Stopping A Bear Attack: Bear Defense is More Difficult Than You Think

Bears are very dangerous and live in almost every state. In some places, it is not unusual to encounter them in towns while in other places they usually keep to unpopulated areas. But wherever they are, the danger of attack is present. If bears live near your house or if you visit their territory only once in a while, you could be attacked.

And even with a firearm, be it a rifle, shotgun or handgun, a bear attack is not easy to stop. They are big, powerful animals with a great deal of natural body protection, a devastating bite, and flesh-ripping claws. Their muscles are dense and they have heavy, thick bones, especially the skull, that protects them against bullet penetration.

The skull of a bear as seen from the left. The indentation near the center of the top of the skull is the eye socket and is a “soft” spot. Between the eye sockets and just above the nose cavity – the rough equivalent of a human forehead – is an extremely thick and tough area of the skull. A bullet striking this area has a good chance of glancing off. (Rob Leahy photo courtesy Simply Rugged Holsters)

If attacked, the stop must be instantaneous because even if the defender manages to place a killing shot, the bear might live long enough to continue the attack and kill the victim. About the only certain way to stop a bear immediately is to place a bullet into the central nervous system, and the best place for such a shot is the brain. But it is surrounded by a very thick skull. Many bears have been shot in the head with the bullet glancing off, making a nasty cut, but not stopping the bear. A shot to the lungs or heart may eventually kill the bear, but the bear may live long enough to complete the attack before dying. Severing the spinal column might work, but that’s a very small area to hit.

Penetration with a large enough bullet to instantly damage tissue is important. But even a bullet with superior penetration will not get the job done unless it hits the right place. Again, a heart or lung shot may eventually stop a bear and even kill it, but maybe not fast enough. A brain shot though will instantly stop nervous system function and cause the bear to collapse if the damage is severe enough. Most experts knowledgeable in the field agree that the minimum round acceptable for such a job is a .44 Magnum using a hard cast lead bullet. A powerful rifle bullet offering good penetration will also work as will a shotgun slug. But all have their limitations.

To increase the chances of penetrating deeply enough and disrupting enough tissue to quickly stop a charging bear, heavy hard cast bullets or a shotgun slug are good choices. (Doug Larson photo)

To learn more about stopping bears, a group of gun writers recently attended a predator defense class at Gunsite Academy, arguably the best – certainly the oldest privately owned – gunfighting school in the world. Handguns and shotguns were both studied and used in training.

ORIGIN OF CLASS

Back in 1977, a field geologist working in Alaska was attacked by a predatory black bear. At that time though, employees of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) were not allowed to carry firearms. As a result of that attack, in 1978 the USGS began a firearm program, but after a time, decided that better training was needed. So the USGS came to Gunsite in 2000 for help. Gunsite then developed a five-day class to teach predator defense using handguns and long guns.

Studies have shown that about 84% of all effective use of a firearm against a bear attack is with a handgun. That’s probably because victims that are successful in defending against a bear attack are more likely to have a handgun immediately accessible. While a rifle or shotgun can be effective, too often they cannot be brought into action quickly enough. They may be carried slung or may have been set down to free the hands for some other task. But a handgun can be carried on the person at all times and with training, can be drawn and fired in a fraction of a second.

While the focus of the training was on defense against attacking bears, it is important to realize that dogs, especially when roaming in packs, can be far more dangerous and are certainly more common. And dogs can and are frequently encountered in urban environments. Wolves and coyotes can and do attack people, and the incidence of mountain lion attacks is increasing, even in populated areas. While bears are probably the most robust and most difficult attackers to defend against, dogs, coyotes, wolves, and mountain lions are also a dangerous threat.

EQUIPMENT

While at Gunsite, I carried and trained with a Smith & Wesson Model 629 .44 Magnum revolver. It’s a stainless steel gun that is a fine choice for bear defense, but it can be greatly improved. The gun I carried had been customized by Gritus Precision with a superb trigger job which reduced the double-action trigger pull by about three pounds to around ten pounds and made it extremely smooth and easy to shoot accurately. The orange ramp front sight was also replaced with a gold dot. Gold dots have been around for a long time and, it could be argued, were the original night sight. In any light, the gold dot seems to glitter and draw the eye.

