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Best Bear Defense Guns for Hikers and Backpackers

Venturing into critter country? We go over some of the best bear guns from shotguns to rifles and even big bore handguns.

The stuffed teddy bears you snuggled with during childhood might have led you to believe bears are cute and cuddly. However, bears are actually dangerous apex predators.

That means when you traipse into bear country, you no longer sit at the top of the food chain.

Bears fishing in a river
Bears are serious when it comes to finding their next meal.

If you plan to hike, hunt, fish, or live in bear country, you should have a solid defensive plan for dangerous bear encounters. Getting mangled by an angry bruin is a good way to ruin an otherwise enjoyable outing.

To stay safe, you’ll need to pack some good old-fashioned common sense and an effective bear-stopping weapon.

Not sure what firearm you should tote into the backcountry? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.

Summary of Our Top Picks

  1. Editor's Pick Handgun

    Glock G20

    Reliable, durable, easy if you're already used to shooting Glocks, 10mm

  2. Best Lever Gun

    Marlin Model 1895

    Reliable, durable, chambered in .45-70 Government

  3. Editor's Pick Rifle

    CZ 550 American Safari Magnum

    Popular for a reason, heavy hitting, .375 H&H

  4. Best Shotgun

    Remington 870 SPS SuperSlug

    Low maintenance slug gun

  5. Best Non-Lethal Option

    Sabre Bear Spray

    Less lethal, easy to carry, affordable

Table of Contents

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An Ounce of Prevention

Thankfully, most bears go out of their way to avoid humans. If you’ve ever wandered into bear country, there’s a good chance you’ve been within sniffing distance of a bear without even realizing it.

Despite the reclusive nature of most bruins, there has been an increase in human encounters with wild bears over the past decade.

Bears

That increase isn’t just for stereotypically wild places like Montana and Alaska. You may be more likely to bump into a bruin in New Jersey, which surprisingly has one of the densest bear populations in the lower 48.

The best way to survive a bear encounter is to not end up in a bad situation in the first place. And the best bear defense gun is no substitute for plain old common sense.

When possible, travel with a group of buddies and make plenty of noise as you go. You don’t have to mimic your raucous fraternity days. Casual conversation is usually enough to keep from stumbling into an unsuspecting bear.

Me warding off bears

If you do spot a bear, give him a wide berth. If you need to retreat, do it slowly and keep your eyes on the bear. Never turn your back. You want to be ready just in case the bear becomes aggressive.

It’s also a good idea to talk calmly to the bear. A mild “Hey, Bear” is often enough. You want him to identify you as a human so he doesn’t mistake you for a tasty between-meal snack. 

Bears are highly food driven. Yogi and his picnic basket fetish aren’t too far off the mark. Keep your campsite clean and store food in airtight, bear-resistant containers.

Choosing the Right Firearm

Bears are tough creatures. They have tough hides, muscles, bones, and attitudes. Since even the fastest human would be hard-pressed to outrun the clumsiest bear, if you do find yourself facing an angry bear, you’ll need an effective way to stand your ground without getting mauled. 

When a bear encounter makes a turn for the worst, you’ll want a weapon you can use confidently and effectively.

Glock 20 with HP Ammo
Who doesn’t love 10mm?

For a fair number of people, that weapon is a firearm.

Not everyone who travels through or lives in bear country relies on the same type of weapon. In fact, what makes the “best” bear defense weapon has been the subject of some pretty heated debates.  

We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we know it takes a special weapon to stop a charging bruin.

From shotguns to hand cannons to rifles, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of the most popular bear defense weapons.

Handguns

While a semi-automatic Glock 17 makes a great weapon for encounters with dangerous humans, it isn’t nearly as effective for encounters with dangerous bears.

Bears are strong runners, and even a beefy 700-pound grizzly can cover 50 yards in under 3 seconds. With that kind of speed, you’ll be lucky to pull off two haphazard shots before that angry bear is rolling you up and using your head as his new favorite chew toy.

Glock G17 Gen 4
You might need something beefier than a G17…

To make those shots count, you’ll need a big bullet with enough horsepower behind it to smash through all that toughness. You’ll definitely want something with a hard cast or monolithic bullet in the chamber.

We’re big fans of Buffalo Bore Outdoorsman hard-cast bruin punchers.

These bullets don’t deliver the massive wound channel you get with an expanding bullet, but you’ll need that solid construction to get adequate penetration.

10mm Round
10mm Round

That said, a handgun is just a handgun. Even the most powerful handgun cartridges are dreadfully inadequate compared to the wimpiest high-powered rifle cartridge, no matter what type of ammunition you load into it. 

However, a high-powered rifle won’t do any good if you leave it in the cabin. A handgun is lighter and much easier to carry, and if that’s what you need to tote through bear country, that’s what you should tote.

Inside Liberty Home Concealment Clock
A gun doesn’t do you much good if you leave it at home.

Strapping on a sidearm isn’t a bad idea, even if you have a high-caliber rifle.

