Big Bear Guns

In the Land of the Midnight Sun, those who traverse the Last Frontier must choose to carry or not carry, and they must choose wisely.

Story and Photos by Larry Case

What are big bear guns that you would carry in Bear country? Here’s the short list with the full story below.

  • Remington 870
  • Mossberg Scorpion
  • Winchester Defender SXP
  • Benelli Nova
  • .375 H&H
  • .375 Ruger
  • Mossberg Patriot
  • CZ-USA .375 H&H

As I coast into what may be my sunset years, I have come to realize there are two kinds of people in this world. Some of us believe there are things out there that will hurt or kill you, and there are some who do not. A few of the things pretty high on my list include a summer lightning storm, a poisonous snake, a crazed terrorist and an 800-pound bear.

People on the other side of the aisle from me on this topic seem even more convinced that nothing in the animal kingdom would really cause them any harm. I beg to differ. A few summer’s ago, I spent a week with some folks from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (ADNR), United States Geological Survey (USGS), Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG), and others.

The purpose of this visit was to attend a class with those who work in that wild, beautiful part of our country known as Alaska to better protect themselves with firearms, primarily against bears. The class was held at the Grouse Ridge gun range near Wasilla, Alaska, outside Anchorage.

Alaska is popularly known as the Last Frontier, and deservedly so. It has a lot of wild country and, not coincidentally, a lot of bears. In all honesty, when people and bears meet up, it is not all sunshine and roses. The folks who created this class spend a good deal of time working in some of the most remote country on earth, and they know that a possible encounter with a black or brown bear is always part of the bargain.

As I see it, it all comes down to this. Hunters, hikers, fishermen and country has a decision to make, and it is much more important than “paper or plastic.” Are you going to carry a firearm, or not? Alternative “bear deterrent” in the form of pepper spray is also widely available, and the controversy of which is most effective – bear spray or firearms – remains alive and well.

The group of Alaskans that I spent time with a few summer ago landed decidedly on the side of firearms over bear spray. Some carry both, but they definitely want a gun available. As usually occurs in the gun world, if we decide we need a gun for some task, the question always arises. Which gun is best? Here are a few notes based on what I saw and learned on the firing line at the bear defense class in Wasilla.

Sam Naramore, author Larry Case and bear defense Instructor Steve Nelson on the shooting range.
Alaska Project shotguns (left to right):
Remington 870 Tac, Remington 870 Tactical,
870 Marine Magnum, Winchester SXP
Defender, Winchester SXP Defender Marine
and Remington Versamax.

THE 12-GAUGE PUMP shotgun has been the choice of most people for bear defense in Alaska for some time,” said Steve Nelson of Anchorage. Nelson has been teaching bear defense classes since 1978, when a USGS coworker was severely mauled by a black bear. “There are many reasons for the shotgun’s popularity. Shotguns and shotgun ammo are widely available, are generally less expensive than rifles, have magazines capable of holding several rounds, and with slugs they will deliver a big, heavy projectile,” he said.

The Remington 870 outnumbered other shotguns in this bear defense class, specifically a tactical version with ghost ring-type sights. This is a quick handling shotgun that holds seven rounds and delivers the 870’s rock solid dependability.

The Mosseberg Scorpion, built on Mossberg’s tried-and-true Model 500 action was also present, and this weapon has a lot of goodies to turn heads. An ATI-brand adjustable stock, along with sidesaddle ammo carrier, heat shield, and rails to install sights and other accessories could make this a very handy bear defense gun.

Also seen on the firing line in this class were two shotguns in the Winchester Defender SXP line, one the Dark Earth model, the other the Marine Defender. A Benelli Nova pump gun was also used, and one thing is for sure: Benelli shooters are very loyal to this shotgun.

Shooters on the firing line of the bear defense class.

