Bear hunters have similar needs to most big game hunters, to take down their quarry with a single shot. (You may have heard that bears like to charge when they're angry. Or startled. Or shot!) So hunters need a reliable, efficient rifle and a cartridge to pack enough power to do the job right. Handguns in big magnum calibers work great for a close-range defensive bear gun, but for a bear hunt, the following rifles and ammo combinations make for solid bear rifles and dangerous game animal guns.
Hunting Rifles for Black Bears
Black bears run pretty small for bears and are relatively easy to kill. With black bear hunting, you still do not want to deal with a wounded bear. First of all, black bear intelligence is infamous. You don't want them chasing you, much less hunting you. They clock in at about 250 pounds, and hunters usually take close-range shots. In most circumstances and locations, a deer rifle with deer-hunting ammunition makes a pretty solid bruin hunting rifle.
But black bears are still bears, so it doesn't hurt to err a bit on the overpowered side when making an ammunition choice. Shot placement is also crucial, especially when shooting out of a treestand. Make sure to study up on bear vitals before venturing into bear country.
Henry X Model in .30-30 Winchester
If hunting black bears with hounds, the classic .30-30 Win is hard to beat, and a Henry All Weather rifle is relatively easy to carry on a strenuous, long trail. The gun is exceptionally rugged for this kind of thing. You can stick with the open buckhorn sights since shot distances will be short, or you can upgrade to a different set of fixed sights, a rail, and a red dot--choose ammunition with a bullet that expands quickly.
Henry All Weather Side Gate in .44 Remington Magnum
This classic and powerful revolver cartridge is taken to a new level when run through a carbine. The rifles that fire them, like the X Model or the Henry All Weather, are compact and light, but a solid .44 Magnum load with a tough bullet will drop a black bear quickly. Additionally, you can carry a bear defense revolver in the same hard-hitting caliber, so you only have to haul one type of ammo.
Ruger American Range Rifle in .450 Bushmaster
This hard-hitting straight-walled cartridge makes an excellent bear gun inside 150 yards, so it's great for hunting black bears over bait. If you live in a straight-wall cartridge state like Michigan, you can use it as a tremendous deer-hunting gun. In the Ruger American bolt action rifle, the whole package weighs only 5.5 pounds without an optic, making it a pleasure to carry into the woods. In .450 BM, the gun has a 3+1 capacity, and the cold hammer-forged and threaded barrel offers supreme accuracy in a compact brush gun.
Springfield Armory SAINT Victor AR-10 - .308 Winchester
It's undeniable that the ever-versatile .308 Win is the best all-around black bear cartridge, just as it is for most quarries in North America. Rifles chambered for .308 are still compact, and there are plenty of AR-10s out there for fans of semi-autos. In regular times, ammunition is widely available, and its ballistics are about the same as the .30-06. Expect muzzle velocities of 2,400 to 3,000 fps.
The nice thing about .308 over .30-06 is the reduced recoil. Paired with the affordable, lightweight, and endlessly customizable Springfield SAINT AR-10 rifle, it's a perfect bruin-killing combination.
Hunting Rifles for Brown Bears
It would be best if you ratcheted things up a notch when talking about brown and grizzly bears. Especially when talking about the bears of Alaska, some of the largest in North America. These are dangerous animals; you need a powerful cartridge and a dependable rifle for reliable kills. Shots at these massive animals need to inflict maximum tissue and bone damage.
Generally, what you're looking for in a brown bear cartridge is powerful and launches something close to a 250-grain bullet. The .35 Whelen, .375 H&H, .338 Win Mag, .300 Win Mag, .416 Rigby, .416 Remington Magnum, 458 Winchester Magnum, and .458 Lott are all popular brown-bear chamberings. When it comes to bullets, you want a premium soft-point like the Nosler Partition, Swift A-Frame, Barnes TSX, Hornady DGX Bonded, or the Federal Trophy Bonded.
Though some hunters don't like the idea of lever guns or the old school cartridge, a lever-action rifle in .45-70 Government makes a sound brown bear gun that's compact and easy to use.
Ruger Hawkeye Alaskan in .375 Ruger
Ruger's rifles are known for their reliability and dependability, and the company's controlled-feed Hawkeye Alaskan bolt gun in the powerful .375 Ruger is just about a perfect brown bear hunting rifle. The chambering packs a lot of power into a standard-length action, keeping the gun relatively compact and light. The Alaskan comes with iron express sights on board, which is essential for any bear gun.
Winchester Model 70 Alaskan in .375 H&H
When it comes to bolt guns, it's harder to find a weapon with a better reputation than the Winchester Model 70. The Alaskan model comes in hard-hitting calibers, including the .30-06, .300 Win Mag, .338 Win Mag, and .375 H&H Magnum.
The controlled-feed action won't bind up when it counts, and the beastly .375 H&H will quickly put down a big bear. The .338 Winchester Magnum is a popular brown bear cartridge choice for large bruins, especially among Alaskan guides. This model comes with open sights and a black walnut stock, making for a handsome hunting rifle.
This article was originally published on October 1, 2021.
Enjoy the outdoors?
Don't miss a story! Sign up for daily stories delivered to your inbox.