Rifles are easy to put down. You might even have it strapped to your pack. But a sidearm in a quality OWB holster is always on your person. It will probably be easier to access than your long gun.

Also, if you regularly train with your EDC handgun, you might be more confident and accurate with it than with a rifle you only pull out once a year.

PHLster Floodlight OWB
A good OWB goes a long way

Revolver or Semi-Auto

Semi-automatic pistols can jam, which is not what you want when a 600-pound grizzly is bearing down on you fast. Since revolvers rarely malfunction, many backcountry hunters and residents trust their safety to a wheel gun.

Empty Revolver Chambers

The major drawback to using a revolver for bear defense is ammo capacity. Big revolvers only hold five or six rounds. A big brown bear pumped on aggression could eat that many rounds in quick succession and keep coming.

And I promise you won’t have time to reload.

As with any defensive shooting situation, proficiency with your weapon is essential. Having a handgun you can shoot well and carry comfortably is important.

pew pew Glock 20
A semi auto is a bit easier on the reloads.

If that’s a 10mm Auto, so be it. It will serve you better in a crisis than a monstrous revolver you rarely shoot and are tempted to leave in the truck.

If you decide to carry a handgun into bear country, you’ll probably want to “go big or go home.”

Go Big
Wise words

Some monster handguns can be brutal to shoot and an absolute pain to practice with. As a general rule, go as big as possible without sacrificing your ability to put lead on target.

And because bears are so tough and move quickly, you’ll need to make every round count. You’ll want to burn through some practice ammo before you head into the backcountry.

Rifles

No matter how big you go with a handgun, they all lack the damage-wrecking velocity of a heavy rifle.

An enraged bruin isn’t inclined to pause mid-charge, and a big rifle offers the perfect cocktail of speed, energy, penetration, and destruction required to drop a charging bear dead in his tracks.

So, what do we consider “big?”

CZ 527 American and AR-15

While most rifles in the .30 caliber range are fine for bear hunting, you may want something bigger and heavier for bear defense.

There’s a reason you’ll find hefty rifles chambered in .375 H&H, and .454 Casull (usually loaded with cartridges from Buffalo Bore or Hornady’s Dangerous Game Series) slung over the shoulders of experienced bear-country guides.

A rifle you can shoot well is a major asset, so you’ll want to become well-acquainted with your gun before stepping a single toe into bear country.

Shotguns

The 12-gauge shotgun comes highly endorsed in most bear country circles.

Many government agencies issue shotguns to their officers as bear defense weapons, and officers regularly use them successfully in dangerous bear encounters. However, the weapon’s capabilities are largely affected by the type of ammunition you have in the chamber.

Mossberg Retro Shotguns 500 (2)
Mossberg Retro Shotguns 500

If you plan to carry a 12-gauge through bear country, you might want to ditch the birdshot and 00 Buck. Premium magnum slugs are probably your best bet for stopping a charging bear.

A shotgun with a short barrel and a long magazine works best for bear defense. The popular Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 pump-actions are perfect for the job.

Best Bear Defense Guns

1. Glock 20

If you’re used to toting around a 9mm Glock 19, you might be more comfortable with that.

However, an upgrade to a Glock 20 chambered in 10mm and loaded with hard-cast FNs will provide far more stopping power than the relatively paltry 9mm.

Glock 20 and lots of ammo
Glock 20

Plus, the learning curve won’t be as high since you’re already familiar with the Glock platform.

While 10mm doesn’t pack the same punch as other magnum calibers, it still packs a lot of heat behind a relatively hefty round. And best of all – you get a whole lot more ammo in every mag.

579
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

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15+1, polymer frame, unbeatable reliability, and the ability to mount red dot optics make the Glock 20 a serious contender for a bear defense gun.

What do you think of the Glock 20? Rate it below!

Readers' Ratings

4.95/5 (877)

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2. Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan

The Ruger Superhawk Alaskan is a relatively small wheel gun, but it’s chambered in .44 Rem Mag, which offers some real stopping power.

Any gun with “Alaskan” in its name — even if it is a revolver — deserves some serious consideration for backcountry defensive shooting. Few locations in the U.S. have more bears (or human/bear encounters) than the Last Frontier State.

Ruger offers the Alaskan in a stubby 2.5-inch barrel. However, shooting .44 Rem Mag from a squat barrel produces recoil as difficult to tame as Alaska.

If you have trouble with recoil, you might be better off with the Ruger Super Redhawk. The Super Redhawk is available in 6-, 7-, and 9-inch barrels. The extra weight and barrel length make the recoil a smidge easier to handle.

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at Sportsman's Warehouse

Prices accurate at time of writing

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The Super Redhawk comes chambered for .44 Rem Mag, .454 Casull, 10mm, and .458 Ruger. When loaded with the right ammo, all are capable of bear-stopping cartridges.

3. Marlin 1895 SBL

Lever guns are common options for bear defense. The action is more reliable than most semi-autos. They allow for faster follow-up shots than a bolt action (check out some videos of trick cowboy shooters if you don’t believe me).

Plus, the shorter barrel length of most lever guns makes them easy to maneuver, which is an asset when facing an unpredictable bear.