EVEN THOUGH SMOOTH BORES came out ahead numerically on the firing line, alternate methods of bullet delivery were also well represented. “Shotguns are very popular for bear defense, but I am more of a rifle guy,” said Nelson. He has hunted big game all over the world, and in Alaska for most of his adult life.

He prefers big calibers for bear work. “Although I recommend anything .30-06 and up, I sometimes carry a .375 H&H or something in that category” he said. The Ruger Guide Gun in .375 Ruger got high marks from those in this class, as well as the Mossberg Patriot in the same caliber.

The CZ-USA turned a lot of students’ heads too, as it is capable of holding six rounds of .375 H&H, a definite advantage if you are going to face a bad-tempered grizzer bear. Many Alaskans who live and work in bear country sometimes want a handgun for ease of carry.
Ruger Super Redhawk & Taurus Raging Bull
There is always a trade-off, and the one involved with handguns is finding something powerful enough to take down big bears. Having said that, Alaskan guide Phil Shoemaker told us that he used a 9mm pistol to down a large brown bear in Alaska last summer.

Bulk Ammo In-Stock

The bear charged him and the fishing party he was guiding in dense brush. Some would say this makes a case for using smaller handgun calibers for bear protection, but I would argue that few of us have the experience with brown bears that Phil Shoemaker has. He’s been guiding in these parts for more than 30 years, so unless you are Phil Shoemaker or his equivalent, I would go bigger than the 9mm.

“Large” calibers usually means revolvers, and the most-carried weapon I saw was the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan model in .454 Casull. Now, there is no doubt that the .454 is a brute, but the point is with this round is, if you are proficient enough to hit something with it, you may very well put it down. Some shooters may want to go down a notch to the .44 Magnum, and the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan model also comes in this caliber.

The Taurus Raging Bull revolver in .454 was also on the firing line in this class. While the 6½-inch barrel model is a handful, it seemed to handle the .454 Casull rounds well.

Naramore counts hits. The gun is a Taurus Raging Bull in .454 and the holster is by Diamond D

THE BEST AMMO in the world may not bring down your aggressor, whether it is of the ursine family or human, but it will certainly help. For the shotgun, this class fired dozens of rounds of Federal Premium shotgun slugs, and I saw no problems with this ammo. They functioned every time. Some of the Alaskans in the class carry Brenneke slugs for confrontations with bears.

A new star on the horizon for slugs is the DDupleks-USA Steelhead solid-steel shotgun slug. This slug should allow for maximum penetration, and the testing done at this class showed the slugs shot through heavy brush with no deflection. You will be hearing more about DDupleks-USA slugs.

Hornady rifle ammo received major kudos at this class for the Dangerous Game Series ammunition in both .375 Ruger and .375 H&H. Federal Premium in the .454 Casull was used on the firing line, as well as a lot .45 Colt in the .454 guns.

So what is the bottom line? OK, I know what you are thinking: Which gun of each type, shotgun, rifle, and handgun came out on top? I prefer to avoid comparisons like these because there are so many variables involved (including shooter’s preference), but
since you are pressing me, here goes.

For the shotgun, the Remington 870 Tactical model came in first with the Mossberg Scorpion way up in the running. The Ruger Guide Gun was first in the rifle category and the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan model got the blue ribbon for the handgun. So there it is. I hope you are happy.

In conclusion, I will tell you something that most of you already know. There is a world of advice out there about what is gun is best for you for everything from shooting bad guys to prairie dogs. And when it is all over, and the plump lady has sung her song, the best gun for bear defense for you personally is the one you shoot the best, period.

The people who believe in unicorns and Sasquatch – you know, the ones who think no bear would ever hurt you – may not agree with all this, but I certainly do.

12 Gauge vs 20 Gauge

Which is the Better?

Everyone loves shotguns whether its for hunting or home defense, shotgun usually comes up first as the most preferred to have. Then, theres the talk of either having a 12 gauge or a 20 gauge, which is the better?

