When Bears Attack — Top Sidearms to Carry in Bear Country

As an outdoorsman, I enjoy being afield in all sorts of capacities. While hunting is one of my favorite pastimes, fishing and hiking are a wonderful means of spending time with friends and family and living in close proximity to both the Catskill and Adirondack mountains, there is ample opportunity for both of those activities. I am also, by trade, a Professional Land Surveyor, so my work hours are often spent in the remote wilderness areas. Here in Upstate New York we have a very healthy black bear population, and highway sightings are quickly becoming a regular occurrence, as are the classic raids on bird feeders and garbage cans alike. When I head afield, I nearly always carry one form of sidearm or another, and while the truly dangerous encounters are definitely a rarity, I feel better knowing I can protect my loved ones and coworkers should the event unfold.

Now, the black bear is – generally speaking – a rather docile creature, and most of the time it will make every attempt to run away from man. However, should you have the misfortune of getting between a sow and her cubs, or perhaps meet a cantankerous old boar, the black bear certainly has the equipment to rearrange your anatomy, and even possibly render your birth certificate null and void. I’ve been privileged enough to take a couple of black bears – in both Quebec and New York – and have seen many more while at work and play.

His cousin, the brown bear, is an entirely different story; when a brown bear means business you need to stop the threat and stop it fast, by any means necessary. Personally, I’ve only seen a grizzly bear from the comfortable confines of a vehicle, but that boar in Yellowstone Park made a lasting impression. I have yet to set foot in Alaska, but I have many friends and colleagues who either live there, or have significant hunting experience in the 49th state, where encounters with brown bears can honestly represent the hunter becoming the hunted. With respect to the brownies, I have reached out to the bear guides, residents and hunters for their wisdom and experience on the matter, to find out exactly which sidearms they favor and why.

The author’s well-worn, and well-loved Ruger Blackhawk in .45 Colt is a perfect handgun for bear country.

Now before we take a look at particular models and calibers, let’s get one basic premise out of the way: when the excrement hits the oscillator, any gun is better than no gun. Personally, I do my best to avoid any encounter that could turn ugly, but that’s not always the case. I remember clearly, back in 2002, while surveying in the foothills of the Berkshires a young employee came running up from the point he was supposed to locate, toward the survey instrument I was running. His eyes were as wide as saucers, and he was taking strides twice as long as his normal gait would produce. “Phil, I can’t locate that corner; there’s a ****** bear down there!” Now, as surveyors, we carry machetes to cut the brush in between our survey stations, and we are rather proficient with them. However, the realization that you might have to use one to defend against a couple-hundred pounds of teeth and fangs doesn’t exactly make one feel like Zorro; in fact, I looked down at it and said to myself: This is gonna hurt. I’d have gladly traded it for a snub-nose .38 Special. This was a glaring example of surprise; this area, while remote, rugged and wooded, wasn’t known for its bear population, very few had ever been seen there, but that one bear had my employee’s undivided attention. So the point is simple; a wonderful collection of pistols at home won’t do you any good, you’ll have to make do with what you have, Like the Boy Scout motto says, Be Prepared.

Ursus americanus – the black bear.

The author’s well-worn, and well-loved Ruger Blackhawk in .45 Colt is a perfect handgun for bear country.

Let’s get my own choices out of the way first. If I know ahead of time that I’m heading into black bear country, I like to carry my big handgun: a Ruger Blackhawk, chambered in .45 Colt, stainless finish with a 7 ½-inch barrel. It was the first handgun I ever purchased, and I put a considerable amount of thought into it. That long pipe makes for a heavier gun, but I’m OK with that because the additional sighting distance and small velocity gain are both appreciated. The Blackhawk is tough as nails, and while it may not have the prestige of a Colt Single Action Army, it is utterly dependable. Equipped with piano wire springs, the wisely designed transfer bar and adjustable sights, I am very confident with this pistol in hand. The .45 Colt makes a formidable handgun cartridge, especially in a pistol as strong as the Blackhawk, where the pressures and velocities can be ramped up a bit. My gun will push the strong 300-grain hollowpoints to just under 1,200 fps, and that’s a formula that can end a confrontation. My gun likes the Hornady XTPs best, and I feel confident making vital hits out to 40 yards or so with this combination. It’s certainly not the lightest sidearm – weighing in at just over 3 pounds, fully loaded in its holster – but when I’m forced to enter bear country, I have absolutely no worries.

The 7 ½-inch  barrel makes for a bit more cumbersome handgun, but the author feels the accuracy is well worth it.

My other handgun, my day-to-day gun, is a well-worn Smith & Wesson Model 36, in .38 Special. It has a 1 7/8-inch barrel and a five-shot cylinder – in the classic snub-nosed configuration – and wears a set of Pachmayr grips, which feel better than the standard J-Frame grips in my hands. Is it a powerhouse, as a bear cartridge? No, probably not, but I would feel much better with this gun – it’s easily concealable, doesn’t weigh a whole lot, nor take up a lot of room – than with no gun at all. With 158-grain bullets moving at nearly 800 fps, this probably represents – along with the 9mm Luger – the lower end of the spectrum, as far as a defensive bear gun goes.

Although lighter than what one would think of as bear protection, the author’s .38 Special is extremely compact, lightweight and portable.

A good .357 Magnum – and I really like the Kimber K6s – will definitely come in handy. The cartridge will push a 180-grain bullet to a respectable 1,300 fps, and that little Kimber has a lot to offer. Lightweight and well-balanced, I had a chance to spend a bit of time with this wheelgun at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas. Its lack of weight had me cringing at first, expecting some wrist-wrenching recoil, but I was pleasantly surprised with the manageability of the K6s. With a 3-inch barrel and a six-shot cylinder combining for a weight of just 25 ounces, this gun was made to be both carried and shot.

A Smith & Wesson Model 29, in .44 Remington Magnum – completely in the vein of Dirty Harry – still makes an excellent choice for the bear woods.

My buddy Marty Groppi – who enjoys the famous trout streams of Upstate New York – carries a Smith & Wesson Model 29 in the classic .44 Magnum, a combination that will most definitely save your bacon. For those not familiar with this gun, think ‘Dirty Harry.’ The .44 Magnum is definite bear medicine.

Again, please keep in mind that we only have black bears to contend with here in New York. The grizzly and brown bears are a completely different story.

