source that goes against his political grain. If more people could use the ‘other side’ as their source material, then perhaps discussions wouldn’t melt into screaming matches of FOX vs MSNBC…

  7. So I suppose “school shooting,” in which case one or more victims are shot on the campus of a K-12, vocational, or college/university campus, is “liberal” because anyone who would want to better themselves, usually at taxpayer expense, must be a liberal; as opposed to the most obvious, absolute fact: it was at a location where organized educational programs were delivered (i.e., a school).

    • pnw51,
      I’m not seeing that at all – I think that people are just bringing up the point that stats are being manipulated to tell a biased story. Just like your claim of liberals are the only ones wanting to better themselves through education. ‘Just the stats ma’am, I mean facts’…

  8. This story is less about the threat of bears and more about the rise of gun violence and “shootings” everyday throughout America…
    “Every day, 310 people are shot in the United States. Among those:
    100 people are shot and killed
    210 survive gun injuries
    95 are injured in an attack
    61 die from suicide
    10 survive a suicide attempt
    1 is killed unintentionally
    90 are shot unintentionally
    1 is killed by legal intervention
    4 are shot by legal intervention
    1 died but the intent was unknown
    12 are shot but the intent was unknown”

    “In 2013, the VA released a study that covered suicidesfrom 1999 to 2010, which showed that roughly 22 veterans were dying by suicide per day, or one every 65 minutes.”

    • there are about 40 firearm homicides in the U.S. per day, not 100.

      suicide is a problem, but there is no reason to believe doing anything to change gun laws would reduce suicides. besides, a lot of the suicides now are older, white males much of the country wants to be rid of anyway.

      and among the homicides, most of them are young, black men living in America’s cities about which no one seems to care. that problem requires an economic solution. have you heard anyone even mention it?

      • Craig,
        What is the data to back up a statement like:
        “suicide is a problem, but there is no reason to believe doing anything to change gun laws would reduce suicides.”
        This is just your opinion.
        Maybe a change in background checks tied in with mental illness diagnoses and requiring “the paperwork” on ALL gun transfers MIGHT lower suicides in America?
        The highest rise in suicides is among active duty military personnel…
        “According to a report released this week by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office,
        139 active-duty soldiers,
        68 sailors,
        60 airmen
        58 Marines died by suicide last year..
        40 more service members than the previous year.”
        We already have 22 “veterans” dying of suicide every day and most of these suicides are with GUNS….and most of these veterans are diagnosed with PTSD.
        Even Trump is thinking that the government should consider changing the background check laws in America.

      • Steve: Australia ran this experiment.

        suicide rates there were 11.3 per 100,000 in 1984 – 12 years BEFORE gun control. they then climbed and peaked at 14.6 in 1997, a year AFTER gun control. they’ve been up and down since, but well above the rate of 11.3 and trending upward.

        they are at 12.6 now and going up with politicians calling it a crisis.

        we’re at 14 per 100,000, but 70 percent are white males and most of them are middle-age, white males. those tend to be persistent and adaptable individuals disinclined to go ask for help when dealing with thoughts of suicide.

        there’s absolutely no reason to believe you will stop them from killing themselves with gun control. personally, i’ve always thought of it as too messy. there are any number of drugs that are as effective and neater.

        the Hemingwayesque exit leaves on hell of a mess for someone to clean up. not to mention that i haven’t seen anyone – at least yet – mention any kind of gun control that would deprive these middle-aged men of their favorite bird-shooting weapon.

      • Good point Craig. Legal Economic future helps the individual, family and reduces violent crime. Especially in the city . Might also help those old white guys “ no one cares about” so I’m told . It’s quite shocking all the knee jerk reaction by the public instead of digging into the the real details to understand and solve the problems. The desire for an emotional roller coaster is pretty strong versus nitty gritty effort.

      • Craig,
        I have been looking at the data in the U.S. and it appears that during the 90’s when the “brady law” was in effect suicides were down.
        Maybe the waiting period for handguns deterred some from acting and allowed time to seek help?
        After we lifted the “waiting period” on handguns the suicide rate shot up (no pun intended).
        “the annual U.S. suicide rate increased 24% between 1999 and 2014, from 10.5 to 13.0 suicides per 100,000 people, the highest rate recorded in 28 years…
         In 2016, there were 44,965 recorded suicides, up from 42,773 in 2014”
        My experience as a city medic showed me first hand that the majority of suicides were with handguns…although a few used long guns and some used asphyxiation by either hanging or tail pipe exhaust in garage…then there are the smaller percentage that tried pills or “the wrists” (they usually fit into the “attempted” category).
        “The U.S. Department of Justice reports that approximately 60% of all adult firearm deaths are by suicide, 61% more than deaths by homicide.
        In the U.S., firearms remain the most common method of suicide, accounting for 51% of all suicides committed in 2006.”
        I am all for the right to bear arms, but I feel background checks on all transfers and waiting periods can save some lives and one life is enough to try to make some changes to gun laws.