This customized stainless steel model 629 revolver from Smith & Wesson chambered in .44 Magnum is fairly easy to carry and can be drawn and fired accurately in a hurry with proper training and practice. (Doug Larson photo)

The 629 was also refinished in the new and excellent ArmorLube hard black finish that is available only from Plasma Technologies Inc. Plasma Technologies will finish guns sent to it from only five gunsmith shops in the U.S., so it is not easy to get. It is a superior finish to anything else available though in terms of hardness and lubricity. To get this finish, contact one of the shops listed below.

Wright Armory Mesa AZ wrightarmory.com
Amerigun USA North Branch MI www.amerigunusa.com
Cylinder and Slide Fremont NE www.cylinder-slide.com
Vang Comp Systems Chino Valley AZ vangcomp.com
Cajun Gun Works West Monroe LA cajungunworks.com

I also trained with the excellent Mossberg 590A1 Magpul shotgun chambered in 12 gauge. It is capable of shooting both 2 3/4 inch and 3-inch shells, and the magazine capacity with 2 3/4 inch shells is nine. An XS Sights rail with aperture sight was installed on it and I added a SIG Romeo4 red dot sight to make target acquisition and aiming extremely fast. The rail and aperture make for a rock-solid mount and excellent backup iron sights. Why a red dot to aim? Despite popular belief, shotguns need to be aimed when shooting for defense. At self-defense distances, the shot pattern is very small, not a wide cloud of shot. And for bear defense, a slug is a much better choice than bird or buckshot.

Installing this XS Sight Systems rail and a SIG Romeo4 red dot optic makes aiming the shotgun for accurate shot placement with slugs fast with proper training and practice. (Doug Larson photo)

THE BEAR CHARGE

When a bear is on the attack, it does not present itself for a side shot to the heart, lungs or even the spine. And the chest is extremely hard to penetrate. Besides, as explained earlier, a heart or lung shot is not what is called for to stop a charge. The best place to shoot a charging bear is in the nose, and that’s not a very large target. Behind the nose, there is a channel in the skull leading directly to the brain. It contains relatively soft cartilage, and the snout and ocular area are relatively thin and soft compared to the rest of the skull. So for the most likelihood of good penetration into the brain, placing a round into the nose is the best bet.

The nose cavity seen in this bear skull contains relatively soft cartilage and leads to the brain. It’s small and hard to hit but offers the highest likelihood for the fast stop of a charging bear. (Rob Leahy photo courtesy Simply Rugged Holsters)

A shot to the nose is pretty hard to do under stress in a second or less when the bear is running full speed at you. But it can, and has to be, done. The way to do it is to first get proper training in presenting, aiming and firing the gun, and then to practice doing it while an instructor watches and corrects mistakes. There may be a few gifted individuals who can master that skill without instruction, but there are not many. So spend the time and money to get the training. We’re talking life and death here, and a bear mauling is a pretty gruesome way to die.

To simulate a bear charge, Gunsite uses a remote-controlled mobile target stand. Students practice shooting it quickly from the holster under the supervision of an experienced instructor who can immediately correct student errors. (Doug Larson photo)

If using a shotgun or rifle for protection in bear country, don’t set it down for even a second. And carry it in your hands, not slung. You might have enough time to get it off your shoulder and into action if a bear springs from behind a bush, but probably not. That’s why a good handgun may be a better choice. It’s always at hand if carried properly.

Another alternative to a revolver for those who feel more comfortable with a larger capacity handgun is a 10mm semi-automatic loaded with heavy-hitting hard cast cartridges like those from Doubletap Ammunition.

BEAR TYPES

In North America, there are three types of bears and they can all be very dangerous. Polar bears live in the extreme northern territories, so the average person is unlikely to encounter one. Grizzly bears, or Brown bears, are more widely dispersed and live in some of the northern states. People encounter them once in awhile, but Grizzly bear territory is not nearly as large as it once was. There’s a reason for that. Grizzlies are extremely dangerous and ranchers and settlers worked hard to eliminate them. Some misguided people want to reintroduce them though, so stay vigilant.