Dick Casull’s brainchild improves the ballistics of the .45 Colt – even in modern handguns – and provides an entirely different performance level for those who can handle it.

Ursus Arctos – the grizzly bear

A grizzly bear is a formidable foe, having no issue whatsoever proving its dominance over human beings. In Alaska, meat is often removed from a kill site via a frame pack and two strong legs, and all that blood creates a scent trail like a flashing All-you-can-eat buffet advertisement. In the springtime, when the streams are populated with fishermen, the bears are coming out of hibernation and are ravenous. Young cubs are emerging for the first time, and mothers are ultra-protective. A sidearm is a very smart idea. I’ve reached out for three gentlemen – all of whom I call a friend – for advice and a few experiences regarding their encounters.

Loaded with good ammunition, either of these Smith & Wesson .44 Magnums will make excellent bear medicine.

I’m sure that by now you’ve all heard about famous Alaskan bear guide Phil Shoemaker (grizzlyskinsofalaska.com) , who thwarted a grizzly attack with a Smith & Wesson 9mm automatic, loaded with Buffalo Bore hard cast ammunition. Phil has over three decades of experience guiding hunters and fishermen, and understands their habits as well as anyone else alive. To recap quickly, Phil and his husband and wife fishing clients were walking through some thick brush to approach the stream they wanted to fish, when they heard a deep ‘woof’ and realized they had a bear close and angry. Long story short, Phil was forced to put the grizzly down.

He normally carries a .44 Magnum but opted for the 9mm that day. When I asked him for his thoughts on carry guns for bear country, Phil related the following: Phil, I have always said that carrying any handgun for bear protection is similar to wearing a life jacket in a boat, or parachute in a plane. They only work if you have them with you. In that vein, and considering the real vs. imaginary threat posed by bears, a familiar 9mm loaded with non-expanding bullets is a lot better than a heavy .44 or .500 you left at home or are not completely proficient with.” From one Phil to another, sage advice.

Just as with dangerous game rifles, using a cartridge that is too big to allow for proper shot placement isn’t a wise idea; shot placement is everything.

Cork Graham’s rig. Photo Courtesy: Cork Graham

Cork Graham (corkgraham.com) , a fellow writer, hunter, and Alaska resident – not to mention an actor on the Discovery Channel – had a bit of a different perspective.

In Alaska, we not only have to deal with the common two-legged variety of vermin found in every place in the world, but also the large, four-legged beasts that can either kill and trample you with their hooves, or rip you apart with their claws and teeth; it’s the latter which draw hunters to the Last Frontier with high-power, large caliber rifles. Now, my colleague and fellow Alaskan Phil Shoemaker has effectively defended himself with a 9mm against a charging brown bear, but I prefer to carry a .45 ACP with me as my round. It doesn’t kick as much as my .44 Rem Mag in a JP Sauer six-shooter that I used to carry on remote gold mining operations, and in a M&P Shield and Glock 21, it also serves as my concealed carry. Regarding my loads, I’m partial to a 230 grain Federal Hydra-Shok jacketed hollowpoint staggered with 230-grain lead cast bullet, one following the other, the first round out of the magazine a Hydra-Shok. I carry both in a Blackhawk Alaska Guide Holster in the field, and in a Galco leather CCW holster under my belt in town: since being on TV, I learned that stalkers can be just as dangerous a charging bear. As a retired, longtime USMC colonel buddy of mine reminded me a few weeks ago, “you should be carrying, always.”

The .45 Colt (L) and .454 Casull (R). The Casull is an updated and slightly elongated version of the .45 Colt, fully capable of firing .45 Colt ammunition. The reverse is not true.

My colleague and friend Bryce Towsley (brycetowsley.com) is a veteran gun writer who has considerable experience with bears of all sorts. He has spent more than a bit of time in pursuit of bears, hogs, and other game animals with a handgun, in addition to time spent in the Alaskan game fields. When I asked him for his insight, he was kind enough to respond in detail.

“There is a lot of nonsense out on the internet from people who have never seen a bear and have probably never cut up a dead critter to see what a bullet will do. I have been involved in stopping several black bears intent on doing us damage and have stood two brown bear charges without shooting; although in one of them I probably should have pulled the trigger. The black bears have been stopped with pistols, rifles, shotguns and once with an ax. (I have killed or watched others kill several with an ax when I was guiding. This one took exception.) I have skinned three browns, two grizzlies and more black bears than I care to remember. Any bear is a big, tough critter and to stop them you will need to penetrate and break stuff like big bones or skulls.

“A powerful handgun with a tough, deep penetrating bullet is the key. It’s also probably a one or two shot deal, so firepower is irrelevant. Those who think they can empty their Glock into a charging bear are fools. No matter what anybody says, Shoemaker got lucky with that 9mm on the bear. I have seen that cartridge fail horribly on black bears and hogs. The result was a dead dog with one of the bears and almost a dead friend with one of the hogs. If I had not shot the hog with a .44 Magnum I think it would have ended very badly. I know Phil has seen more bears killed than I ever will, but he got lucky. My rule of thumb is the minimum is 4-3-1. At least .40 caliber, 300 grains and 1,000 fps. More is always better and the bullet is the key. No semi-auto makes the grade except perhaps the .50 AE, but most ammo for that fails due to bullets. I have a buddy who guided a hunter with a .50 AE to a brown in the late eighties when it came out and it was a disaster. He saved them both, barely, with his .338 rifle.

 

The Freedom Arms Model 83, in .454 Casull, in a serious piece of gear. It will drive a 300-grain bullet to over 1,600 fps.

“The 12-year-old in Alaska who just shot the brown with the shotgun is the son of a good friend. His dad stopped a charging brown with a .500 S&W pistol a few years ago. They live off the grid and have lots of bear trouble with their livestock. He lives every day with brown bears and has guided to dozens if not hundreds of them. He is a hard-core gun guy and he agrees with me on cartridges, guns and bullets.  

