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.

Best Bear Defense Handguns

It’s best to be mindful when you’re out in the wilderness, especially when in bear country. Which means you should be armed.
When you head into bear country, you must accept that you are no longer at the top of the food chain. Luckily, most bears usually do not want any trouble and will leave the area as soon as they detect you.
However, this is not always the case and you should be prepared to defend yourself if you get in a life-threatening situation.
Even though you may think of having a bear spray, a better equalizer is a good bear gun and it should be a part of your defense plan.

That being said, having multiple layer of security is worth more than a pound of cure. By using your brain and taking a few basic precautions out in the woods, you can dramatically reduce your odds of being attacked by a bear.

Common sense should kick in when you encounter any bears, especially a sow with cubs, give them plenty of space. Make lots of noise so that any bears in the area know that you are there, and carry bear spray.

Firearms should only be used as a last resort to defend yourself from a bear.
A charging bear can move extremely fast and only a hit on the bear’s central nervous system (brain or spine) is guaranteed to stop a bear in its tracks.
Even on the biggest bears, the central nervous system is not a large target, so stopping a determined charging bear with a gun makes for some very challenging shooting.

Even though you may be carrying a powerful hand cannon, doesn’t mean you’re proficient with it when its time to use it while under stressful conditions.
Because of this, you must practice drawing and shooting your chosen gun extensively. Remember: even the biggest and most powerful bear defense guns are not guaranteed to stop a charging bear if you don’t make a good shot.
Here are some picks for the best bear defense handguns that are available on the market today:

  • Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan

    Designed to be a practical and easy-to-carry gun for self-defense against large predators, the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan is a great choice as a bear defense gun. Available in .44 Magnum, .454 Casull, and .480 Ruger, the Super Redhawk Alaskan packs a lot of power into a small package.
    The revolver is available with a 2.5-inch barrel which makes it very compact and easy to carry. However, the short barrel comes with a price of increased recoil, muzzle blast, and slightly reduced power. Even so, the gun still packs quite a punch and has been successfully used by many people to defend themselves against bears. As long as you practice with it extensively, it is a great choice.
  • Smith & Wesson Model 629

    The Smith & Wesson Model 629 has been successfully used for protection from bears for decades.
    Chambered in .44 Magnum, the stainless steel 629 is a potent and versatile handgun. With 2 5/8-inch, 3-inch, 4-inch, 5-inch, 6-inch, 6 1/2-inch, and 7 1/2-inch barrel lengths available, there are plenty of choices for those who want to balance portability with the advantages of a longer barrel. If you’re looking for a good bear defense gun, you could do a whole lot worse than the venerable Smith & Wesson Model 629.
  • Ruger GP100

    Though .44 Magnum is often considered the minimum cartridge for a bear defense gun, that is not necessarily always the case. This is particularly true if you’re most concerned about defending yourself from a black (instead of grizzly or brown) bear. Especially when shooting hard cast or other non-expanding bullets, the .357 Magnum can be relied upon for deep penetration and is more than capable of stopping a charging bear with good shot placement.
    Many shooters are also able to shoot both faster and more accurately with a .357 Magnum than a .44 Magnum or other larger cartridge. With this in mind, a high quality handgun chambered in .357 Magnum, like the Ruger GP100, can be a very effective bear defense gun.
  • Taurus Raging Bull

    While the Taurus Raging Bull is available in a wide variety of barrel lengths and chambered in .44 Magnum or .454 Casull, the .454 Casull version with a 2 1/4-inch barrel is a nasty blend of power, versatility and portability.
    Since the .454 Casull is a longer and more powerful version of the venerable .45 Colt cartridge, the Raging Bull may also safely and accurately fire .45 Colt cartridges, adding to its versatility. Additionally, the revolver features the famous red “Raging Bull” backstrap on the grip, which considerably tames the gun’s recoil, making it another good choice for bear defense.
  • Glock 20

    Some people consider it almost sacrilegious to recommend a semi-automatic handgun chambered in 10mm Auto as a bear defense gun. However, the 10mm Auto is no slouch and if you place your shots properly, it will do the trick.
    The Glock 20 has several big advantages that make it a great bear defense gun: it’s accurate, it gives the shooter the ability to take rapid follow-up shots, it has a large magazine, it’s incredibly reliable, it’s easy to shoot, and it’s easy to carry.
    That being said, there are better choices for those who live in areas with lots of grizzly or brown bears. However, the Glock 20 is a very underrated black bear defense gun.

What other beard defense guns would you recommend?, Let us know below.

Sources: Ruger, Smith&Wesson, Glock, Taurus