Black bears are pretty common in the Continental US and can be found in almost all the states except for some mid-western states. And at least one expert has said that Black bears are psychos. Black bears will actually stalk humans and prey on them. They have been known to bury live animals and then return to eat them. Black bears are very focused on getting food and will stalk prey, making wide spiraling circles while they close in. And they sometimes look at humans as food. While not as large as Grizzlies, Blacks are vicious predators none-the-less.

A Black bear can run very fast, so there is little time to respond to an attack. It is estimated that one can run 50 yards in three to four seconds. And hunters should be especially careful when harvesting other game. Some bears have become so use to hunters shooting deer, that they respond to a gunshot as if it were the dinner bell. They will head towards the sound in a hurry, anticipating an easy meal. And more than one hunter has been charged by a bear when dressing game. Setting a rifle down to dress game puts it out of immediate reach, which is another reason having a handgun in an easily accessed holster, and knowing how to draw and fire it quickly, is a good survival skill to have.

Students at Gunsite practice handgun skills needed for a rapid response to a bear charge. Shooting fast is only a partial solution. The shot must hit a very small area. (Doug Larson photo)

TRAINING

At Gunsite, we were instructed on how to carry a handgun and a shotgun for quick access and how to bring either on target and fire an accurate shot quickly. A training aid was a bear target mounted on a remote controlled mobile target stand with which the instructor could simulate a bear charge. While most often a bear will charge in a straight line, nothing says it will not veer to the right or left without warning. And the head does not remain completely still. The target robot bounced around quite a bit during a charge over the rough ground, and students found out how really difficult making a quick precision shot, even at close range, can be. With practice though, it can be done. It’s a life-saving skill and you need expert instruction and practice to make it instinctive.

Whether it is wild dogs, coyotes, mountain lions, bears or even a vicious domestic dog, get some training in stopping animal attacks and stay aware in order to stay alive.

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About the author: Doug Larson is a former Contributing and Field Editor for Guns & Ammo magazine, Doug Larson’s articles have appeared in many top firearm publications. He has completed hundreds of hours of firearm and self-defense training provided by some of the finest world class gun fighting instructors and schools. He has experience with handguns, rifles, shotguns, submachine guns, machine guns and other crew served weapons. He reports on the tactics, techniques and procedures developed by real life gunfighters and taught at the best martial arts schools. This information is passed on to the reader to stimulate thought and a desire to get the best training possible.

{ 47 comments… add one }
  • Eric Moore July 27, 2020, 2:14 am

    Marlin lever action 45/70 400 grain, enough said.

  • Dano July 25, 2020, 10:56 am

    If I am stuck with a 10mm (G40), which is the best type of round to use for bear?

  • Willie-O July 24, 2020, 11:42 am

    While vacationing in East Tn, my wife and I were leaving our cabin. She was going out 1st and I was immediately behind her. She stopped abruptly and dug her nails into my arm. Knowing her well, I pulled her back and stepped in front while drawing my handgun – I ALWAYS have a Glock 27 on me. As I get thru the door I see what scared her – adult black bear, on all fours, estimated to be about 300#. It was at about 15’ and closing, headed straight for the grill. I slowly backed into her pushing her back and closed the door. We watched it from inside until it left. It was NOT slightly intimidated by our presence, nor was it aggressive thank God – not with a .40S&W anyway.

  • DomG July 24, 2020, 9:54 am

    Seems to me a front chest holster would be the best place to keep a handgun…so the strong arm wouldn’t need to expose vitals when reaching for the HG.

    Suprising how hard cast lead is more popular than hollow points

    • Glen Howell July 24, 2020, 2:09 pm

      Not sure how hollow point bullets or 10 mm semi-auto’s fit in to the hard cast (works as a “solid” for penetration) argument. I have lived in central Alaska and packed a handgun for bear surprises. Also hunted bear and have seen terminal ballistics on a few. Your kidding your self about how tough any one when “pissed” or scared might be. The polar is probability least tenacious. The black probability least likely to exploit a surprise encounter. Griz, think jaws “bigger boat” comment.