“That said, here are my picks. The .454 Casull is my usual choice as it provides a good balance of power with manageability. I own several Casulls, but my favorite handgun is a 5-inch, custom Freedom Arms Model 83 that Ken Kelly tricked out for me. My handloads push a 300-grain hard-cast bullet to 1,614 fps. I usually carry it in a cross-draw holster that allows me to ride a horse or ATV. If I am packing meat, I carry it in a shoulder holster. Both holsters always pack into camp with me. Before any bear country hunt I practice with it a lot. It is the gun I used in the American Hunter Challenge Video where I make five hits at seven yards in under three seconds. The group was less than four inches and the ammo was full-power Winchester factory loads so it was full recoil. I have used the Casull to take a lot of game including several black bears so I understand the terminal ballistics of this cartridge pretty well. Sometimes I carry a .44 Magnum with 300-grain cast bullets, but never anything smaller for bear protection. I have a short barrel S&W 629 that Ken Kelly modified. Handloads push a 300-grain to just over 1,000 fps, so it just cracks the code. It’s very light and handy to carry. I also have a small Freedom Arms in .500 Wyoming Express. It can push a 400-grain bullet to more than 1,500 fps, but I can’t control it. I load them to just over 1,200 fps. It’s often with me in bear country and has made several trips to Alaska. My Ruger Blackhawk in .45 Colt with handloads, 300-grains, 1,200 fps (1,192 to be exact) goes with me on a lot of black bear hunts with hounds. It’s light and easy to carry.”

Dating back to 1873, the .45 Colt will provide very impressive terminal ballistics when loaded in a strong, modern handgun.

Lasting Impressions

Put three or four gun writers in the same room, and you’ll usually get four different answers, but I think you’re seeing a common thread here. With the exception of Mr. Shoemaker – who has more experience than I will ever even hope to have – bigger seems to be better. Let’s hope that we can all avoid the threat of mauling, but if you’re unfortunate enough to have it happen to you, be prepared.

For more information about Federal ammunition, click here.

For more information about Hornady ammunition, click here.

For more information about Smith & Wesson, click here.

To purchase a sidearm for bear country on GunsAmerica, click here.

{ 76 comments… add one }
  • Phil Shoemaker October 12, 2017, 1:51 pm

    the vast majority of industry gun writers are basically shilling new gear and tend to exist in a repetitive echo chamber with little or no practical experience. Most exhibit the same irrational fear of bears as the rest of the country and irrational fear does little to generate rational ideas.
    There is no doubt that bigger and more powerful handguns are preferable for hunting but self protection at close range differs greatly from hunting as it requires quick, often multiple hits, from close range while under extreme stress.

    • charles baker October 16, 2017, 8:00 am

      Tell that to the DoD.

  • GEORGE P ROSS October 11, 2017, 2:40 pm

    I think anybody going into bear country should read the article about bear defense guns and ammo @ garrettcartridges.com This should answer most questions on the subject.

  • Phil Shoemaker October 10, 2017, 6:15 pm

    An interesting piece giving advice from expert typewriter shooters to bear hunters. As far as I am concerned the best handgun for a person is one they are familiar and competent with.

  • Charles October 10, 2017, 12:30 pm

    Been involved in 2 grizz encounters. The first was many years ago when I was in Alaska. I was charged and shot the first round at about 15 ft. 2nd followed immediately. The only grizzly I ever saw that was dead right there.. I was carrying my S&W M-57 4 inch gun. Loaded with a hard cast 250 gr bullet at about 1050. 1st Bullet passed completely through the animal head to rump. I almost needed a new clean pair of drawers. I can say the 41 is probably my minimum for the big bears. I still carry that early 41 mag in bear country but just recently bought an early M-58 and am going to carry it as it is easier to draw with no adj sights. BTW the 2nd encounter was by a friend who was carrying that old M57…2 shots on a wounded grizzly same load did him in. The 454 would probably be better and I did have a 500 S&W in 4 inch but as heavy as it was I figured it was easier to carry a 12 ga pump on a sling and let someone carry out the meat while I protected them. Packing out is much less distance here in Wyoming where we hunt…but the bears here seem to have much less fear of humans than they did in Alaska. BTW seems like shooting an elk here is like ringing a dinner bell for the grizzlies. They always seem to show up. and I usually see a grizzly when I hunt almost within sight of Cody Wy.

  • Chuck Backus October 9, 2017, 10:50 pm

    My mountain weapon is a 458 SOCOM, semi-auto, from a 8in barrel, eotech halo-graphic, green laser and 1000 lumen light, with a 300gr lead tip hollow point. Yes it is a bit heavy, but as said earlier….with a charging bear 8.5lbs of 458 SOCOM feels like a down pillow 🙂

  • Michael Barros-Smith October 9, 2017, 10:45 pm

    Don’t immediately dismiss bear spray from consideration.
    A study done by US Fish and Wildlife produced the following results.
    (https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/grizzly/bear%20spray.pdf)
    “… based on their investigations of human-bear encounters since 1992, persons encountering grizzlies and defending themselves with firearms suffer injury about 50% of the time. During the same period, persons defending themselves with pepper spray escaped injury most of the time, and those that were injured experienced shorter duration attacks and less severe injuries.”
    A bear spray story-
    Most hotels in Kalispell, Montana have a supply of bear spray on hand, which they will lend out to guests who wish to go hiking. Two young men from SoCal (where else?) took advantage of this for their hike the following day. Curiosity got the better of them, and they managed to discharge the canisters in their hotel room that night. Needless to say, the culprits were evicted, the wing was evacuated and the room needed to be completely gutted and refinished.

  • Ricky Price October 9, 2017, 9:43 pm

    Remember one thing in Bear country. I rather be over gun then under gun. Question whats your life worth to you.

  • charles baker October 9, 2017, 8:34 pm

    Excellent article! I learned more in this article about wildlife and practical sidearms than any other article to date in thirty-five plus years. I’m not a hunter, but a hiker. I have been carrying my 1911 or my Taurus PT-92 for years and know what each round can do as a former US Army medic. Both are excellent sidearms but leave something to be desired when confronting big game in the boonies. I wasn’t sure if the .357 was really optimal for “bear spanking” as my father, a hunter and 23 year US Army Combat Veteran would say and couldn’t bring myself to splurge on either 10mm or something in the .44 magnum ranges. As an Army veteran, I had no problem with my shot placement just my faith in loads. Now I know, what to expect and what to carry. thanks again from a Liberal Gun Toting Okie!

    • charles baker October 9, 2017, 8:40 pm

      Something else. Speaking of the 10mm, there’s no mention. When it comes to wheel guns should they be ported? What would be the minimum barrel length for any “bear spanker”? What would make a good companion piece [long gun] regardless of sidearm?

