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 tight situation. A good bear gun should be a part of your defense plan. That said, an ounce of prevention 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.
Give any bear that you encounter (especially a sow with cubs) 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 charging bear with a gun makes for some very challenging shooting. Because of this, you should practice shooting your chosen gun extensively.
If you use a handgun, then buy a high-quality holster and practice drawing it. Remember: even the biggest and most powerful bear-defense guns aren't guaranteed to stop a charging bear if you don't make a good shot. By the same token, even a smaller handgun will get the job done with good shot placements, good bullets, and a little luck. Keep reading to learn all about the 10 best guns for bear defense available on the market today.
Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan
Designed as 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.
That said, many people have used it to defend themselves against bears. As long as you practice, the Ruger Redhawk is a great bear-defense gun.
Smith & Wesson Model 629
Hunters have successfully used Smith & Wesson Model 629 for bear defense for years and this is probably one of the more common choices for dealing with a bear attack.
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.
Though .44 Magnum is often considered the minimum cartridge for a bear-defense gun, that isn't necessarily the case. This is particularly true if you're most concerned about defending yourself from a black bear as opposed to a much larger brown or grizzly bear. Especially when shooting hard cast or other non-expanding bullets, hunters can rely on a .357 Magnum. This cartridge's deep penetration is more than capable of stopping a charging bear with good shot placement.
Many people are also able to shoot 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, 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.
Add it all up and the Taurus Raging Bull is another good choice for bear defense.
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: it will absolutely do the trick if you place your shots properly.
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 probably better choices for those who live in areas with lots of grizzly or brown bears. However, the Glock 20 (or the semi-auto Glock 21 if you like the .45 ACP) is a very capable handgun for bear protection in black bear country.
Smith & Wesson 460V
Chambered in the high-velocity .460 S&W magnum cartridge, the Smith & Wesson 460V is both powerful and versatile. Since the .460 S&W cartridge is a longer and more powerful variant of the popular .454 Casull cartridge, the Smith & Wesson 460V may also safely and accurately fire .454 Casull and .45 Colt ammo. This gives the shooter a wide range of options depending on the bear threat and the shooting skills of the hunter in question.
The handgun comes with a 5-inch compensated barrel to reduce recoil. It is also of an appropriate size and weight to be a good compromise between being light and compact enough to comfortably carry, while being heavy enough to be able to accurately shoot.
If you're looking for a versatile, yet potent bear-defense gun, the Smith & Wesson 460V just might fit the bill.
Smith & Wesson 500
Chambered in the potent .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum cartridge, the Smith & Wesson Model 500 packs an incredible punch and is capable of quickly taking down any living creature. Smith & Wesson claims this is the most powerful production revolver in the world in their advertisements.
Originally designed as a hunting handgun, but it's also available with shorter 4-inch and 6.5-inch barrels to make it a more practical bear-defense gun. The S&W 500 also incorporates a muzzle compensator in order to tame the recoil of the powerful .500 S&W cartridge. It is more than powerful enough to stop any bear in its tracks with proper shot placement.
That being said, the sheer amount of power in this handgun can make it difficult for an inexperienced shooter to handle. This makes practice even more important with the S&W Model 500.
Mossberg 500 (or Remington 870)
The biggest drawback of a shotgun (or a rifle), is the fact that it is larger, heavier, and more difficult to carry than a handgun. Long guns are also out of the question for bow hunters pursuing deer and elk in grizzly country (like Wyoming and Montana), who are restricted to carrying a sidearm. All that being said, nothing can compare with the power and ease of use of a 12-gauge shotgun at close range.
Additionally, it is generally much easier to accurately shoot a long gun than a handgun. For this reason, a good pump action 12-gauge shotgun like the Mossberg 500 (or the Remington 870) with a short (24-inch) barrel is an outstanding choice for a bear-defense gun.
You should only use a firearm to defend yourself from a bear if you have no other option. However, if you're going to use a firearm, use the best ammo for the job. For a shotgun, this means using either buckshot or a slug.
Whatever you do though, don't be that guy that tries to use birdshot on a charging bear. All you're going to do is wound the bear and make it REALLY mad by doing that.
At the extreme close ranges that are common when shooting at charging bears, 00 or 000 buckshot is absolutely devastating and gives you a little bit of room for error, which can really come in handy when shooting at a rapidly moving target. On the other hand, if you want something that will penetrate better and give you a slightly longer range, use a slug which will also do a number on a bear.
Marlin Model 1895 Guide Gun
True to the name, the Marlin 1895 Guide Gun is a favorite of hunting guides in North America, particularly those in Canada and Alaska who operate in areas where there is a good chance of a bear encounter at close range.
A cousin to the lever action Marlin 336, the Marlin 1895 is chambered in the venerable .45-70 Government cartridge. With an 18- or 22-inch barrel, the big bore Marlin 1895 Guide Gun only weighs around 8 pounds, making it a powerful, yet handy, accurate and easy-to-carry rifle.
It's not a great long-range gun, but that's not what it is designed for. Mount a ghost ring rear sight, a red dot sight, or a low-magnification scope on it and you have an ideal bear-defense gun.
Ruger Guide Gun
A relative newcomer to the game, the Ruger Guide Gun is still a great choice for a bear-defense gun. It's available in .30-06 Springfield, .300 Win Mag, .338 Winchester Magnum, .375 Ruger, and .416 Ruger. However, the two Ruger cartridge variants are very compelling choices for those who may be encountering big, dangerous animals (like bears) at close range.
Those cartridges are designed to mirror the performance of the powerful .375 H&H Magnum and .416 Rigby cartridges, yet still be able to fit in a standard-length action. The rifle also has a thick recoil pad and comes with a removable muzzle brake to tame the recoil of these powerful cartridges. All versions of the rifle have a 20-inch barrel and weigh around 8 pounds, making it very easy to carry and handy to shoot.
Finally, the rifle uses a claw extractor (just like the Ruger Hawkeye series of rifles) to ensure each bullet is loaded and extracted reliably, which is essential for a rifle that might save your life. The Ruger Guide Gun is a serious rifle built to withstand and dish out significant punishment and is another outstanding choice as a bear-defense gun.
Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by John McAdams on his hunting blog. Follow him on Twitter @TheBigGameHunt or check out one of his Alberta bear hunts.