  • Alex July 24, 2020, 8:43 am

    I was laughing at this article and the photograph of the shooters, shooting at the bear target utilizing the basic weaver stand…LOL. Coming from a tactical shooting background, if you’re standing g still while you’re shooting your dead. Move around and better if you can use multiple concealment or cover as you move. I would imagine you can use the same tactics with a large bear. Also the notion of shooting a bear on the nose charging at you is ridiculous. Not even great snipers cant place a bullet on a one inch two inch spot while is moving in all directions. My two encounters with bears a shotgun blast was enough to get them moving away from me.

  • Tim July 24, 2020, 8:06 am

    I have lived almost 60 years in bear country, both in Alaska and the lower 48. I have hunted bears, guided hunters, baited bears, hunted with hounds, shot my own bears and dispatched wounded bears from other hunters. I have killed black bears with everything from a 357 mag to a 300 win mag. I have interaction with black bears multiple times a week. They come in my yard, scratch themselves on my porch deck and raid trash cans and bbq grills if accidentally left out. In all my years I have been charged by non wounded bears exactly twice. There have been several charges by wounded bears from flubbed shots. Contrary to what this article seems to imply Black bears are not hiding behind every tree looking to attack you. I fear moose far more than a bear and I have had more unsettling encounters with moose than I ever had with bears. If you are in the woods, bear country or not you should have a gun with you any animal can be dangerous given the right circumstance.

    • Kevin McCarthy July 24, 2020, 4:41 pm

      I moved to Alaska in 1982 and spent decades installing electronics in remote areas, places hundreds of miles from the nearest town. I am a ‘bear magnet’. 44mag? Please. On Kodiak Island nearly all the problem bears had healed over 44mag wounds where the slugs were lodged in the fat or muscle layer. Smart Alaskan’s carry the 480 Ruger – much more power than a 44mag, less power than a 454 – but – a competent shooter can keep all 6 rounds in the target black. With bears you need to penetrate the hair, hide, fat, and muscle – the projectile needs to damage vital organs and break bones.

      I have been charged by grizzly. But I have only been attacked by moose. 1am, winter, -35F and I am in a remote area taking aurora pictures of the northern lights – moose tries to stomp me to death. I have no gun. 20 minutes I play put-n-take with a full grown pissed off cow moose….hitting her in the face with my expensive tripod mounted camera, dodging from tree to tree. Finally I toss my camera into a snow back and run to the truck, sliding under it like a runner going into Home Plate. A few years later some dogs chased a moose into my yard – in come in at full speed with eyes pie eyed and it makes a bee charge at me. If the truck had been ‘right there’ I would not be typing this.

  • Buzz July 13, 2020, 12:22 pm

    How well does a Lehigh Defense copper bullet work vs hard caste for shooting a bear with a pistol?

  • Clement Linda July 13, 2020, 12:21 pm

    great article!

  • Clement Linda July 13, 2020, 12:19 pm

    I might never go into the woods again. ha, ha, until I can hit the target nose every time!

  • Jim Beck July 13, 2020, 11:42 am

    This article is pure BS and irresponsible to post. Obviously, an “ad” for another Gunsite Course. The “lunar rover bear charge” is a joke. Obviously, Mr. Larsen suffered a traumatic crib experience with his Teddy Bear years ago. Certainly there are bear encounters, but nothing to the extent he hopes you to believe. I live in black bear country. Rarely see them. I’ll have nightmares now knowing that a herbivore black bear is tracking me on my daily wood jaunts. Pure BS…

    • Arch July 13, 2020, 5:55 pm

      Black bears are herbivores?

      • Big Al 45 July 16, 2020, 3:02 pm

        No, like us, they are omnivores. And actually, much like our ancestors, they are Hunters/Gathers (opportunists) in their daily lifestyle.
        It is presumed that ancient man also ate grubs and berries and whatever they happened across.
        Funny isn’t it? He speaks of a herbivore “tracking me”.