Probably the best answer will always be that “depends”. The 12 gauge will have more kick than the 20 gauge. To some folks they don’t mind or like the harder recoil. Here’s some basic info on both shotguns here.

12 Gauge

For hunters that prefer the larger shot size (4 shot) and heavier loads, go with the Mossberg 500 12 gauge. Good for the gobblers and turkeys that don’t move as fast as ducks.
There are some hunters that shoot with buckshot loads for the longer ranges. Then there are those that hunt small game like rabbits and squirrels with a 12 gauge. But, you may ruin the meat, sort of an overkill.
For home defense, the 12 gauge has proven itself in the law enforcement and military field.

20 Gauge

The 20 gauge is becoming more popular of the two, due to its versatility. The younger generation and new hunters seems to take to the 20 gauge because its a lighter gun. The shotgun shells are a little smaller, lighter and shoots higher density which is good for the quicker birds.

Some hunters like the 20 gauge because theres more room for error when you shoot a turkey with less steel shots. Whats common is hunters prefer to get in close to get their wild game for a higher percentage kill.

The 20 gauge is also good for the home defender as well. Contrary to popular belief, not all law enforcement officers use a 12 gauge for their shotgun. There are some toting a 20 gauge, its lightweight and semi-auto is necessary for real life danger situations. Using it for home defense is just the same and maneuverable.

Both of these shotguns are capable of what you want to do with it. Can pattern it at different distances for hunting or target shooting.
When it comes to cost the 20 gauge shell is less expensive than the 12 gauge shells. The 20 gauge is the better choice for target practice because of the less recoil. In the end, the choice is yours take one out and give it a run. Stay Safe!

Check out these Cool Gun Safes Click HERE to Check it out.


Bonhomie – Pedersoli’s new side-by-side is a modern shotgun with a classical twist, and it will be right at home for you at the range or afield.


Dedicated scattergunners have probably realized by now that, although I’ve shot their preferred choice of gun for many years, I’ve never considered myself a shotgunner. It’s not that I have anything against them; it’s just that for me, shotguns have always taken a backseat to rifles and rifle shooting, especially when it comes to using black powder. But after seeing, handling and shooting a fine Pedersoli 12-gauge double with twin outside hammers, I think my priorities might start to shift a bit.

Pedersoli calls this side-by-side their “Bohemienne,” or Bohemian.  Comparing it to the standards of today, this shotgun is definitely nonconformist, and it is good enough that we can refer to it as being somewhat irregular. It is a cut above many others, and for me it is delightful in many ways, especially with its double outside hammers.

I want to emphasize one point right from the beginning. In most gun reviews like this one, contact information is provided so consumers get more information about the gun can described, but all too often the dealers at local gun shops don’t receive guidance about how to stock them. But this fine shotgun is available through the Italian Firearms Group,
a partnership that supplies the U.S. dealer network with the best products of multiple Italian gun makers.

The Italian Firearms Group was established in 2010, and represents some of that country’s top firearms craftsmen: F.A.I.R, Sabatti and Pedersoli. By going directly to IFG, dealers can make rather quick contact to get wholesale pricing and other useful information in regard to getting firearms to sell.

This finely crafted firearm features fine engraving, color casehardening, browned barrels and blued trigger guard.

THE PEDERSOLI LA BOHEMIENNE is a striking piece, to say the least. It is a classically styled, double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun with double outside hammers. The 28-inch browned barrels have 3-inch chambers, and are equipped with interchangeable chokes at the muzzles. The pistol grip and the fore-end each offer checkering for comfort, a good grip and, quite honestly, beauty. And speaking of, the frame is color casehardened and features hand-finished engraving. Overall length of the shotgun is just under 46 inches, and it weighs about 7¾ pounds.

The hammers are rebounding, so they don’t have or use half-cock notches. Rebounding hammers are, in my opinion, a good safety measure. If the gun is cocked and the hammer needs to be returned to its “down” position, you just hold the hammer back, pull the trigger, and slowly ease the hammer forward while releasing the trigger. The hammers cannot go far enough forward to hit the firing pins unless the triggers are held back.