  • Norm Fishler October 9, 2017, 8:25 pm

    Carrying a .38 snubbie in bear country is roughly akin to wearing a sandwich board that reads “FREE LUNCH! COME AND GET IT!” Shot placement . . . sure, sure, sure. You go first, I’ll watch.

  • Stan October 9, 2017, 6:55 pm

    Couple I’m friends with have a vacation home in NW Montana(we all live in So. FL). They invited me out and told me that if I go, be forewarned that there are grizzlies about. I have two dogs and they said that might provoke the bears. Planning to go, I figured that I didn’t have the right gun for a possible bear encounter. So, I got a Marlin Guide Gun in .45-70Gvt. Owing to circumstances at their place, I wasn’t able to go. But, I still have the Marlin. The 400gr cowboy loads are mild and I could shoot them all day. The Hornady 325gr Leverevolution is a whole different story. It’s got the velocity, but wonder if it would have the penetration? Not handloading right now, so that obvious solution is not available; only factory ammo.

  • Lopaka Kanaka October 9, 2017, 6:39 pm

    I have a Springsfield 460 Rowland and 400 CarBon for bears and back cup with 357 Mag in a Tarus 7 shoot to stop any bear.
    I have never had a chance to stop a bear yet buy was close to one in Yellow Stone park a few years ago when the bear came
    into camp look for a meal in the ice chest. Lesson learned never keep food for bears in your camp site.

  • Carl Tests October 9, 2017, 5:54 pm

    I mixed opinions about this article. It provides some seemingly good info, but some is just confusing and troublesome. The photos are nice, but all the ammo photos are of hollow points, and I have substantial doubts about the value of hollow points against bears, especially grizzlies. Hard cast lead or perhaps some modern all brass penetrators would probably be better. From all I know and all I’ve read, .357 may work for black bear, but a larger caliber is better. In general, 10mm, .44 magnum, or better seems like the best choices (including .454 Casull). .45 Colt may be questionable, but better than a .38. It seems to be a matter of carrying largest caliber you can for the situation, with the proviso that you be able to deliver sufficient rounds on target. A large bore hot load can be a challenge to control and difficult for multiple shots, while something like a 10mm in a good semi-auto allows for powerful rounds and multiple shots rapidly fired on target for many.

  • R. Brown October 9, 2017, 4:45 pm

    My two cents. Live in Alaska. Carry a 5″ S&W 500 loaded with 700 gr hardcast from Ballistic Supply. Brutal to shoot, but effective. 50 round box should last a lifetime. I think any handgun is insufficient for grizzly, but having spent countless hours hunting and fishing, carrying a shotgun or rifle 100% of the time just isn’t realistic. Carrying a 9mm, 10mm, 45 acp, etc. is probably better than nothing but foolhardy in my opinion. Plenty of good options in DA revolvers – tried and true .44 mag, .454 casull, .460 S&W, etc. – so why risk it. Note on BLACK BEARS – they have become highly predatory in Alaska. Numerous attacks this summer, to include at least two confirmed deaths. These were not accidental – sow with cubs, surprised a bear in a dumpster, etc. – rather hungry bears stalking, attacking, and then attempting to eat human beings. Unlike grizzlies, black bears seem to be much less predictable and do not give as many signals – huffing, grunting, ears back, etc. Anyway, I’ve had my share of sleepless nights in a tent in Alaska and try to heed to basics – keep food well away from camp, cook away from camp, don’t camp on trails, avoid cubs like the plague, if approached give ground, etc. And no, I do not bother with bear spray.

    • R. Brown October 9, 2017, 4:51 pm

      BTW – chest rig is way to go with X frame revolvers. Mine rides in a Diamond D “Guides Choice” model. And I do practice – dry fire and shoot whatever is the cheapest ammo I can find around time. Nothing prepares you for the 700 gr hardcast, but I’m counting on the adrenaline to kick in.

  • John Bumpus October 9, 2017, 4:20 pm

    You didn’t say anything about the Ruger SuperRedHawk .454 Casull? Why not? Do you have a problem with this model? If so, what is the problem? Please reply.

  • Sgt. Pop October 9, 2017, 4:08 pm

    Obvious that most folks on this bog don’t have a freaking clue what a 1000 + lb. coastal brown bear looks like at a distance of 50-75 feet! If you did, you wouldn’t be even considering spray or a souped up .32 pistol round as your primary weapon of bear defense…… Cripes, just go to zoo and imagine the zoo born and/or raised sleeping pile of fur your looking at, being really pissed off at you, or just curious, and has a closing velocity of over 30 mph.

  • mblack October 9, 2017, 3:53 pm

    I hope those guides told you that if you fire a round, bears start coming from all directions to eat the free gut pile. They have been conditioned to hear a gun and equate it to a free meal. Usually blacktail deer. So don’t go shooting just for fun especially on Kodiak.

  • Jack October 9, 2017, 1:25 pm

    Curious if anyone has evaluated any of the older Cold War Warsaw Pact pistols. I have a CZ52 that shoots the old PPsH Tokarev LMG round. 7.62 mm (.32 cal) out of a necked-down 9mm case. 1400+ fpm with a 140-grain FMJ bullet out of a 4.5-inch barrel. 6+1 capacity, and will group within 3 inches at 25 yds. They eventually had to replace them with the Makarov series because of over-penetration. There are videos out there that show this gun/ammo combo going through both sides of the current US Army helmet. Supposedly it will go through armor vests, 1.5 inches of steel, etc. Any thoughts on this combo for bear country?

    • Phil Shoemaker October 10, 2017, 6:23 pm

      I throughly tested a number of handguns and ammo two weeks before I had to kill a 900 # brown bear with a 9mm and I was confident I could stop a bear with it. In my penetration testing I also included a 30 Tokarev as from my experiences in Vietnam I knew they were great penetrators. They did better than most 9mm and only slightly less than a 357.
      Considering all the crap I have received from all the internet commandos and bear “experts” for foolishly using “only a 9mm” I am glad I was not carrying my Tokarev!

  • Patrick Duffy October 9, 2017, 12:52 pm

    Funny how there is no mention of bear spray in all of this as it has to be the first option compared to killing and animal in whose domain you have wandered. Unfortunately it seems that a sow protecting her cubs, as she is hard wired to do, is killed then the cubs are then euthanized, or as I prefer to call it, killed. Humans make a choice to attack you and deserve what they get. Predator animals act by instinct when challenged and hunt for food not to rob you or for the pleasure of killing you.