    • Larry C July 16, 2020, 8:12 am

      I call BS on you! In what state do you live? What city? You have absolutely no idea about how many black bears are shot in self defense annually in British Columbia. Even if you know where that is.

      • Unclezip July 25, 2020, 1:34 am

        Why do you go on yo attack and denigrate a commenter? It seems your argument would hold more weight if you actually had something to add to the argument.

  • Larry Ciejka July 13, 2020, 10:47 am

    I lived in for 25 years and have considerable experience with bears. Northern British Columbia is bear country; both Grizzly and Black. Much of this article is correct. There are a few items with which I disagree.
    I would consider a .454 Causull as a minimum revolver caliber for a Black bear. I have examined the skull of a black bear off which a .44 Mag ricocheted. On the other hand, a friend, professional forester, stopped a mid-size Grizzly with a .50 AE from a Desert Eagle but just barely. The bullet went into the skull but did not exit. It did the job, but no more.
    I have stopped a Grizzly at about 20 ft. with my .378 Wthby with a shot to the base of the neck that took out 14 inches of spine in the chest area and exited at the right hip. This is my go-to, “big bear” gun. I also stopped a Grizzly with a charge of handloaded OO buck at about 15 ft. The shot hit the point of the nose and blew out the back of his head. I handload buckshot and fill the intervening space with number 5 bird shot. (WARNING: Before you try that load watch out not to overload the weight of your charge or you may be hurt more than the bear) This load has been used by several friends. The reason for the birdshot intermixed is “if the OO does not stop him at least the # 5 will blind him.”
    I used to teach bear defense with a rapidly moving advancing target of a bear silhouette pulled on a line. The trainee would begin with his (her) back to the target when it begins moving. The short-barreled shotgun (usually a Rem 870) with sling on the shoulder. The trainee was expected to wheel around, whip the gun off the shoulder and hit the target nose on. Usually the target was about 15 ft away when the shot went off. With considerable practice, most trainees got very good.

  • steve Hammill July 13, 2020, 10:47 am

    I didn’t find the bear information credible.

    After 20 years in the Rockies with both black and grizzlies occasional visitors to my yard and frequent guests on my property, I’d agree that black bear are more of a threat than griz. If a black bear attacks, it means to eliminate you as a threat; grizzlies have a reputation for preceding an attack with a mock charge. I’ve only seen grizzlies at a distance but have been up-close and personal with black bear.

    Bear are dangerous. For the most part, YOU have done something STUPID if they attack you, because bear evade human encounters. When you keep livestock, bear can get possessive of feed grain.

    Young cougar can be a nuisance, but a potentially dangerous nuisance. I dispatched one for killing my ducks a dozen years ago. Adult cougar avoid human encouters.

    I wholeheartedly agree that dog packs are a more common threat. Two dogs are buddies having fun; three is a pack. There are wolves and coyotes on my property, other than killing deer and elk calves they have caused no problems requiring my intervention. Domestic dogs have been trouble.

    The only thing certain about wildlife behavior is that all wild animals can be dangerous and unpredictable.

  • Bob July 13, 2020, 9:08 am

    My friend was walking through long grass checking a bit of fence and making lots of noise when a large brown blur lunged straight at him. He had a 30-30 in his hand and managed a quick shot from the hip and the grizzly lay dead 4 feet in front of him. The bullet entered the boars eye and brained him luckily killing him on the spot.
    The Fish and Wildlife officers said it was an old boar and probably deaf so my friend yelling and making noise didn’t alert the bear until he was on top of it so it charged. I think this is typical of grizzly charges, they charge when surprised and usually there is very little time to react, your gun needs to be in your hand or very close to be of any use at all and anything but a brain shot won’t work!

  • David James July 13, 2020, 6:30 am

    Due caution, immediate availability and competence in use of both bear spray and an appropriate firearm. Those would appear to cover the self defense bases. Best bet isn’t to fall victim to old wive’s tales about the bruins and actually heed good information like that in this article.