The La Bohemienne is right at home with modern loads and with steel shot.

In addition to that, the gun is also equipped with a sliding safety, the very same as on a hammerless double, so the gun can be put on safety while the hammers are in the cocked position. The sliding safety does not move to the safe position when the gun is opened.

This gun is not specifically a black powder shotgun, not like a muzzle-loading shotgun would be. Instead, the Bohemienne is a finely made modern shotgun with modern steels in the barrels, so it is right at home with modern loads and with steel shot. While using steel shot, however, the changeable chokes should be used with only cylinder or improved-cylinder at the muzzles because the steel shot is simply not as compressible as lead.

A cloud of black powder smoke obscures the target, but it was a hit. (JERRY MAYO)

At the same time, in my most humble opinion, this gun is such a classic that it had “black powder” written all over it, and my choice for shooting it immediately fell to black powder loads for ammunition. That ammunition came from Buffalo Arms Company in northern Idaho. They offer a variety of shotgun loads with black powder, and the one I selected to use the most was loaded with 3 drams (82 grains) of black powder under 11/8 ounce of size 7½ lead shot.

This close-up of the side-by-side’s muzzles shows the changeable chokes.
THE BLACK POWDER SHOT SHELLS from Buffalo Arms Company are rather classic themselves. They are loaded in good old-fashioned paper hulls, and are nicely star-crimped at the mouth. Inside, these shells are loaded with what we might call “old style” components.

Dave Gullo, owner of Buffalo Arms, described the loads this way: “An important feature to our shotgun ammo is that it’s loaded with nitro overshot wads and fiber overpowder wads, not plastic wads, so that the shooter is not needing to scrub plastic out of their barrels when they are done shooting.”

At first, I couldn’t help notice what I will call rather heavy trigger pulls. I know that “rather heavy” is a relative expression. I’m most comfortable with the very lightly set triggers on muzzle-loading rifles and my favorite Sharps, so perhaps I wasn’t the best prepared for what this shotgun required. When I called for my first bird on the sporting clays range, I followed it until it was out of sight and the gun hadn’t fired. For my next try, I was more prepared.

The trigger pulls were actually quite fine, breaking very sharp and crisp, while remaining a bit on the heavy side. I realized that one reason for those trigger pulls being “heavy” is so the gun can be fired while both hammers are cocked. In this way, with its associated recoil, the jarring of one barrel going off will not release the second hammer. In other words, this gun will not “double” on you, which could be a memorable experience you wouldn’t want to have.

After I “caught up” with the gun, the good hits began to come one after the other. As you can guess, that’s when the fun really took over, and using this shotgun became a delight.

Our muzzle-loading club has a target known as the “slice of pie” that is used for a particular match with flintlock smoothbores during our Trade Gun Frolic. The slice of pie is used in a luck shoot where each shooter gets just one shot at 25 yards while using buckshot. It’s hard enough just to get some hits on the paper, and a shooter must be lucky to get any score at all.

This shows the “slice of pie” target with the six holes from the buckshot load.
Just to give this Pedersoli 12-gauge a chance, I took one shot at the slice of pie while using 00 buckshot. This was done with the Pedersoli’s left barrel, with the modified choke, and six hits are seen on the target (see photo at left) but with zero for a score. That shot was just another part of the fun.

There isn’t a whole lot more I can tell you about the Pedersoli La Bohemienne that wouldn’t simply be echoes of what I’ve already written. It is a very fine classic double-barreled 12-gauge, priced in the neighborhood of $2,100. And with the black powder loads, it provides classic shotgun shooting at its best.

For more information about Pedersoli, the La Bohemienne, and other finely crafted shotguns, visit To learn more about the Buffalo Arms Company’s black powder shotgun loads in 10 and 12 gauges, visit ASJ