    • Robbin Blakeley October 9, 2017, 1:19 pm

      If you choose bear spray as your only alternative more power to you. You will only have only one chance to prove fluffy won’t kill you. Remember you can be turned into bear shit with in two days if you are wrong!

    • Carl Tests October 9, 2017, 6:02 pm

      I don’t think it is funny to not mention bear spray. There are too many stories of people getting mauled by bears that charged right through their attempt to spray it, and they could never get to their gun in time once the bear hit. A bear will cover 50 yards in less than 2 seconds in a charge. Almost no one practices with bear spray and almost no one can get their can to bear (pun intended) and spray within 4-5 seconds. Bear spray is actually bear fogger and comes out in a finely atomized mist with absolutely no chance of moving against even the faintest of breezes. If there is any wind at all, the fog will only travel about 3 feet before it turns and drifts in the direction of the wind. If the attacking bear is perfectly downwind, you will have some chance with bear spray. But it is is at an angle to wind between about 1 degree and 360 degrees, your changes are slim to none. Bullets don’t tend to divert in the wind at the necessary defensive distances. With that said, feel free to carry bear spray if you want. That is your choice. Get as informed as you can, and make the best choice you can. However, please don’t cast aspersions toward those who have done their own homework and made their own best choices. For what its worth, bear spray is likely to get you killed in my humble opinion.

  • Dave October 9, 2017, 12:24 pm

    A doe once got a hoof caught in the top of a cyclone fence, near our property. It was there all night and broke its leg, trying to get free. Our neighbor asked if I would come over and put it down. I took my Colt .45 with a 7″ barrel over, to do what needed to be done. Surprisingly, I had to shoot it THREE times in the head, from INCHES away – before it died. The only explanation that I can think of is that it was pumped full of adrenaline. So, perhaps .45 colt is NOT the best choice for a bear.

  • Newell Anderson October 9, 2017, 11:58 am

    A few years back I went to Alaska, rented a 4×4 pickup camper,& spent 6 weeks in the boondocks, with only my wife. I took a 29 S&W 6” .44 mag.
    Between travel & the country this gun was never more than arms reach away all that time!! Between airlines, public transportation, hotels, ferryboats, etc. This gun is horrible to carry full time when it must be out of site sometimes!!
    On my next trip I will get a gun with a 4” barrel!!
    Just my thoughts!!

  • Sgt. Pop October 9, 2017, 10:50 am

    Spent half my working career in Alaska, hunted, fished, hiked. From the Noatak to Frazier Lake, Kodiak, I’ve seen a lot of bears. I know there are some folks out there that carry handguns in the bush, but in a dozen years I didn’t meet many, either agency folks or sportsmen. If we didn’t carry our primary hunting rifle, we carried a shotgun. Even had to qualify with it if you carried it as part of your job duties. A handgun was what you might carry out to take a “dump” at night to make you feel better. In the middle of our camps we kept a ready shotgun on a small folding table so if a quick exit from the tents was called for, everyone at least know where that one was. A friend who guided in Alaska and the northwest, that experienced a number of charges over the years, told me that at 300 yds, a well placed 06 round would do the job, at 200 yds a 300 Win. Mag seemed the best choice, at 100 yds a 375 H&H appeared even better, and at 25 feet a 155 mm didn’t seem large enough! For those worried/concerned about the weight of their weapon, I can say this, at my first close encounter along Frazier Lake, I couldn’t have told you if my rifle weighed an ounce or 20 lbs!

  • Aaron Stocks October 9, 2017, 10:38 am

    9mm & 38? Not a chance will I ever take those with me here in Alaska, other than around town where bear issues are far more unlikely.
    The 4-3-1 rule is a good rule of thumb, however, I agree with the comments about a 10mm. My handloads push a 200gr hardcast bullet to just under 1300fps. A 300gr bullet at 1000 fps has 666 ft-lbs of energy. My 10mm load is right at 700. Penetration tests have shown that load to penetrate almost exactly the same distance as a standard hardcast 44 Magnum load.
    The statement that you won’t be able to dump a full magazine into a charging bear is likely true as well. However, I can get 2 aimed shots with my hot 10mm for every one with any big bore revolver I’ve ever shot. So if it’s a two shot scenario with a revolver, I can place 4 AIMED shots with my 10mm in the same amount of time.
    For what it’s worth, my 357 handloads meet the 700 ft-lbs mark too, with a 185gr hardcast doing 1350, though I’m not as fast on target with it.
    Ultimately, some gun is better than no gun, and too much gun that you’re unable to get proficient with is a problem. Carry the most powerful gun you can actually effectively use.

    • Brick October 9, 2017, 11:54 am

      10 mm HAH why not hit the Bear with your Purse?

      • Oaf October 9, 2017, 1:10 pm

        After a comment like that, I’m certain that you’re an expert in the art of defensive purse swinging.

        • David Emery October 9, 2017, 2:25 pm

          Now that’s an appropriate comment. Defensive purse swinging!

        • Cary Kieffer October 9, 2017, 4:56 pm

          Oaf, that was funny! Lmao…and excellent thought below about the 454 brass trimmed down. We hadn’t thought of that. Good stuff.

  • Jack October 9, 2017, 10:09 am

    What? A 45 Long Colt? Nope, no way. 44 mag is a minimum and it would have to be a DA version.

    • Alan October 9, 2017, 11:50 am

      Handloaded in a Blackhawk as described in my earlier post, the .45 outdoes the .44 mag. in bullet weight and energy.
      Same applies to the Redhawk if you insist on a DA.
      But these loads would likely destroy an old Peacemaker, or other similar guns.

      • Alex October 9, 2017, 12:31 pm

        Not only is a 45 Colt that is hand loaded right there with the 44 magnum, or even out performing the 44 magnum. But also a few manufacturers that load plus P 45 Colt rounds that are every bit as powerful as the 44 magnum. Hard cast bullet are the best for bear defense, they will penetrate like nothing else out there.