    • steve Hammill July 13, 2020, 10:14 am

      Presuming you carry both, bear spray vs lead is not an either/or decision. You won’t have time to try bear spray and then go for your gun. In dense cover, you’ll need to find the steel to kill the bear while it is eating you.

      I’ve killed a miscreant black bear as well as a threatening cougar in my 20 years in the Rockies. The most important thing is to stay calm and make the shot; failure means the next shot will be with the animal on you.

  • charles tompkins July 8, 2020, 6:16 pm

    I like and carry a 6″, .41 mag Smith, but truth be told if I were in bear country I am thinking a short barrel .12 ga with OO Buckshot would be my choice of close quarter work.

    • gary h July 24, 2020, 8:56 am

      00 buck against a bear? Good luck.

  • Stan d. Upnow July 8, 2020, 11:42 am

    When bears run, their heads don’t stay still; they move up & down. Therefore, hitting the nose(difficult if stationary) becomes very challenging, esp. given the stress and short time interval until you become lunch. I would say shoot for the front legs, breaking the bones and temporarily dumping the bear. As he struggles to get up, it will give you some extra time to perhaps hit the nasal cavity with another shot. Putting a couple in the chest might help, too.

    Personally, I would carry a Ruger Blackhawk, 4-5/8″, in .45Colt. It’s a versatile cartridge, and can be loaded fairly hot with heavy bullets; just what’s needed for penetration and to smash heavy bones.
    Wouldn’t want the bear to get close enough to use bear spray, even if it was effective, which is questionable.

    Of course, there’s the time-honored method of hunting in bear country with a partner who runs slower than you. 🙂

  • James Raymond July 8, 2020, 9:50 am

    Can that finish be applied to a 1911 pistol and how much would it cost

  • Big Al 45 July 8, 2020, 9:33 am

    No mention of the .357 mag., which in fact is one of the most deeply penetrating rounds out there with the proper ammo.
    My own personal testing done for giggles showed some FMJ’s going as deep as 8 2″ thick water soaked phone books, and 6 inches in some old Ironwood we had laying around.(5″ barreled Ruger GP at 25 feet) Thats some tough stuff, so I’m certain it would make great Griz medicine.

    • Norm Fishler July 13, 2020, 12:01 pm

      Try it and get back on that on that. Inquiring minds need to know . . .

  • Tanya July 7, 2020, 3:53 pm

    Thank you for the information. We go camp in Northern Arizona. I will go get training to be prepared.

  • Brock Auten July 7, 2020, 3:51 pm

    Great article! Important and good information on training need to be prepared for the situation.

  • Lars Skinner July 7, 2020, 2:13 pm

    I’m no expert on bear attacks. But the best advice I’ve read is that you shoot either front shoulder joint, which will prevent them from continuing their charge. They also allegedly can’t run downhill(?). So a shot with a large caliber projectile to a front shoulder will break the shoulder, at which point you have gained enough time to keep dumping lead into the animal until you kill it. Personally I love bears, and would hope to never have to shoot one…but I would in defense of myself or family (including my dogs). I’m surprised no mention was made of carrying a short-barreled .45-70 rifle – that would probably be my choice.

    • Ves1 July 7, 2020, 10:14 pm

      LARS SKINNER: “They also allegedly can’t run downhill(?)”

      I say BS to that. I have spoken to Fish & Game Biologist and Game Wardens = They say that is NOT True.

      My example: I was leaving a deer hunt in Northern California on a Saturday night to get back to college to study for a test. So I was leaving, left the dirt – Forest Service road and hit the pavement. It was in in the Sierras and a very windy road, I came around a curve and there was a Black Bear, probably a 1 or 2 year old ~175 pounds. My headlights spooked him, so he took off running – down the hill on the pavement. I had a 1970 pickup with a 4-speed trans, I was in 3rd gear, going 35 mph, downhill and was just staying up with the bear. So I had a bright idea, I had a lariat in the floor, so I picked it up and built a loop outside the truck- still doing 35mph. I pulled up along side the bear to toss it over his head, when i decided – WHAT was I going to do, once I had the rope on him????? I pulled the rope back in and the road had a sharp turn to the left, I started to break and the bear decided to turn slightly left and ran straight up the hill, still going 35mph. I don’t think I can RUN 35mph, even down hill.