Marlin .45-70 with and without scope
The Marlin Firearms Dark Series Model 1895 in .45-70 Gov’t (picture left) and the Dark Series Model 1895 in .30-30 Win (picture right).

We almost cried when Marlin stopped production of their legendary lever guns in 2020 thanks to its parent company, Remington’s major financial troubles. Someone certainly heard our prayers because Ruger picked up the company and restarted production in late 2021. Hallelujah!

Chambered for .45-70 Government, the Marlin Model 1895 has a tubular magazine and a 6-plus-one capacity.

Best Lever Gun
1199
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

While .45-70 Gvt isn’t known for speed or flat trajectories, it is bone-crushingly powerful at short range. This gem is perfect for backcountry bear defense.

4. CZ 550 American Safari Magnum

More Alaskan guides rely on the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum than any other cartridge. Since these guys regularly come face to face with injured and irritated brown bears, I think they know what’s up.

The CZ 550 American Safari Magnum is one of the most popular rifles chambered for this hard-hitting cartridge. And unlike the prom queen from your hometown high school, this rifle earned its popularity fair and square.

This thing is virtually bombproof and features a highly reliable controlled-feed Mauser action.

That .375 H&H has some buck, but that should be expected from a rifle capable of handling the biggest bears on Planet Earth. Heck, this thing could easily dispense a freakin’ T-rex if one happens to cross your path.

Thankfully, CZ had the forethought to add a thick recoil pad. Your shoulder should probably send them a nice thank you card. 

1299
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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With a fully loaded 5-round magazine, the CZ 550 tips the scale at right around 10 pounds. That’s a bit of heft to be lugging around the backcountry, so you might want to squeeze in a few extra sets at the gym.

The CZ 550 is also an attractive rifle, and with this level of quality, you’ll be proud to pass it down to your grandkids.

5. Remington 870 SPS SuperSlug

Asking us to pick our favorite version of the iconic Remington 870 is like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. It’s impossible. We love them all for different reasons.

Remington 870

However, when it comes to bruin defense, we’re partial to the SPS SuperSlug.

Out of the box, this one doesn’t look much like the 870 we’ve come to know and love. That’s because it’s the perfect slug gun built on top of the 870’s steadfast, low-maintenance receiver.

Best Shotgun
727
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

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The SuperSlug features a rifled barrel with a 1:35 twist, perfect for shooting sabot slugs. Plus, it has an ultra-cool ShurShot pistol-grip.

Not only does this thing look slick, but it also has internal shock absorption to help soak up some of that hefty slug recoil.

6. Mossberg 500

We can’t in good conscience recommend the Remington 870 without mentioning the Mossberg 500.

This classic pump-action shotgun is just as reliable, affordable, and iconic as the Model 870.

446
at Kygunco

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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Spray and Pray (Bear Spray, That Is)

Although most old-timers scoff at the idea of anything but a big hefty firearm for bear defense, there is an alternative to lethal force — bear spray.

Like the key chain pepper spray carried by college co-eds for decades, bear spray uses capsicum (a red pepper extract) to deter bears at close range.

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Although bear spray and pepper spray use similar active ingredients, they are not the same.

Bear spray is significantly stronger than regular pepper spray. It also expands into a cone-shaped cloud. Personal defense pepper spray is milder and deploys a more targeted stream.

While reaching for your .30-06 to stop a charging bruin may seem like a no-brainer, a growing body of research supports the superiority of bear spray over a firearm during a bear attack.

Grizzly bear in a clearing
Grizzly bear in a clearing (Photo: Zdeněk Macháček)

One notable study found that rifle and handgun users suffered the same injury rates during aggressive bear encounters, whether they fired their weapons or not.

In 2008, the same researchers examined the effectiveness of pepper spray in Alaskan bear encounters. Of all the bear spray incidents in the study, only three out of 156 resulted in injuries, none of which were fatal. That is an astonishing 98% success rate.

Grizzly bear investigates a tent
A grizzly bear investigates a campsite. (Photo: Valerie)

While the data seems to support bear spray over firearms, many backcountry travelers still prefer a firearm. Bear spray is a relatively new invention, and many hunters, hikers, and outdoorsmen aren’t particularly comfortable using it. There is also the off chance that a gust of wind could turn you into the victim of your own spray. Not good.

Sleeping Bag Hike

If you carry bear spray, don’t let it give you a false sense of security. You still need the skills to use it effectively. Before heading into bear country, practice drawing, aiming, and shooting your spray. You’ll need to hit your target quickly and accurately.

Also, you won’t have time to dig through your pack when an angry brown bear is breathing in your face. Accessibility is just as important as proficiency with your weapon, even if your weapon of choice is a can of bear spray.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Firearms are the only deterrent that can lethally stop an aggressive bear. However, you should only rely on your gun if you can use it confidently and proficiently. 

The average shooter doesn’t have the skills to remain calm, draw, fire, and fatally wound a charging bear.

Shoot Steel Armadillo Short Range Target
Practicing at the range can help you prepare should you meet a bear in the woods.

Imagine hitting a grapefruit-size target rushing toward you at 30 miles per hour while bobbing up and down and side to side.

It takes either serious luck or serious skill to accomplish such a feat. If you aren’t the type to rely on luck, you’ll want to spend plenty of time practicing with your bear gun.

You want your shooting to be as fast and smooth as possible when the proverbial bear poo hits the fan.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how careful you are or what weapon you carry. When you wander into bear country, you could still find yourself face-to-face with a bruin.

Bear country sign
A warning many of us have seen before. (Photo: Helena Jacoba)

Like people, bears have their own personalities. This makes predicting the behavior of any individual bear virtually impossible.

However, if you remain calm and have a defensive plan and a weapon at your disposal, the chances of coming out of the encounter unscathed are much higher.

What do you carry for bear defense? Let us know in the comments! Need more awesome wilderness information? Take a look at our Introduction to Deer Hunting!

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70 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Brian Collins

    My big three in order (without ever having to use any of them yet...and hope I never do) are:

    1. Compressed air horn
    2.Bear spray
    3.454 Alaskan

    All carried in front of an LL Bean Rapid River Vestpack for quick access.

    October 26, 2022 4:21 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Ethan

    On the bear spray subject, the studies I've read don't record the firearm used, which would put someone with a snub nose .38 in the same category as someone with a .700 nitro express. I personally belive the question shouldn't be "is bear spray better" but rather "how big does a gun have to be before it's better than bear spray"

    September 10, 2022 4:37 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    blue

    GLOCK 29SF is my go to, im comfortable carrying 180 gr bonded JHPs, xtreme penetrators/xtrem hunters, round ball and cast flat nose rounds. all loads must be 1200+ fps for my liking. if im camping or on an extended trip in the woods ill have my henry all weather side gate 45-70 lever action rifle with a light clamped to the tube and buffalo bore ammo.

    July 27, 2022 2:28 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    michael mumey

    Smith and Wesson Model 327 8 shot 357 mag revolver with 2" barrel in a chest holster.

    July 8, 2022 5:49 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Dennis Hawxhurst

    I always carry bear spray in a holster as my first choice. Spray doesn't work in WA rain and wind.
    2d choice is G9 45 ACP +P 165 gr. Woodsman used in a Springfield XDM. I know for fact it works on moose. Also been known to carry my Typhoon Defense F-12 with Federal Mag slugs at 1600 fps
    Depending on weather, terrain, and flora, these are what I use in my neck of the woods where moose, cougar, and elk are also concerns; yes, elk.

    July 7, 2022 9:01 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bill

    Great article. I can relate. I fish in bear country often. My preferred defense is a Glock 40 in 10mm. It packs a punch, with good accuracy. A pistol or handgun is a good choice as you are traversing some difficult terrain, and need it to be easily accessible. Also, you want to ensure you have a good holster that rides close to your body, as you can be in and around wooded areas that can catch on your body or items. But, as you mentioned, best defense is avoidance.

    July 7, 2022 5:31 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sawae byaswe

      Das passiert so mit eigenen Druckmitteln.

      October 15, 2022 3:04 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    John

    A popular hunting guide and personal friend was killed while skinning an elk. He had a 10mm with him but not on him at the time.

    July 7, 2022 4:45 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jennifer

      John, so sorry about your friend. Where was he, and what were the circumstances?

      August 29, 2022 11:35 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        John

        Search mark upton jackson bear

        August 29, 2022 12:17 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    BC

    Experience has taught me to carry the largest caliber handgun I can afford and shoot accurately. In my neighborhood (grizzly country), I carry a .45 colt revolver with either a 30-06 rifle or twelve gauge pump shotgun loaded with a combination .00 buckshot and slug. I don't mess with bear spray, ... its useless in a life and death situation and only makes matters worse. I don't wait to see what a bear is going to do before preparing to fire. My gun is up and ready when I know a bear is near!

    January 19, 2022 10:18 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      ErSwnn

      Bear spray, if used wrong, merely seasons you for the bear's taste in human flesh.

      February 17, 2022 10:50 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jayce

    Like you Gabby, I've guided for over a decade in Alaska (on Kodiak and in the Kenai) as well as Svalbard and Greenland. Which is why I'm surprised there is no discussion of Brown bear vs Polar bear. And location plays a big roll too - In the shrub of lower elevation Kodiak I'm most comfortable with my 12 ga shotgun loaded rubber, buck, slug, slug. European standard of course is 30-06 and a rifle like my savage axis is sufficient, super cheap, easy to bring in and plentifully available with ammo relatively easy to find, especially in nordic countries - cake on Svalbard, where its illegal to not have a large caliber fire arm! I'd buy a Super Red Hawk Alaskan in a heart beat, especially for Kodiak. And thanks for the article, I get that it's an overview and I enjoyed it.

    November 29, 2021 11:07 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    George

    Some are these are very bad advice...this coming from someone who grew up in the bush in Alaska who knew many people who hunted bear. A shotgun? Please, that is a good way to get killed. 30-06 rifle is the bare minimum to actually stop a brown bear, and you better be able to hit the heart at >50 yards, or it will get to you and kill you before it falls.

    October 27, 2021 11:55 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Rayce

      Hey George, as you know Alaska is so varied and what works in the Tundra might not be the best for the Rainforest. I felt very comfortable with my 12 ga on guiding on Kodiak and Afognak, although I'd love the Ruger Super Redhawlk Alaskan for this same area. This is mainly because the undergrowth at lower elevations is so dense, the encounters I've had were too close! Which parts are you from and what firearm works best for you?

      November 29, 2021 11:13 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    David Chura

    I listened to many stories about hand guns, And one that gets a bad rap is the desert eagle
    Unfortunately those who have these guns and others say no to them, because of misfire (OHOH) there is a big problem ! And we don't know how to solve it, Well now you will know,

    Well I too had some problems starting out with this DE, (My first hand pistol or hand gun) Yes it did misfire and lock up, But I was just a beginner learning to shoot with a small hand.

    And yes I solved all my problems, By reloading, and I shortened the overall length of the bullet by about 15/1000 of an inch, What a difference, (4227 at 22 grains with heavy lead) and then having a small hand, I had to learn a different way to hold my gun,
    These DE's have a lip at the back below the slide,
    This makes for the possibility to hold the gun differently with 2 hands,
    I use my right hand as normal,
    MY left hand, it grabs with my thumb behind this lip, NOT FORWARD AS MOST PEOPLE TELL YOU>
    I twist with my right hand forward and down ward, and do the exact opposite with my left,
    This prevents any jerking motion,
    And it definitely improves my placement, And another fact, It reduces the amount of overall time you practice, Because when you double hold any gun as the most used methods, Your muscles need to be trained and strengthened to hold for practice, A weak muscle never hits the same place,
    This method I described to you, does not need much practice, as both hands are contrary to each other.
    I wonder how this will work if I go from 44 to 50 cal?

    March 26, 2021 10:51 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Paul

    And no mention of the 460 or 500 Smith and Wesson ?? Sounds like you have an interest in not mentioning them. Overall on a scale of 1 to 10 I give you a 6 for your article.
    I bet you have a couple of new Ruger and Glock handguns in your safe...haha

    February 19, 2021 1:16 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Paul

      I agree with your other choices of firearms but not with the buckshot.

      February 19, 2021 1:20 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Royk

      Agreed just another article to plug Glock. As history proves there will be a Comment about how PPT is not paid by Glock. I think there is 2-3 articles this week about Glocks.

      July 11, 2022 6:21 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Jacki Billings

        Ask, and you shall receive, lol. We aren't paid by Glock, and the other Glock-related articles that were posted were coincidental as we're going through our older articles and updating them, so they are more accurate for today. Thanks for reading!

        July 11, 2022 7:25 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Paul

    Buckshot for bear ? Seriously ?

    February 19, 2021 1:10 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Don

    Buckshot for bears is a good way to get killed. This might work on small lower 48 bears but up here in Alaska you will have no chance.

    December 23, 2020 11:53 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Patrick

    Buckshot for big bears? No. Not on your life. Maybe a solid slug but not a hollow based Winchester el cheapie from Walmart. I know people kill grizzly with .270 and 30-06. But when your up close and personal, bring enough gun.

    November 11, 2020 5:11 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jack Doyle

    Lived over fifty years on Kodiak Island and carried our my first Kodiak when I was 15-16. The Alaska State Troopers that accompanied us on this particular search both carried 12 ga. Remington 870 shotguns with slugs. The first thing the dog hit on was a stainless steel 270, a Ruger Model 77 with the bolt half closed on another round. This rifle was a good 30 feet away from the site where the hunter had a close encounter of the most miserable kind. There was no scent trail to the rifle, so it flew there. The trail from the encounter went down hill, where the dog found the deceased, camo clad hunter, deep in the alder. The USCG helicopter crew had seen the bear moving down hill from the vicinity with blood on its front shoulder. The 270 did not do the job, and the hunter's next round never finished the ride to the chamber. We wrapped him in the red tarp I carry and hoisted him into a hovering helicopter for transport. Before hunting people I was a seal hunter and registered assistant bear guide (guiding before Alaska got organized didn't require a license). I carried a 338 Win Mag on bear hunts. For all search call outs statewide I carried my 44 Mag Colt Kodiak (Colt custom shop 4" Anaconda). When bear were know to be an issue I carried my Mossberg 500 12 ga. with slugs also. Later I had an 18" barreled rifle built on a pre 64 Win Mod 70 action, chambered for 458 Win Mag. With the Lyman pee sights it was lighter than the shotgun. Moral of the story always carry more than your need.
    Later,
    J
    PS A dog team from the mainland had an encounter with a black bear where he deployed bear spray hitting it right dead center in the face. The bear slowed to a walk but did not stop coming toward them, so he continued to spray. The bear finally sat about 10 feet away and started licking it face. So he and his dog took that opportunity to leave the area. Moral of the story; bear spray seems to work better on browns then blacks.

    October 1, 2020 11:46 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Kyle Strathmore

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Mr. Doyle. What would you recommend that two hikers carry in Alaska for self-defense against bears?

      February 28, 2021 3:52 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    RGP

    Shotguns best for stopping "large mammals"???? BS. Lots of big nasties in Africa, name a real PH who prefers a shotgun.

    August 13, 2020 12:13 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    exp.builderchick

    Regarding Bear Spray. The rangers in AK have a stronger strength version than the general public.

    August 7, 2020 12:24 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      George

      Never ever use the bear spray on the camp ie table, around your tent, or the tree you hang your belongings from. The spray will break down mix in the soil and give a male bear the illusion a female bear in heat was there.

      September 29, 2020 11:56 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    exp.builderchick

    Regarding which animals to respect, top of my list are cats. Ambush predators, from a tree hide, makes them a real concern for me. That is why I want the ultimate deterrent. Two legged predators have been a problem in the past. Want negotiating capability that keeps me on top. Want a predator to run into another predator.

    July 31, 2020 8:30 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    exp.builderchick

    Want a weather resistant, small, rifle with stopping power. Would love a pistol, but .44 is too much. Agree, practice with any tool is required. What is the shortest legal length a rifle barrel can be? 18" comes to mind. Pistols are more highly regulated in my world. What auto load rifle would fit my needs? Cost is less of an issue than the other factors. Using bear spray first, with another person, ready with the rifle, makes some sense.
    Knowledge of animals is important. Met a Female Griz +3 cubs about 150 yards away. In Glacier Bay, AK. Was not concerned. All were well-fed. She was concerned with something to her right. Down wind and with poor sight, she didn’t know we were there. Let her know we were there with a bear “popper”. As expected she went straight up into the Forrest, avoiding us and the probable male to her right.

    July 31, 2020 8:17 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Gunny

      In the US the minimum rifle barrel length is 16". In my mind anyone who says buckshot is the best dosent know much about external or terminal ballistics. You however, are right on track! I honestly think the best option, especially for bears is a reliable .308 semi auto rifle with a 16" barrel, a folding or collapsible stock and loaded with stout loads that have been proven to work well in the rifle. I personally have a .308 Russian ak variant with a heavy duty steel side folding stock. I would run 180gr bonded or even copper matrix bullets like the Hornady GMX or something by Barnes like the tripple shock bullet. Other fantastic rifle options would be a hk-91/ptr-91 rifle, a FAL paratrooper model or maybe even a well proven AR-10. Admittedly i have more experience than most, including the writer; but i would bet vital parts of my anatomy that i could drop any bear charging me. I would even bet someone with some decent practice under thier belt could dump all 20 rounds in a few seconds. Also no one has mentioned shot placement or cold weather firearm lubrication. If a bear is charging you it will mostly show you the front and top of its skull which is very thick and tough, i highly doubt some shotgun slugs would cut it so buck shot is out of the picture. But a semi auto rifle with well aimed shots to the dome piece will switch it right off like a light. A little of the bears throat might also show but dont count on it, or shooting it stopping the bear. In regards to the kitties, you'll want a easily accessible handgun. A semi auto with a "standoff device" on the end of the main spring, a 9mm will be fine with good bonded Hollow points like a federal HST or winchester Pdx1 and a fixed blade knife with a good stabbing tip like a quality dagger. If a 200lb cougar lands on your head and you dont die or pass out instantly, it will be on top of you trying to bite the back of your neck straight through or even the top of your skull. Wolves go for the throat but might encircle you with several of the pack. The 308 battle rifle would be a great choice for this, shoot the biggest meanest one first. That could be the Alpha, and the rest may just run away. A moose will stomp you to death get between it and a big tree and play ring around the rosie till it loses interest. More people die from moose attacks in Alaska than every other animal combined.

      September 30, 2020 8:55 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Fyrfytr998

    I've always thought the consensus was to deploy Bear Spray first? A guy I know who lives up in Alaska says when he's guiding people, his plan of action is Bear Spray, Shotgun Slugs, Glock 10mm with hard cast bullets. Says he has yet to see the spray not do the job.

    May 12, 2020 5:06 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      Bear spray is great! Personally, I've never had it not work. But when it doesn't work, you'll want to be packing a firearm up to the task.

      May 13, 2020 1:41 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Alan Whitcomb

    Will put my trust in my Mossberg 500 with 00 buckshot...plenty enough ummmph for a black bear...haven't run into any grizzlies in this neck of the woods...Smith and Wesson K-frame in .357 Mag
    as a side-arm.....

    April 20, 2020 4:52 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    A Texan

    The US Forest Service did a study awhile back. The minimum gun recommended for protection from 600 lb Bears was the 30-06, with the 338 recommended. Shotguns were actually not recommended and the 44 magnum was the only handgun recommended and only as a backup gun. Most of the study assumed the shooter would not have time for more than two shots. Semi automatic handguns were considered too weak to be useful. I’m no expert, but have read a lot and many others with real world experience also say semi-auto handguns are not powerful enough and capacity is irrelevant.

    November 5, 2019 8:43 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Bill

      It's true! When a bear charges, you may only have moments to fire 1-2 shots. Bear Spray is great for nuisance bears, but will not stop an enraged bear. You need to carry a handgun in the most comfortable magnum load you can accurately fire.

      July 20, 2020 10:57 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Wesley

    Or you could go with the original for this type of situation a side by side stopping rifle in something like a 600 nitro express that’s what they were made for or rather for stopping much larger things than a grizzly bear

    October 13, 2019 10:26 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Joe

    You don't use buckshot for bear defense, that's terrible advice.

    October 11, 2019 12:01 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jake

      Agreed! You should be using Sabot slugs in your shotgun. Honestly, I wouldn't feel comfortable with anything less than a .300 Win Mag for a grizzly.

      May 2, 2020 2:50 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Albert

    Personally, I like the .22 LR; just shoot the 'guide' in the leg and run......feel bad about the guide....

    July 14, 2019 6:09 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Terry Meek

      Atta boy, Albert! Thinkin outside the box! Love it.

      January 29, 2022 3:55 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Henry

    I'm surprised you didn't mention an AR chambered in .450 Bushmaster. The ballistics are nearly identical to the .45-70, it's generally lighter, and has less recoil.

    May 19, 2019 7:48 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jerremia

    in all seriousness, DO NOT USE 10MM against bears.
    Read story of a guy on AllOutDoor who used a glock 10mm versus a bear, and the bear got on top of him even though hit the bear numerous times with 10mm.

    just get a handcannon is you want to protect yourself against bears, and not want to carry a long rifle everywhere.

    May 6, 2019 3:33 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Ghengis Fong

      Glad you said it... Just not enough power... Not enough power, brudda... What was that carbine that was chambered in .50 S&W? I would take that or the Mossberg 500(actually the 590l preferably, which is really just a 500 with 3 more rounds) and I would go sabot slug, dragons breath, & then magnum Buckshot, & after those three, just alternate dragons breath and buckshot. You get one shot at it with the sabot, then you light the day or night up with that 30 feet of magnesium or thermite flame, or whatever the hell that makes all of that fire! After being hit with that slug, or at least hearing the boom and then hearing that thing cut the air, then another boom that blinds it followed by it smelling its own hair burning, and then a face full of buckshot (with some cayenne and ghost pepper powder poured in for good measure), I don't l that beat all ever look at humans the same way again. I would be awesome to have some bear mace hooked up under the barrel, with a pressure switch activation... That would have to be the ultimate Bear defense weapon!

      May 24, 2019 1:30 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        JSB

        OR - just stay out of the bear’s territory?

        August 26, 2019 7:32 pm
        • Commenter Avatar
          SML

          its impossible to stay out of bear territory. What an idiotic comment

          September 19, 2019 1:37 pm
          • Commenter Avatar
            RLY

            Idiotic comment?? How's it impossible to stay out of bear territory? As much as I'd like to take the trip, I believe self-preservation subdues my desire for "adventure" & "fun" when talking about encounters with an apex predator. Man's hubris often interferes with his soundness of mind. Simply put, "don't be where you ought not be."

            October 9, 2019 12:45 pm
          • Commenter Avatar
            AM

            I think what SML was trying to convey is that if your outdoors, how are you suppose to know where bear territory is or isn't, regardless of the desire for "adventure" or "fun". Bears have been spotted in peoples backyards, so who knows where they're "territory" begins/ends.

            December 19, 2019 5:38 am
          • Commenter Avatar
            AM

            their not they're...i know i was typing fast

            December 19, 2019 5:40 am
          • Commenter Avatar
            NWSD

            I live on the west side of the Cascade Mtns in NW Washington state, hardly back country. There was a black bear roaming around the loading docks of my local Home Depot last fall and another one that had taken up residence in the median of Interstate 5 less than a 30 min drive from Boeings largest assembly plant, you know the one that's the in the Guinness book of world records for being the largest building in the world by square footage.

            April 8, 2020 11:12 am
          • Commenter Avatar
            Gunny

            I live in the Northern Rockies. 3/4 of my STATE is bear country. Cougar, wolf, moose country too. I wouldn't say its a "idiotic" comment. But certainly a ignorant comment.

            September 30, 2020 8:28 am
        • Commenter Avatar
          JTC

          I live in a semi-congested suburban, residential neighborhood 15 miles southwest of Hartford, CT. We regularly get bears walking through our yards. Somehow these “neighbors” were never mentioned by the real estate agents when I bought the house. Had the same experiences when I lived in congested NJ. Avoiding feeding them (purposefully or by accident) & we each let the other animal alone. :)

          July 25, 2020 6:03 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    John Ellison

    Concerning the pics, 870 or 500, a shotgun is a shotgun, brand doesn't matter. The shorter the barrel the better. Handgun is second best. The important thing here is to make sure you can use it proficiently. Bear attacks happen fast, typically unexpected and at very short range. No need for a 17 round magazine as you would be lucky to get off 3 shots before the bear is on you. Long guns, if you are hunting carry a long gun, if you have enough time/distance to use a long gun effectively you are typically far enough away to avoid a bear. He won't be charging from a mile away. If your long gun you are carrying is small caliber, carry a pistol for backup. 44 or bigger if you can shoot it. Big hard cast chunks of lead, don't bother with hollow points. Situation awareness is key, most bear attacks can be avoided, and who wants to kill a animal unless you absolutely have to. They stink anyway.

    May 5, 2019 10:10 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Ghengis Fong

      I don't know, I trust that Mossberg way more than A Remington. The only Remington I trust is the 700, and thank God they didn't screw with that. Their quality control over the past 20 years had been slowly going down... Down.... DOWN.....

      May 24, 2019 1:33 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Andy

    Buckshot is for thin skinned game. Good luck stopping the Devil himself covered in brown fur. You better greet him with at least one ounce slugs at the highest velocity you can tolerate. Alaskan brown bears average around 900 lbs of bone shattering fury.

    May 4, 2019 8:46 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Andy

    According to the Alaska DNR, they have never had a case of anyone successfully defending themselves against an attack from an Alaskan brown bear with ANY type of handgun. Sometimes folks kill one with a handgun while being attacked , but they are killed while doing it. That is not successful. It takes multiple hits with big rifle bullets to stop one.

    May 4, 2019 8:22 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jeff

      I agree 100 percent. ..I would stoke the shotgun with slugs..preferably a brenneke sp? Slug.

      May 4, 2019 5:26 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      John Ellison

      Simply not true

      May 5, 2019 10:13 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      David Vitale

      You have no idea what you are talking about or the person you asked is a terrible liar.

      ammoland.com/2018/02/defense-against-bears-with-pistols-97-success-rate-37-incidents-by-caliber/#axzz5rFOSeyt9

      June 18, 2019 5:26 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Jon A Walter

        Ammoland has since went back and updated the article with even more cases supporting the 97% success rate. It's more a comparison of caliber effectiveness. Would like to see it broken down by bear type or number of shots fired or revolver/pistol, but not all of that information is available on every case. Very interesting read anyways.

        https://www.ammoland.com/2020/03/update-handgun-or-pistol-against-bear-attack-93-cases-97-effective/

        April 9, 2020 9:09 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    John Dunlap

    A lot of options missing here. The main thing is, unless you are hunting (or hiking in Alaska) with the gun in both hands where it belongs, a long arm isn't practical. Bears are fast. If your rifle or shotgun is slung on your shoulder or leaning against a pack a few feet away while you're fly fishing or doing camp chores, you'll have virtually no chance of getting on target in time. A handgun in .44 Mag, .41 Mag, heavy loaded .45 Colt, 10mm, or maybe .454 Casull or .480 Ruger may be your best bet, carried in a holster you can draw from quickly. For the recoil sensitive, lighter loads in those guns or a .44 Special, .45 ACP, .357 or 9mm can do the job with the correct bullet and precise shot placement (meaning lots of practice). For shotgun level power, one of the new Shockwave styled 'firearms' carried on a single point sling or similar arrangement might work well, so long as it's secured so that it isn't swinging about dangerously or getting in your way.

    April 26, 2019 6:17 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Andy

      You'd best get to your rifle- or you're dead. A handgun is not going to stop a bear attack. If it does- you are unbelievably fortunate. Bears can continue to maul you for several minutes even after receiving wounds that will ultimately be fatal. You might stop a little black bear with a stiff load from a big pistol, but a big bear will tear you out of your frame after eating six big pills.

      May 4, 2019 8:26 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Jeff

        You are full of crap...read big bore revolvers by Max prassac...you are totally wrong about a big bore revolver "properly loaded" with had cast or monolithic solids not being. Just totally full of crap

        May 4, 2019 5:17 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        David Vitale

        You could not be more incorrect. Plenty of documented cases of handguns stopping brown and black bears.

        June 18, 2019 5:29 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Stan Robertson

      PLEASE stop posting that 9mm crap!

      September 30, 2019 12:26 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Pogo

    If you’re in camp just make some noise. Bang some pots and pans and have the bear spray with you at all times. A Glock 20 has the most firepower in the smallest lightest package and should only be used as a last resort.

    April 26, 2019 4:24 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Travis

    I have always liked the 45-70 as a camping gun. Now I use the AR platform with a 458 SOCOM upper. Any on your list would definitely take care of whatever wanders into camp. I like the articles from you guys.

    April 23, 2019 8:24 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jeff

      Good choice...I use 45/70 or 444 marlin backed up by Ruger Superblackhawk 454 Bisley, or Redhawk 45 Colt,or Superblackhawk 44 mag

      May 4, 2019 5:22 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        David Vitale

        Or Ruger .480

        June 18, 2019 5:32 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jerremia

      45-70 should def be a rifle calibre to own if you know you're facing bears....

      May 6, 2019 3:36 am
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