        • Robbin Blakeley October 9, 2017, 1:12 pm

          In my tests with 300 gr. hard cast bullets the 44 Mag. and the 45 colts are equal if used in modern stout pistols. Once you get over 300gr. the 45 Colt has the advantage. If used in a custom 5 shot 45 colt with bullets and a cyl. that will allow the bullets to be seated and crimped .100 further out than factory specs. the 45 colt will out perform even the 454 if the right cases are used in bullet weights up to 410gr. If doing this with very heavy bullets a change in rifleing twist may be more suitable if longer ranges are expected. This is no problem as we are talking about a custom pistol anyway. I have had very good luck with both the 45 colt and 454 with 335gr. WLN LBT even at long ranges with factory twists. This calls for a heavy crimp (I use a Redding profile crimp die and seat and crimp in two seperate operations useing H-11O or Win. 296) Alan and Alex are correct.

          • Oaf October 9, 2017, 2:11 pm

            Folks need to realize that most .45 Colt cases are not strong enough to handle those high pressure loads even if the gun could. This I know from personal experience! Also the .454 C uses a rifle primer to handle the high pressure generated whereas the 45 Colt uses a pistol primer. I haven’t tried it, but maybe a cut down .454 case to .45 Colt length would help with that.

          • Alan October 12, 2017, 2:33 pm

            Thanx!
            Oaf commented on the case strength, I personally use Starline cases mostly, and have not had a failure yet, however I do only use those cases for 2 heavy loadings, and then relegate them to lesser “cowboy” loads.
            Even then, I haven’t seen a failure in nearly 10 loadings, at which time I usually get rid of them. False economy at that point.
            The one time I did push these cases was to experiment with that claim, and after 5 heavy loadings, the primer pockets were very loose, but no sign of any case separation.

  • Shawn October 9, 2017, 10:05 am

    I carry an automag ivin 45 Win mag.

    • Brick October 9, 2017, 11:55 am

      10 mm

  • Robbin Blakeley October 9, 2017, 9:52 am

    I am a handgun hunter who lives in Wyoming and hunts the Beartooth. I have killed over 140 head of big game in Australia, waterbuffalo, moose, elk, deer, antelope, hogs, exotics, many black bear, and one charging brown bear in Alaska at 5 feet with a hand gun. I’ve hunted brown bear three times with a hand gun only. Killed a mountain Grizzly but did not get my polar bear. After all that I have come to some conclusions about killing things with a handgun. Penetration and shot placement are king. I no longer use trick bullets or many jacketed bullets. (altho I make and sell them) I want straight line complete penetration best offered by a hard LBT. style bullet or a solid jacketed bullet with a large flat meplat no mater the caliber used. I mostly use single action pistols in 44 Mag, 45 colt, 454 casull, and a Bowen 475 Linebaugh that is my favorite. Once at night on a fishing trip in the beartooths we had a grizzly fooling around out side the tent, Out I went with my trusty .475 in one hand and a flashlight in the other. It did not take long to realize that the recoil of the .475 with 425gr. bullets would probably only allow one shot, one handed. I am playing with a m69 Smith and Wesson 44 mag. double action using 250gr. Keith and 300 gr. heat treated WFN LBT now for these situations. One thing that does not get mentioned much is that Y pattern that a charging bears head presents makes for a difficult target to hit. I would recomend holding off until the bear is so close that he would be hard to miss and then not shooting any higher than nostril level. With the right bullet most large caliber handguns will end the confrontation in your favor if done this way. One must realize that with the adrendeline flowing, a moving target and possibly poor light conditions it is not easy to hit well with a hand gun no matter how good you are at the range! There are a lot of good things to be said about a shotgun and big buckshot in regard to saving ones own life! I think that the 480 Ruger is a real sparkling over looked gem.

  • Stephen Replogle October 9, 2017, 9:46 am

    What about a Judge or Governor, that can shoot .45 Long Colt or .410 shotgun shells? You combine the penetration of .45 Long Colt with the facial (and nose) disruption of a .410 shotgun shell. Bears do not like facing off with skunks because their nose and eyes are two of their more sensitive parts. I have a hard time believing when pressed in close quarters, that they would do well with a .410 load in the face.

    • Irish-7 October 9, 2017, 10:59 am

      Thanks! That was my initial question as well. I have both the Governor and a Public Defender Judge, but no steel framed .45 Long Colt guns. I have concerns with shooting the higher pressure .45 LC rounds, like the Buffalo Bore 325 grain load. I believe that folks who do their own reloading can increase the powder and velocity of this caliber, but I am reluctant to try the “beefed up” bullets in a Scandium or polymer framed weapon. Winchester lists their .410 GA slugs as 1800 feet per second. However, I don’t think that a short barrel revolver will produce such a velocity. The Hornady Critical Defense .410 loads (slug + 2x .35 cal balls) are rated at 750 feet per second. I wonder how much penetration that will make on a bear’s skull?

    • Alex October 9, 2017, 12:42 pm

      The S&W Govnor and the Taurus Judge are not what you would want in bear country. You can’t load the right ammo for bear defense, but it’s better than a sharp stick. I would take a 357 Magnum with hard cast bullets over a standard 45 Colt round. I carry either my Ruger Alasken 44 mag, or my Ruger GP 100 in 44 Special with custom loaded 255 gr. Hard cast bullets at 1100 fps. I also have a Ruger Redhawk in 45 Colt and I carry my hand loaded 300 gr hard cast bullets. Penetration is what is needed, no hollow points. Hard cast is king.

      • Oaf October 9, 2017, 1:50 pm

        First you start off by saying a Judge or Governor is not what you want for bear country, then end by saying you carry a Redhawk in .45 Colt for bear. Last I heard the Judge and Governor are chambered in .45 Colt and shoot the exact same rounds as your Redhawk does. You might not have the accuracy from the first two mentioned as you would the latter, but at the close range that a bear attack would occur I think that would be a moot point. Methinks your anti-Judge/Governor bias is showing.

  • Cea October 9, 2017, 9:35 am

    I have always heard, or read, that one should use heavy for caliber, hard cast lead bullets for bear. No HP’s! You need that big chunk of lead to penetrate deep and crush “stuff” as it goes. HP ammo may be great for two legged predators, not so much for those with four…and large teeth!

    • Irish-7 October 9, 2017, 11:05 am

      I read that several times as well. I bought “Bear Loads” in .45 LC and .357 MAG, but they were both hollow points (300 & 180 grains, respectively). Made me wonder “Don’t these manufacturers know that hard cast is more effective?” Perhaps they were just given that name to sound scary, but are really made for 2 legged predators?