      Moral of the Story: Carry Bear Spray AND a Firearm, preferably large caliber.

      • Stan d. Upnow July 8, 2020, 11:52 am

        Once you roped him, you could’ve opened the truck door and jumped on his back, riding him like a bronco while taking a “selfie.” Just Think of all the hits you’d get on Instagram. You blew it, bub.

      • Bryan July 13, 2020, 8:47 am

        …you…ahem…you lassoed a running bear whilst driving a pickup at 35mph…I need to put on my rubber boots folks…this is getting deep…

        • DocLoch July 14, 2020, 2:30 pm

          You’ve never been to a branding or a team roping event have you?

    • Thomas in NC July 24, 2020, 10:46 am

      The shoulder shot does limit their ability to charge. I know of someone who took that shot on a black bear and it worked well. Also, a neck shot is an excellent kill shot on a bear.

      On the east coast, I have not heard of nor seen black bears stalking humans. They primarily are scavengers and are particularly fond of discarded food and garbage usually in the cloak of darkness. They can be very dangerous if you surprise them while they are eating your table scraps.

      As for rifles, a lever action makes for a great bush gun. With the short barrel and quick time to aim and shoot, many of black bears have been killed with a 35 Remington Marlin 336. I have often thought a 45-70 would be an awesome round for putting down a bear. If I was in brown bear country, the 45-70 would be my choice.

      As for pistols, I see that as the last resort after the bear is on you. I have known someone to be in that situation and a shot to the neck with a 38 revolver saved his life. A 38, 357 or 9 mm at point blank range to the neck should work. The main thing to remember is to have the round chambered beforehand. You will not likely be able to rack your 9 with one arm in the bear’s mouth. Also, I would think cocking a single action might be tough. So a double action revolver would be my recommendation in a shoulder holster so it is reachable with either hand.

      Just my thoughts so love it or leave it. But, if you want to be even more prepared then I suggest learning more about bear behaviors might even make you a better hunter!

      Above all, be safe!

  • Mike in a Truck July 7, 2020, 1:05 pm

    45 years ago while home on leave from the Army my buddies and I hatched the idea for an Alaskan fishing trip.We read all the magazines at the time so that made us “experts”. Knowing we would need Brown Bear defense we decided to practice. We knew from an older gent that had “been there” that the best way to stop an angry bear was a head shot. We didn’t have any spare bears around so we came up with an idea. On my family’s property was a large sand pit which served as our target range.Our “bear” was a 55 gallon drum that once contained asphalt. I got gramps JD front end loader and taking the barrel to the top of the pit dumped it out of the bucket to simulate a charging bear. As it rolled down hill it bounced, caught air, yawed, and generally picked up velocity. A stake at the 15 yard “do or die” line indicated when to start shooting. Humbling is an understatement. Actually we sucked. 44 mag handguns where the worst in hits made. Remington 1100 shotguns with slugs fared better. The best was my Remington 742 30-06 where all of us could make 5 rapid fire hits.Yeah I know readers here can poke lot of holes in our methods, but we were young and that’s the best we had. That fishing trip never did happen. But hey I got this new Ruger Super Redhawk and one of my buddies can still get around as the rest are in “senior care facilities “. I hear Alaska calling…..

  • Alan July 7, 2020, 12:48 pm

    A friend of mine spent several years in Alaska as a federal game warden. He carried a .41 mag and stated most guides and rangers also carried the .41. more controllable than the .44 and with enough penetration to get the job done.

