6 Best Bear Defense Guns [2019]

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Imagine this…

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.

Gaby Landscape

Just as you start getting dinner ready, a great big grizzly bear stumbles into camp, looking for its next meal.

To a Grizzly, you look like a nice snack.

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.

Gun Bed!
Gun bed! Just in case a grizzly breaks into your hunting cabin.

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.

MFW a bear is looking at me like I’m a Happy Meal

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.

Anzio Ironworks 20mm Rifle Compared to 50 Cal.
(left) Anzio Ironworks 20mm Rifle Compared to (right) .50 Cal. And no, they don’t make backpacker versions.

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.

Cannon Rifling
Cannon Rifling

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.

Henry .45-70 Lever Action
Henry .45-70 Lever Action, for when you really need something on four legs to be one-shot-stopped

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.

Super Redhawk Toklat
Ruger Super Redhawk Toklat in .454 Casull – stopping power.

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.

Gen4 Glock 20
Glock 20 gives you 15 rounds of 10mm – victory through volume of fire.

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!

1. Remington Model 870 Express

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.

Runner-Up Best Pump Shotgun
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

Remington 870 (15)

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.

Remington 870
For home defense or if you might be in the wilderness after dark, a weapon light is a good idea!

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!

2. Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan .44 Rem Mag

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.

at Cabelas

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

gun recoiling into shooters face
Not this much recoil, thankfully!

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.

Elmer Keith
Elmer Keith was the first person to kill a polar bear using .44 Magnum.

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?

Readers' Ratings

4.78/5 (18)

Your Rating?

3. Glock 20

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

Trijicon SRO, Glock 20, and box
Trijicon SRO, Glock 20, and box

15+1, polymer frame, unbeatable reliability, and the ability to mount red dot optics makes the Glock 20, Gen 4 a powerful and formitable contender for a bear defense gun.

at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

You should take a look at our complete Hands-on Review of the Glock 20!

4. Marlin Model 1895 Guide

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.

at Cabelas

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

Hornady Lever Revolution .45-70 vs 5.56
Hornady LEVERevolution .45-70 vs 5.56

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!

Henry .45-70 Case Hardened
Henry .45-70 Case Hardened

5. Mossberg Model 500

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.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

Mossberg M500SP
Mossberg M500SP

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.

00 Buckshot, Paracles Tech
Our top pick for 00 Buckshot is Federal Tactical LE

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.

6. Ruger American Predator

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!

Best Budget Bolt-Action
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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!

Really though – any lightweight, proven, bolt-action rifle that is chambered in a full-power rifle cartridge such as .308 Win, .30-06, .270 Win, or .300 Win Mag will serve you well.

at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

Enter the Ruger American Predator Rifle

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.

Dirty Harry and His .44 Magnum
Dirty Harry proved that the .44 Magnum is never a bad choice.

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!

27 Leave a Reply

  • 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.

    1 second ago
  • 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

    3 weeks ago
  • Joe

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

    3 weeks ago
  • Albert

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

    3 months ago
  • 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.

    5 months ago
  • 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.

    5 months ago
    • 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!

      5 months ago
      • JSB

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

        2 months ago
        • SML

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

          1 month ago
          • 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."

            3 weeks ago
  • 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.

    5 months ago
    • 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.....

      5 months ago
  • 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.

    6 months ago
  • 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.

    6 months ago
    • 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

      4 months ago
    • John Ellison

      Simply not true

      5 months ago
    • Jeff

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

      6 months ago
  • 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.

    6 months ago
    • Stan Robertson

      PLEASE stop posting that 9mm crap!

      1 month ago
    • 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.

      6 months ago
      • David Vitale

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

        4 months ago
      • 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

        6 months ago
  • 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.

    6 months ago
  • 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.

    6 months ago
    • Jerremia

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

      5 months ago
    • 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

      6 months ago
      • David Vitale

        Or Ruger .480

        4 months ago
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