  • Alan October 9, 2017, 9:34 am

    The .45 Colt has long been my favorite cartridge in the Blackhawk.
    My first handgun was just that at age 18, and now I tote a Blackhawk Hunter in .45, loaded with 325 gr HC with GC and 22 grains of H-110 (Ruger Blackhawk or Thompson Contender ONLY!!!)
    I’ve chronoed this load at 1325fps, it’s kickass on Elk.
    What I really love I the light weight of the Blackhawk, it’s great in a shoulder rig.

  • Chuck M October 9, 2017, 9:21 am

    I carry my Ruger SP101 357 on me always, and when camping, I have my 45-70 close by. Good article. Good responses.

  • Scott W Syverson October 9, 2017, 9:19 am

    I often have to carry elk quarters out in the Bitteroot mountans, which is heavy populated with wolves, grizzly, black bear, and moose, all of which I have had numerous too close for comfort encounters where I’ve had to draw down. My hunting partner puts his faith in the Colt .45, and it will get the job done. I prefer to carry a .460 Roland – built on .45 Colt ACP 1911 chassis. The author is right in the close terrain on of the Bitterroors, you’re only going to get two shots off and the second one will be point blank. This is why I prefer my .460 Roland – it has compensator for better follow on second shot. Big hand guns buck like a mule, and even though adrenaline is flowing, that big gun will jump and you will have to push hard for that second shot, The .460 Roland doesn’t rise as much as the .45 Colt.

  • Cary Kieffer October 9, 2017, 9:04 am

    A good read but I don’t really see the “top” handguns to carry. A 38 special? I’d take the 9mm any day if it was my only 2 choices, loaded with 147 flat nose +P+ from Underwood Ammo. Regardless, I draw the line at 10mm and 45 Super as my bottom 2 choices in bear country. Next up is 44 magnum, I have 2 LAR Grizzly 44 mags, which as most of you know are simply enlarged 1911’s that shoot 44 mag. They come in 45 Win Mag and 50 AE as well. My first choice is a Springfield XD 5 inch in 460 Rowland. 44 mag power in a high cap auto loader. If I can’t do it with that then I guess I was destined to lose that fight. I disagree one can’t empty a glock into a bear…If that makes me a “fool” then I guess I’ll continue to be one but I fire all those guns weekly having the benefit of a backyard range. Incidentally I have 2 500 Smith mags, never carry them in bear country. 1. I don’t shoot them well enough, fast enough to satisfy me, 2. Wolves are more of a threat. I’ll take the capacity of an auto loader in 45 Super, 10mm or Rowland any day. Just my 2 cents for whats its worth….( nothin) lol.

  • Mike Williamson October 9, 2017, 8:47 am

    After watching a grizzly tear apart a moose calf in the Tetons I took my s&w .40 to a pawn shop and traded it for a .41 magnum Taurus tracker with a 4” ported barrel, The S&W .500 was too heavy to carry while hiking.
    I would rather have a .44 mag with a 6” barrel or the 454 Casull but it was a practical upgrade and is light enough with 5 rounds to carry on long hikes.

  • Hugo October 9, 2017, 8:35 am

    I read an article recently that said you are statistically more likely to survive a bear attack using mace rather than a sidearm. That being said, I would carry both. My new Ruger Super Blackhawk can handle hot + P 45 colt loads. 4 5/8 inch barrel…pretty comfortable to carry .

  • John Belluardo October 9, 2017, 7:52 am

    I carried a 454 casull in Alaska heavy l now carry a glock 20 10mm 15 rounds even if I don’t stop the bear shooting all the way to the end just makes me fell better. I do reload them hot.

  • Ron Stidham October 9, 2017, 7:43 am

    I for one have never been bear hunting, always wanted and dreamed of going some day. Those pesky day to day perils of life keep getting in the way. Great article, even better advise-44 mag super redhawk will be on my side when the opportunity comes my way.

    • Irish-7 October 9, 2017, 11:22 am

      Great point with the Redhawk recommendation! I see a lot of Blackhawk advocates. I believe that model Ruger is single action, right? Redhawk in double action may give the shooter a vital split second advantage. When Ruger made a new .45 LC Redhawk capable of firing .45 ACP, I told myself “I want one of those”. That won’t be possible until my kids are out of college, though……

  • Jimmy Alexander October 9, 2017, 6:55 am

    I am from Houston, TX. A good friend used to go to Alaska to fish. Told me to that towards evening they made Camp during Daylight Hours. They could see the best place to setup before the Mosquito came out. Put up the fishing gear and settled in for the night. I asked if he was afraid of the Bear’s. He said not really. I asked what type of Rifle he carried. He said none. What did you have I asked, he said he had a .454 Casull in a shoulder harness. He said he was not scared of all the trips he made. He saw a seasoned Ranger carry the same rigging and said that was good enough for Him. I haven’t seen any of his Buddy’s to verify his story, But they like Jack, they have all passed away.
    I sure wanted to sit and talk to him about all the story’s they brought back. I just wander where his Pistol and the rigging went to. His wife left Houston shortly after he passed.
    Great Man, and he never told a fib while I grew up At 75 I will never know. God Bless old Friend.

  • Joe October 9, 2017, 6:45 am

    I don’t plan to go out in the woods or scrubs any more but the S&W 629 with a 8 & 3/8″ barrel I’ve owned for 25 years will serve me well against black bears or hogzillas here in sunny Florida should the need arise. No browns in this neck of the woods so no need for the really big bore guns.

  • Greg October 9, 2017, 5:44 am

    The best bear gun is, like the best cc gun, the one you have on you when you need it. Not back in the camper because it’s too heavy or bulky. Fly fishing in AK, and knocking around the woods I often carry a stainless charter target bulldog in 44 special. 4″ barrel, all stainless steel, adjustable sights and under 1.5 pounds. Crossdraw holster. Practice with light loads and carry it with one of Pearce’s 22k psi heavy loads. Hardly know it’s even there. Until it’s needed.

  • Matthew Van Camp October 9, 2017, 5:31 am

    Great article. Great advice. I will take it to heart and now that I’ve learned the 4 – 3 – 1 rule I’ll not forget it, and not fail to abide by it while in bear country, and quite probably every time I’m hunting. Thank you!