  • Joseph Tuso July 7, 2020, 12:04 pm

    Do not use Foster slugs as pictured. Fosters will not penetrate sufficiently. Use Brenneke slugs made for dangerous game. The thinnest part of the skull of a bear is between the eye and ear. It requires a shot from the side but a 22 rimfire will penetrate it. Otherwise if you can hit a bear charging at 30mph in the nose you are a lot better shot than me but it is a path to the brain. If all you have is buckshot the face may be your only chance. Never had to use it but I carried an 18″ barreled pump shotgun with Brenneke slugs when I was in Alaska at the recommendation of the guides. Still a good choice.

    • Phil July 13, 2020, 10:49 am

      I wanted to make this comment too. Most traditional shotgun slugs are made of soft lead and are designed for expansion and not necessarily penetration. A 45-70 with hard cast flat meplat bullets would be a much better bet than most folks’ shotgun loads.

  • Mark Reino July 7, 2020, 11:05 am

    I knew there are bears in my area, but until a few weeks ago I hadn’t seen one. We have a cleared 3-4 ac field with a loblolly forest behind. Well ”Blackie” comes storming out of the woods on a full gallop across the field while I’m out with my pups. Fortunately he didn’t see us, I then scampered my boys back in the house. I watched him run diagonally across the field and into the hardwood forest across from our cabin. He (I assume it’s a male) looked to be about 300-400lbs. I was excited as I’d never seen a bear in the wild. It was impressive and a bit unnerving at the same time. As I’m on the phone with my brother in law, describing the event, I see the bear again in a full gallop through the woods running away from me, but directly across from our cabin and about 100 yds in. I had my Glock 37 on my side and cracked off a shot into the ground to hopefully give him further motivation to keep on truckin’. He did. It was cool to experience. I’m never am unarmed walking my property, but since I have started carrying my .44 magnum Taurus. Just in case.

  • Big Al 45 July 7, 2020, 10:30 am

    Somewhere in my Library I have a book on Bears, it relates the story of a Montana Wildlife officer tasked with killing a Mankiller Griz that had been shot but not killed. The Victim, a Deer Hunter survived, but not in good shape.
    When the DOW officer finally managed to catch up and kill the bear, the autopsy showed a bullet lodged in the heart muscle of the bear, and it wasn’t either hunters caliber. The wound had scar tissue surrounding it.
    That bear had been shot and survived, possibly years before, showing the toughness and resiliency of the animal.

  • jstert July 7, 2020, 9:33 am

    please put the proper ammo in the proper firearm: stalk not stock. viscious not viscous. cheers.

    otherwise a useful article, thank you. we need more advice about using firearms to deal with smaller feral or rabid threats that most folks are more likely to encounter than bears.

    i most often solo day hike with a 22lr handgun because i am most accurate with it and i can carry more ammo in a lightweight setup. if i was lost or injured i would use my 22lr as a signaling device. a 38sp would obviously be more useful against the smaller wild threats that i may encounter. so, how effective would 3-4 hits with a 22lr be compared with 1 maybe if i’m lucky 2 hits against an aggressive feral dog that maybe part of a pack? thanks.

  • Hawk Holloway July 7, 2020, 9:23 am

    There was a one page article in Outdoor Life written by John B. Snow addressing “how to practice taking down an animal in a do-or-die situation.” It was from the August 2016 edition. The bear target seen in the above article can be purchased from Action Targets.
    Famed Alaskan guide, Phil Shoemaker, killed a griz with a 9mm handgun while protecting a fishing client. Not everybody can be as cool in such a situation as Phil Shoemaker, though.

    • Sean July 13, 2020, 4:41 am

      Didn’t that guide have hard cast bullets in that 9mm if I recall?

      • Phil July 13, 2020, 10:56 am

        I was curious and just checked, he was using Buffalo Bore hard cast loads. But, he did not make any head shots, so it doesn’t say too much about the load. That crew was very fortunate that no one was killed in the time it took for that much lead to be slung for the bear to be killed.

  • Paul Morris July 7, 2020, 8:59 am

    This is nuts.

  • quisno Rodonovich July 7, 2020, 2:49 am

    Killed A bear at 20 paces one shot into the mouth with Hydroshock 10 mm using a S&W 1006 mod.

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