Firearms and Ammo Tips for Bear Country
In 1978, Cynthia Dusel-Bacon was severely mauled by a black bear in the Yukon wilderness of Alaska. Cynthia lost both arms as a result of the attack but went on to recover; she did not have a firearm with her when the attack occurred. Like it or not, the possibility of a bad bear encounter is a fact of life in wilderness areas.
Hunters, hikers and fishermen who travel in bear country have a decision to make: Are you going to pack heat? If the answer is yes, which gun is best?
I am more of a rifle guy myself, but there is no doubt the 12-gauge pump shotgun has become the most popular bear-defense gun, said Steve Nelson from Anchorage, Alaska. Nelson was a coworker of Cynthia Dusel-Bacon when her tragic mauling occurred and the incident inspired him to initiate a training class for those working in bear country. He has been teaching this class since 1979 and has shot and killed four bears in DLP situations (defense of life and property).
With Nelson's help and others in his bear-defense class, I tried to determine some of the best choices for firearms in bear country. Here is how it shook out.
Shotguns and Rifles
Shotguns with short barrels and long magazines get the nod in bear country and Remington's venerable 870 is the most popular. Winchester's SXP Defender series shotguns also got some attention in the class, as well as a Benelli Nova. Go here for the Realtree APG version.
Rifle or ghost ring-type sights were preferred.
While Nelson advises anything .30/06 and bigger for a rifle caliber, he and others in the class were partial to the .375 H&H or the .375 Ruger. Ruger is popular in Alaska and the Ruger Guide Gun rifle got the most dances with those in the class.
A surprise was the popularity of the CZ-USA Safari Magnum; with five in the magazine and one in the spout it held the most amount of ammo, a big consideration for a bear gun.
The Ruger SuperRedhawk Alaskan Model in .454 Casull is the choice for many who work in bear country. (Also available in .44 Magnum.) The Taurus Raging Bull revolver is also available in .454.
Gun Tip: The Bottom Line
If pinned down to the first gun choice in each category, I have to go with a Remington 870 Tactical model for the shotgun, Ruger Guide Gun for the rifle, and the handgun is the Ruger SuperRedhawk Alaskan.
In the end the best bear defense firearm is the one that you handle and shoot the most effectively.
The best firearm in the world is useless without good ammunition.
In training Steve Nelson's bear-defense class fired a lot of Federal Premium shotgun slugs and they performed flawlessly.
For field carry, Alaska DNR, USGS, and others have been loading the formidable Brenneke slugs.
New on the horizon in shotgun slugs is the DDupleks solid-steel slug, which should supply maximum penetration.
Hornady's Dangerous Game Series ammo received kudos for the .375 H&H and .375 Ruger.
Buffalo Bore .454 Casull ammunition was popular with those in the bear-defense class.
Editor's note: This Realtree.com post was first published July 25, 2017.