  9. Don’t mistake the publicly posted comments on Facebook as the only comments this woman received — a great many negative, and even threatening, comments are made by private message on Facebook. Learn more about the platform.

  10. Following the mass shootings last weekend American astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson twittered the following

    “In the past 48hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings.

    On average, across any 48hrs, we also lose…

    500 to Medical errors
    300 to the Flu
    250 to Suicide
    200 to Car Accidents
    40 to Homicide via Handgun

    Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.”

    Some people were “outraged” about his tweet, some people don’t care for facts. Bear attacks are so far down that list as to be statistically meaningless, although your chances obviously go up when in bear country. Do I carry protection while in bear country, you bet I do.

    Sadly this incident will be piled in with others as a gun incident, used as a political talking point, and only a very few will ever use it as a lesson to be learned.

    • Hi Steve-o,
      The reaction to that tweet was amazing – don’t let the facts slow down your political drives folks! Oh yeah, remember to attack anyone who suggests any contrary information on your way out…

      • Opinion, I agree with your observation but, do you remember back in the 80’s when we had mental institutions? The Democrat howeled about how “inhumane” they were and how all those people would be fine on the streets with their medication? Of course, the Dems see them as potential voters and round them up every election cycle illegally with school buses with promises of free sandwiches. I know, some here will blame Regean. Plus, how about these last few generations of medicated narcissits in need of constant attention and validation? That was all Dems pushing that ADHD nonsense. Just like every Dem city, everything they touch turns to chit.

    • How about the facts law enforcement are setting mentally fragile/disturbed people up even providing assistance and materials while helping them prepare to commit crime. That breaks multiple laws in my book – conspiracy- aid and abet – entrapment. They do it just to justify their job period because the right thing to do would instead be to immediately notify and get those people with issues some mental help therapy or whatever can bring them back to being beneficial for people around them. That would be the legal and moral socially responsible thing to do rather than create one more tear in our social fabric. Our country has a problem all good Americans must start working to honor sacrifice of our past and realign this ship and point in a positive direction. Instead of taking guns and working to destroy our constitution those people having mental issues should get immediate mental health help. It might take ingenuity to figure out how to improve their mental conditions. It can be done probably without drugs . Some type of counseling/ support outdoor hands on work adventure healthy diet -exercise combo . IMO Worth a try before anti constitution red flag gun confiscation laws

    • Steve, first we have to define the liberal term “mass shooting”. What they are referring to is gang or drug violence from illegal weapons in our inner cities. And no, the bulk of it is NOT caused by “White Terrorism”. Also, if somebody down the street from a school, at 2am, shoots a gun, and the bullet hits the school, it is classified as a “school shooting”. If somebody commits suicide in a school parking lot at 2am, it is a school shooting.
      It has gotten to the point you cannot believe any statistics Dems put out.
      This story has less to do with the gun than the individual. Completly unprepared mentally.

      • Oh come on! There is nothing “liberal” about the term “mass shooting.” Mass is a the quantity of victims, an absolute, and no amount of partisan politicking about how many were shot is going to change it.

      • Pnw51 – you believe this nonsesne?
        “As of Aug. 5, 2019 which was the 217th day of the year, there have been 255 mass shootings in the U.S., according to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive (GVA), which tracks every mass shooting in the country. “

      • When I said “mass shootings” I was referring specifically to the El Paso and Dayton shootings that Neil deGrasse Tyson. I think by any measure these were “mass shootings” it is an imperfect description for the travesty that it is. I don’t much care to get into the clinical description for a “mass shooting”, but I don’t think a weekend in Chicago is ever described as such. The media doesn’t care about “mass shootings” unless it fits their chosen narrative, it’s clear to those who know how to read. “Mass shootings” are when they can frame the argument to support their cause, everything else doesn’t matter. The Dayton shooter didn’t fit the narrative and isn’t talked about, the El Paso shooter fits the narrative and is still being talked about. How many have heard about the mass stabbing in California?

        Anyways, just like Steve did above, all of this furthers my point that I was trying to make…Sadly this incident will be piled in with others as a gun incident, used as a political talking point, and only a very few will ever use it as a lesson to be learned.

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