  • Don Swad October 9, 2017, 4:58 am

    My grandparents have a home on rockytop Tennessee, with a few caves. We see bears here and there I have never had to shoot one however I carry my Freedom Arms 454 Casull 7 1/2″ Barrel. My second firearm of choice because it works for two legged predator as well is my Springfield XDM 460 Rowland.

  • Ralph Lutz October 9, 2017, 4:39 am

    I’m curious as to why you only show five rounds of .45 LC with your Ruger. It’s not an Old Model, or do you still carry “buryin’ money” in the sixth chamber? You show five rounds with your .38, six rounds with your Model 29, but all of your pictures with the Ruger .45 only show FIVE. Do you have a rare 5-shot model, or just down to your last five cartridges for the photo shoot? I enjoyed the article.

  • Ringo Lapua September 29, 2017, 11:55 am

    The FORGOTTEN GUN (but one of the best Alaska Bear Guns) is the Ruger .480 7.5″ OR 10″. Powerful but lower recoil than a .454 Casull, .460 or a .500 S&W. The 30-50 yd accuracy is simple….AMAZING SHOT PLACEMENT WITH POWER. I purchased the gun from the nephew of an Alaskan Guide who had to kill several large browns with this same revolver.

  • MagnumOpUS September 29, 2017, 9:36 am

    “. a Ruger Blackhawk, chambered in .45 Colt, stainless finish with a 7 ½-inch barrel. It was the first handgun I ever purchased.. ”
    Mr. Massaro, it is men like you who make our country and our military great!

  • billybob September 26, 2017, 6:22 am

    The 12 ga. Shock Wave or the Tac-12 pistols leave a bigger hole ! Magnum Research 45-70 isn’t bad either ! Or even a simple GLOCK 10mm like the A.H.P. carry !

  • SuperG September 25, 2017, 10:53 am

    For me, I’d say whatever you have at the time is better than nothing.

  • Mark N. September 24, 2017, 3:28 am

    There was an Indian woman in Canada out hunting small game for the stew pot with her .22 rifle, when she found herself being hunted by a large grizzly. She hid, and downed it with one behind the ear at very close range, and followed up with five more (all the bullets she had) to make sure.

    • Greg October 9, 2017, 5:52 am

      Which brings up the old but true adage. There are no stopping calibers; only stopping shots. The early anthropologists visiting Alaska, brought back numerous polar bear skulls with a 22 rimfire hole in the top. The Inuit hunters would wait at a breathing hole in the ice. One would shoot the bear with a 22 rimfire: often a single shot, while his partner would harpoon the bruin to prevent it sinking.

      • Allen Alexander October 9, 2017, 9:02 am

        I always heard all you need is a .25 auto. It is not that you have to out run the bear, you just have to out run the slowest member of your party. A couple of quick .25s to the knee of your brother in law ought to make that possible.

    • Irish-7 October 9, 2017, 11:46 am

      I am reminded of a survival show that aired a few years ago. I don’t recall if it ran on Discovery, National Geographic or The History Channel. There were teams of men racing across Alaska. I was very intrigued by their weapons selection. One guy, a native of Alaska (Marty) carried a .22 Magnum revolver. He told the cameraman “I’ve killed bears with this gun”. Another survivalist carried a lever action .357 MAG rifle. There was also a guy who used the Air Force M6 .22 LR/.410 GA over/under rifle/shotgun. The Marine carried an AR15/M4 .223 REM/5.56MM. Despite the firepower, these guys all tried to avoid brown bear encounters. They were highly experienced survivalists. They understood the dangers.

  • Will Drider September 23, 2017, 3:48 am

    For the most part, good info. If we had a true list of every cartridge throughout history that killed a bear we would surely be suprised by dozens of them! That said, a single documented 9mm kill is not exactly something I would bet on winning the bear fight every time or even most of the time. There are too many variables involved to deliberatly under gun yourself on a planned trip in bear country. Worse is the comment on using a .38 Spl in bear country is better then no gun: BS, if your not prepared, don’t go!
    Understanding that a grizz is top oh the list for a bad and aggressive attitude, a grizz can’t kill you more then any other bear could. Its not the bear in the fight, its the fight in the bear. A black bear sow protecting a cub from your invasion of their space will have her way with you till she decides she’s done. Bear is a bear, you underestimate them at your own peril.
    I find it odd that people who trust autoloading pistols for protection against instantaneous violent attack by humans do not trust them for bears? Full power 10mm anyone?

    • Allen Alexander October 9, 2017, 9:06 am

      I agree, a 9mm is not something I would trust. I was helping a friend butcher a hog he had raised. He shot it twice point blank with his 9mm and the hog just shook it’s head and continued to walk around. After I put it down with my .357 magnum, we found both 9mm rounds stuck in the skull. They only penetrated a 1/4 of an inch, while the .357 round went through the skull and ended up about nine inches deep in the neck.

    • loupgarous October 9, 2017, 2:52 pm

      The issue’s penetration. A brown bear’s a Swiss mil-spec mugger, with built-in armor all over, especially around the brain. And it’s usually charging you in a self-defense situation where you’re trying to penetrate all that meat, gristle and bone in the way of its vital organs.

      That said, I wish someone would come up with a good ballistic gel/trauma plate “simulated bear” and test out everything from .22 LR to all the Dirty Harry stuff, .44 Mag and up. Having read that the US Fish and Game guys carried .357 Mag in bear country, but this was in the 1970s, and I have no ides how true that was or is now, I figured 10mm S&W with hardball would do the job even better, but the hunters I hang with think that never gets old.

      It’s time for some lab work, and the Feds aren’t going to let us stake a few bears out in someone’s back forty to test loads out on.

  • piper September 23, 2017, 2:45 am

    The Smith & Wesson 329 PD is by far the best handgun choice for self-defense against bears and boars while out and about in the woods.

    • Norm Fishler October 9, 2017, 11:53 am

      Until you have to shoot it.

    • Russ Kelly October 10, 2017, 5:49 pm

      I agree the 329 PD is ideal with Lower Recoil .44 Magnum Ammo – 255 gr. Keith by Buffalo Bore . I have several 44 mags a .41, .45 Colt and 8 different .357s in various types and the 329PD is lightweight and with the 225’s is heavy medicine for bears. I would still rather have a 12 gauge though. First round 00 buckshot then slugs. I had a face off not far from lake Iliamna with that combo and would not have traded it for the world.

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend