you’re out on that fly-in camping trip up in Alaska that you and your buddies have been planning for years.
After a day of some of the best fly fishing you can imagine, you head back to camp for dinner and drinks before bed.
Just as you start getting dinner ready, a great big grizzly bear stumbles into camp, looking for its next meal.
What do you do?
Do you stand your ground or run in fear? A firearm would certainly be handy in this situation, but what gun would you want?
In the world of outdoor travel and adventure, contact with the local flora and fauna is pretty much inevitable if you’re outside for long enough.
While the vast majority of animals have no interest in hurting humans (in fact, they’re scared of us), there are some animals that will attack when they feel threatened.
We understand how difficult it can be to find the right firearm for animal self-defense, which is why we’re here to help.
Coming up, we’ll walk you through some of the best firearms on the market for animal self-defense and talk you through the finer points of each gun.
Let’s get to it!
The Best Animal Defense Firearm Might Not Be What You Think
When most people think of an animal self-defense firearm, a pump-action shotgun or a rifle that packs a lot of punch probably comes to mind. This makes sense, of course, as pure stopping power goes a long way when you’re trying to stay alive in the face of a charging bear.
That being said, there are some handguns out there that can do the job just as well as a shotgun or rifle when in the hands of a trained and practiced shooter.
Thus, before we rush out to buy our next animal self-defense gun, we ought to take a good look at the pros and cons of each type of gun.
Shotguns Will Stop An Animal In Its Tracks
In the world of large mammal stopping power, the shotgun is king.
When loaded with 00 or 000 buckshot and shot at close range (which is typical with charging bears), a shotgun boasts some serious stop-you-in-your-tracks devastation.
Plus, when loaded with buckshot, you still have a bit of wiggle room in terms of accuracy, which is great for when you’re shaking a bit as a large animal comes running toward you.
The main drawback to a shotgun is that it’s big and heavy.
If you’re out four-wheeling, this might not be too big of a deal for you. The same is true for hunters, who might be looking for a gun that can double for hunting and animal self-defense purposes.
Hikers, backpackers, and fly fishers, on the other hand, might not like the idea of lugging around an extra 7-10 pounds of firearm and ammunition on the off chance that a bear decides to check you out.
That being said, when loaded with buckshot and fired at close range, you don’t really need to be an ace to stop a charging animal. Plus, shotguns make a whole lot of noise, which is great for firing off a warning shot to scare an animal away before it gets too close.
Rifles Offer The Accuracy You Need To Save Your Life
Rifles get their name from the “rifling” of their barrels, which is what made them superior in the early days of firearms. Rifling is essentially a set of spiraling grooves on the inside of a gun’s barrel, which causes a bullet to spin as is moves, giving it greater accuracy and stability over longer distances.
While you might feel stretched to accurately hit a target at 100 yards with a pistol or shotgun, an experienced rifle-wielder would have no problem doing so.
Plus, rifles shoot powerful rounds and have a high capacity, which is great if your first few shots aren’t as accurate as you’d like.
The main downsides to a rifle for animal self-defense are that it is large and heavy and can be harder to maneuver in tight spaces and that they require two hands to operate. But, if you’re already carrying a rifle for hunting, it might be a great animal self-defense weapon.
Don’t Count Out The Pistol
Alright, this might cause some dissent among the crowd, but even when faced with a large mammal, like a bear, the right pistol with a high caliber bullet in the hands of a trained shooter can do some serious damage.
Thus, we think they warrant some consideration as an animal self-defense weapon.
Pistols have some obvious advantages over the shotgun and the rifle in terms of maneuverability, ease of shooting, and compactness, which is important when you have to carry a gun over long distances. Sure, pistols aren’t as accurate as a rifle at long range, but since a charging bear can reach speeds upward of 30 miles per hour, you might be shooting at close range sooner than you think.
Especially if you train on one often, you may actually be more accurate with your favorite pistol than you are with that rifle you just bought. So, don’t count out that pistol just yet – it might be your favorite animal-defense gun.
Best Bear Defense Firearms
Now that you understand the advantages and disadvantages of different types of firearms for animal self-defense, we’ll look at some of the best guns for protection outdoors. Let’s get to it!
The Remington Model 870 Express is a classic pump-action shotgun with a whole lot of power. With a 4 round magazine capacity (plus one in the chamber) and a 26” or 28” vent-rib Remington choke barrel, there’s a lot to love with this shotgun.
A non-reflective matte-black metal finish and laminated wood stock feel and fits nicely but is durable enough for frequent use.
Even though the Model 870 Express is a bit heavier than some other shotguns out there, at 8lbs, this helps reduce the recoil, which is great if you need to keep your wits about you in an animal self-defense situation.
Sure, you’ll have to lug around it bit more weight than you might like, but if you’re already carrying a shotgun for hunting and unloading lots of rounds, you’ll really appreciate the reduced recoil anyway.
Plus, with XS Ghost Ring Sights, which are fully adjustable for wind and elevation, the Model 870 can help you rapidly acquire your target and place precise shots at a moment’s notice. The Model 870 can accept optics and sight systems, too, if you want even more precision.
And don’t forget, the 870 comes in a LOT of different flavors – there is almost certainly one that matches your needs. We covered a lot of the best models in our Best Remington 870 Models & Upgrades!
But the best part about the Model 870 Express? It’s highly affordable, which is great on the ol’ bank account. As one of the top-selling pump-action shotguns in the USA for more than 60 years, the Model 870 has become a veritable institution in the shotgun world.
The Model 870 Express gives some real bang for your buck, so it’s a solid option for an animal self-defense shotgun.
Oh, don’t forget to Clean and Lubricate your 870 though!
The Ruger Superhawk Alaskan .44 Rem Mag is a small but mighty revolver with some real stopping power. Any gun with “Alaskan” in its name, even a pistol, deserves some consideration for an animal self-defense firearm because nowhere in the USA deals with more bear encounters than the great state of Alaska.
Built with a corrosion-resistant stainless steel frame with extra metal in the top strap, sidewalls, and barrel mounting areas, the Alaskan .44 can handle some heavy duty ammunition without the weight and bulk of a long gun.
Despite having a barrel length of just 2.5,” the Alaskan’s barrel is cold hammer-forged with precision rifling for fantastic accuracy, shot after shot.
At 45 ounces, the Alaskan certainly isn’t light, but it packs the punch you need to stop a bear in its tracks. It’s important to note, however, that, as a revolver chambered for a .44 magnum, you can expect some serious recoil and muzzle flash with the Alaskan.
The Alaskan’s Hogue Tamer Monogrip does come with an internal recoil cushion to help reduce the stress on your hand after a number of shots, but it’s good to know what to expect before you pull the trigger for the first time.
That being said, if you’re cornered in a tight space at close range with an irritated grizzly, the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan is a great option. This compact and easy-to-carry revolver might not seem like an obvious choice for large mammal self-defense, but when loaded with .44 magnums, it’s got some serious firepower.
Originally designed for short-range encounters with large mammals, and, despite the shorter barrel length, can get the job done and place accurate shots in practiced hands.
What’s your take on the Alaskan?
A fan favorite for hunting guides in the northern parts of Canada and the USA, the Marlin 1895 is a quality rifle for short-range encounters with large predators. This lever action rifle features a 22” barrel with deep-cut Ballard-type rifling, which gives it good accuracy at short-range.
Chambered for a .45-70 Government round, the Model 1895 has a 4-shot tubular magazine that can put out some quality stopping power. The .45-70, although not too terribly popular today, was a frequent choice of the US Armed Forces when it first hit the market.
While it is a bit too big and cumbersome and has too steep a trajectory to be reliable at long distances, at short range, the .45-70 is bone-crushingly powerful.
At just 7lbs, the Model 1895 is a solid choice for someone who wants the power and accuracy of a rifle at short range but doesn’t want to carry around a brick.
It’s got enough stopping power, thanks to its .45-70 chambering, to neutralize threats from the biggest of the bears and it’s reliable enough that you can count on it when necessary.
You should also consider the Henry .45-70, we have a complete hands-on review of it!
The Mossberg Model 500 is your classic 12 gauge pump-action shotgun with an affordable price tag. Although it’s quite similar to the Remington 870, the Model 500 is a bit lighter at 7.5lbs, which is great for smaller folks who need the protection of a shotgun but don’t like having to lug around all that weight.
With a barrel length of 28 inches and a capacity of 5+1, the Model 500 is pretty easy to handle but also accurate on large animals out to around 40 meters. This is the perfect distance to stop a charging bear before it gets to close, so this is good news for those of us in a self-defense situation.
The main drawback to the Model 500 is that the recoil can bring a whole lot of force into your body as you’re trying to accurately place another shot on the target. This can be a bit unsettling for smaller people, so our advice is to practice, practice, practice with your Model 500 before taking it out into the field. The first time you shoot this shotgun should not be in a self-defense situation.
When loaded with buckshot, the Model 500 is a quality gun for self-defense from a large mammal at close range, but even if you’re not as accurate as you would’ve hoped, just the sound of the Model 500 is often enough to scare away the boldest of bears.
Ultimately, if you want a quality shotgun for animal self-defense but don’t want to blow your life’s savings, the Model 500 is a great option for most shooters.
Bolt-action rifles are largely interchangeable for the purpose of defense against wild animals, as long as you get one that is reliable – don’t go milsurp!
The Ruger American Predator is a great option because it fits everything you should be looking for, and it’s a model that we’ve used and trusted here at Pew Pew.
- Weighing in at 6.5lbs, you can hike with this rifle all day without feeling burdened
- You can find it for around $450, so you won’t break your bank
- It comes with a Picatinny rail installed so you can mount optics
- Available in .308, 6.5 Creedmoor, .243 Win, and more!
Primary advantages of a rifle is that you’re likely to already have one with you if you’re on a hunt. While you can fill a deer tag with smaller cartridges, if you’re in bear country then you might want to bring something with some more power just in case you need it.
A good rifle will give you range, power, reasonably quick follow-up shots, and won’t break your budget.
Check out the complete hands-on review of the Ruger American Predator!
The Verdict: What Firearm Should YOU Buy for Animal Self-Defense?
At the end of the day, you’re probably only going to be carrying one firearm for animal self-defense, unless you’re out on a multi-day hunting trip. From our point of view, it’s difficult to give you a single recommendation for the best animal self-defense firearm out there, because it really depends on your personal needs.
If you’re the type of person who can’t possibly imagine carrying a long gun around on a hiking trip, then you’re probably going to opt for a pistol like the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan .44 Magnum, which is a true showstopper at short range.
On the other hand, you want a gun that’s effective even if you’re not terribly accurate on the shot, the Remington Model 870 Express can stop the biggest of bears when loaded with 00 buckshot.
Finally, someone that’s already out and about hunting big game might opt for a powerful rifle like the Marlin Model 1895 Guide, whose .45-70 chambering can stop an attack before it starts.
Ultimately, however, the best firearm for animal self-defense is the one that best fits your individual circumstances. Happy shooting!
What do you choose for protection against four-legged threats? Let us know in the comments! Need more awesome wilderness information? Take a look at our Introduction to Deer Hunting!