Camping & Survival

Best 6 Handguns for Bear Country

best bear country guns

Before I get into what guns are great for bear country, we really need to discuss the competing ideas of what is important in that arena. There are two main camps.

  • The first is, carry a huge cannon that will do massive damage. Those who are in this camp believe that a bear encounter usually happens at very short range. This means you get one, maybe two shots and they need to count. For these people, a large-bore revolver is usually the “best” option.
  • The other camp believes the best choice is to carry a bear gun that you can get off many rounds with quickly and accurately. Their theory is that you should use a gun you are comfortable with and that many entry wounds do more damage than any single massive wound. This mindset tends to come from the idea that many people freeze up when they utilize a firearm with a non-practiced manual of arms.

Both groups have anecdotal “evidence” to support their concepts in handgun choice and they also have some truth in each argument.

I will state categorically there are choices that are not the way to bet. I am not limiting that to very underpowered rounds like .22 LR and .25 ACP.

Even the ubiquitous 9mm Luger is not a good choice, especially when using hollow-point rounds.

What works and penetrates well in a thin-skinned human will not do nearly the job on a much thicker-hided bear, with much thicker bones and a much deeper vital zone.

If you do choose to run a 9mm in bear country, at least choose heavy for caliber, truncated cone/wide meplat hard-cast projectiles.

However, these projectiles are still too narrow for massive damage and still unlikely to penetrate the 18+ inches to reach the vitals of a bear.

They do have much more potential to shatter bone and they will retain their entire weight while tumbling. This creates more damage potential than a JHP, JSP or FMJ projectile.

Underwood .460 S&W Ammo
Underwood makes extremely powerful .460 S&W ammunition that is great for use in your bear gun.

Large-Bore Revolvers:

1. Smith and Wesson 460V

Smith and Wesson call this pistol the most versatile large-bore revolver, and there is a lot of truth in that statement. The five-inch gain-twist barrel provides for an excellent trade-off between velocity and handiness.

The cylinder can be used for .460 S&W, .454 Casull or .45 Colt rounds. By having these three options available, the cost to practice is much lower, which translates to a much more refined manual of arms for the shooter.

The .45 Colt rounds are much (over 50%) lower in recoil, which also aids in practice. Running 100 rounds of .45 Colt in a day is a very doable and fun thing, as well as being perfectly serviceable for lesser threats.

The .454 Casull is a marked step up and is vastly superior in stopping power to the older choice, .44 Magnum. For the ultimate in stopping power from this platform, the .460 is yet another quantitative step up.

It does, however, come with significant recoil and muzzle blast penalty, even in comparison to the .454 Casull.

The standard-pressure .45 Colt recoil will feel like a .380 ACP from a full-sized gun due to the size and weight of this revolver.

Ported barrel for recoil reduction, 61 oz. weight unloaded, five-round capacity, stainless frame and cylinder.

2. Ruger Super Redhawk – .454 Casull

This Ruger revolver is a tank of a firearm, so much so that there are higher-pressure loads that are only safe to shoot in it. I also like this revolver in the five-inch variant for the same reason as with the Smith.

It is a good mix of utilizing the gunpowder and being handy. This also has the option of using .45 Colt rounds and even the high-pressure option listed in the chart below.

Although, not up to .454 Casull statistics, it is a significant uptick from standard .45 Colt loadings.

The standard-pressure .45 Colt loading will recoil like a soft to moderate 9mm from a full-sized GLOCK.

Non-ported, 47 oz. weight unloaded, six-round capacity, stainless frame and cylinder.

Ruger Super Redhawk bear gun
The Ruger Redhawk is an incredibly powerful bear country gun.

3. Taurus Raging Judge – .454 Casull

The Taurus is usually a significantly lower-priced option for similar capability. The Raging Judge is capable of running standard .45 Colt rounds, as well as .454 Casull.

They offer five-inch and 6.5-inch options, which are fairly handy for anti-bear usage. Both have top relief porting to help fight muzzle rise and mitigate recoil.

Similarly to the Ruger, .45 Colt rounds will feel like a moderate loading of 9mm from a full-sized GLOCK or M&P.

Ported, 51 oz. (five-inch) or 53 oz. (6.5-inch) unloaded, five-round capacity, stainless frame and cylinder.

4. Smith and Wesson Model 29 – .44 Magnum

This Smith comes in tons of variations as it has a 50+ year production history. My choices for barrel length would be five, six or 6.5 inches.

These lengths use up a significant percentage of the powder and are still fairly quick to access with the correct holster.

By dropping down to a .44 magnum, you are certainly giving up some power, but you are gaining a fair amount of controllability and (in most cases) an extra round.

Like the more powerful rounds mentioned above, bullet construction is very important. Using a JHP or a JSP very much defeats the purpose of deep penetration and the ability to crush thick bones.

This is a classic bear gun and is sure to get the job done.

Ported or non-ported, depending on the barrel +/- 45 oz, six-round capacity, stainless frame and cylinder.

Caliber Projectile Weight Velocity Muzzle Energy
.45 Colt 225-Grain HC 960 fps 460 ft/lbs
.45 Colt 255-Grain HC 860 fps 410 ft/lbs
.45 Colt 300-Grain HCGC 1250 fps 1090 ft/lbs
.44 Magnum 270-Grain LFNGC 1475 fps 1160 ft/lbs
.44 Magnum 340-Grain HC-FN 1425 fps 1530 ft/lbs
.454 Casull 300-Grain WFNGC 1650 fps 1820 ft/lbs
.454 Casull 335-Grain WFNGC 1600 fps 1920 ft/lbs
.454 Casull 360-Grain WFNGC 1500 fps 1800 ft/lbs
.454 Casull 400-Grain WFNGC 1400 fps 1740 ft/lbs
.460 S&W 260-Grain FNHC 2000 fps 2300 ft/lbs
.460 S&W 300-Grain FNHC 2060 fps 2820 ft/lbs
.460 S&W 360-Grain FNHC 1900 fps 2860 ft/lbs

Semi-Auto Pistols:

Please note there is a huge step down in power when you chose to carry a semi-auto for your bear gun. There is also a huge step up in capacity.

I live solidly in the camp that you will (at best) get off two to three rounds in a bear encounter, but there is something to be said for not having to buy a bear gun that costs +$1200.

A gun, that (if we are honest) doesn’t have a lot of use outside of bear country or bragging rights. With that in mind, here are the two best (common) choices.

Also note there are a lot more options and I am picking ones to highlight that are fairly common.

5. GLOCK 20/40 MOS

These are very similar guns. The GLOCK 40 is the long-slide 10mm Auto option and an optic option, where the 20 is the full/duty-sized firearm.

I greatly prefer the longer slide of the 40. The 6.02-inch barrel provides a bit more velocity as well as helping to mitigate recoil slightly better.

That extra 1.41 inches of barrel does make it a tad slower to draw, but let’s face it, I like almost anything in a long slide. Having an optic on the 40 is also a great thing.

Most people are much faster acquiring the dot compared to aligning sights, especially in a panic situation.

That might mean the difference between two and three shots, or proper placement of the first shot. This is a great choice for a semi-auto bear gun.

Yes, GLOCK also offers a 29 (subcompact 10mm). It is a tough gun for most people to shoot and that just isn’t an additional handicap you want when facing an angry bear.

Non-ported, 30.69 oz. (G20) or 35.45 oz. (G40) mag out, 15 + 1 capacity, polymer frame and steel slide.

GLOCK 20 and 1911 Bear Gun Pistols - bear country
The GLOCK 20 and 1911 both make for a great semi-automatic option for bear country.

6. .460 Rowland Conversions

GLOCK 21, 1911 with a Five-Inch or Six-Inch Slide, or a Springfield XDM – All with a .460 Rowland Conversion

These conversions are for a round that ups the pressure of .45 ACP from under 20k PSI, to roughly 40k psi. Using the 255-grain hard-cast bullet, it generates roughly 50% more velocity and double the energy of the venerable .45 ACP.

With just under 1000 ft/lbs of energy from five-inch barrels, you are closely approaching .44 magnum energy. Running a six-inch barrel will get you about 50-100 more ft/lbs of energy.

The GLOCK and Springfield offer more than double the capacity (13+1 and 14+1) of any .44 Magnum revolver, and the 1911 with an aftermarket mag offers 50% more capacity.

Caliber Projectile Weight Velocity Muzzle Energy
10mm Auto 200-Grain WFNGC 1300 fps 735 ft/lbs
10mm Auto 230-Grain WFNGC 1120 fps 641 ft/lbs
.460 Rowland 255-Grain HC-FN 1300 fps 960 ft/lbs

Not 9mm, but If You Do…

If you are going to insist on carrying your GLOCK, Smith, H&K… 9mm Luger in bear country, please do so with heavy for caliber projectiles, perhaps Seismic Ammunition.

Seismic offers a 185-grain 9mm round. This has a lot more mass behind it and will have a much better chance of shattering tough bear bones and continuing to penetrate.

Caliber Projectile Weight Velocity Muzzle Energy
9mm Luger 124-Grain HC 1125 fps 330 ft/lbs
9mm Luger 147-Grain HC 975 fps 310 ft/lbs
9mm Luger 185-Grain Seismic 950 fps 380 ft/lbs

Remember although the 124-grain bullet’s velocity gives it higher energy than the 147-grain bullet, that advantage dissipates quickly when pushing through dense tissue.

In most cases, the 147-grain bullet will shatter bones better and penetrate deeper. The 185-grain bullet should penetrate almost as well a 147-grain HC despite being designed to expand.

The extra 38 grains of weight will tend to balance the inertia vs. the expansion drag and provide a wider wound path. The 380 ft./lbs. does not even equate to .45 Colt loadings, but this might be the best choice if you choose to be under-gunned.

Conclusion: Best Bear Country Guns

Bear country encounters are much like concealed carry encounters. The need for your firearm is exceedingly rare, but when you need it, you need it RIGHT NOW and you need it to stop the threat.

In my opinion, carrying a 9mm in the bear woods is pretty close to carrying a .22 LR for self-defense. Yes, it is better than nothing, but it really is more about feeling good than being properly prepared.

What do you carry when in bear country? Why? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (86)

  1. From someone living in the area with highest Grizz population in lower 48. It’s bear spray left hip, glock 20 or 40 on right hip or gunfighter chest draw. One must practice with this config so it’s second nature, draw, spray then fire if needed. The fire in this technique is rarely required. Also 15+1 give some safety net as I’ve heard horror story’s of panic on a charge and the 6 rounds not being enough. This is all secondary to awareness and common sense. The attacks up in these parts are typically people missing those key elements.

  2. I have a 454 Ruger with a 9.5 in Barrel. The loads I have is good for almost 2000 Ft/Lbs ME. I have a deposit on a Smith and Wesson 500, because the 500 has loads pushing 3000+ Ft/Lbs of ME. If I have to stop something NOW, I want the most horsepower possible.

  3. Bear spray seems to work on nuisance black bears. However, grizzly bears are short tempered and easily angered. Bear spray will not stop a determined bear and it seems to piss off grizzly bears. Living and hunting here in Idaho grizzly country, you find out right-quick what works and what doesn’t work. An avid big game hunter, I carry both bear spray for nuisance bears and a .45 colt revolver for pissed off bears. I prefer a revolver because I don’t have time to deal with a gun jam. I could carry a much bigger caliber revolver, but I’m most comfortable and accurate with my .45 colt. … It gets the job done. It seems like most folks discuss bear calibers being able to put a bear down in 1 or 2 shots. When defending myself against an enraged bear, I empty my revolver into the bear hitting every kill shot placement presented. Its important to know where to hit a bear for a kill shot no matter what you carry.

  4. For those worried about carrying a heavier caliber pistol because of the extra 2-3 lbs or so, try a little diet and lose those 2-3 or so lbs. You’ll be in better shape and probably likely better defended. Not trying to be offensive, Just saying ….

  5. For those who rely on bear spray, carry 2 or 3 cans. Some bear-spray encounters have required a whole can. A discouraged bear can come back to haunt you, and there may easily be more than one bear in the woods. Some bears, like some people, are immune to spray. Best to hit in mouth while he’s inhaling; spray on a bear’s fur does nothing. A bear is mostly fur. Statistics about spray vs lead are misleading because not limited to bears in the wild, but include those acclimated to human interaction in parks. Also, afford a few cans to practice deployment and stream control – you don’t want to be learning during an attack.

    I didn’t see 500 Linebaugh, 475 Linebaugh or 480 Ruger mentioned. These are excellent cartridges. They needn’t be loaded to the top end, because a hard-cast lead bullet will penetrate well at lower velocities and open a larger-than-bore wound channel. Energy is misleading; you can’t energy a bear to death, with 460 Weatherby or even less a heavy-loaded 500 S&W. Brain is best. Keep shooting as long as you can.

    Bears aren’t stupid. If one sees you waving a stick at him, he’ll bat the stick away. If your stick is a rifle or a shotgun, he’ll try to bat that away too and often succeeds. A pistol isn’t so far out front, and can be tethered to you with a lanyard. You may stand a better chance at killing your bear if you can hang onto your gun, and you may be better able to hang onto a pistol. Same goes for spray, though I don’t know of any spray with a lanyard.

    No real gain in having a bear encounter. Don’t think the woods are yours. And remember that bears have things to defend: food caches, territory, and cubs. A grizzly will always try to kill you for disturbing his food cache, but may be satisfied with teaching you a lesson over cubs, if the cubs run away from you. If a bear decides to hunt you, look out, because he’s a well-equipped pro and you’re a poorly equipped amateur. You won’t know he’s coming…

  6. To stop a mature brown bear you have to break two legs. No hand gun,will do that. I am a retired guide in Ak and spent much time in bear country and have taken both black and Brown.

  7. Summer 1971 I handled a LOD case for a Lt fresh back from Nam who carried a Ruger Super Blackhawk fishing salmon outside Fairbanks AK. Shortly after the 3 separated on the stream there were 3 very rapid shots. They found a large Brown spread like a rug and after a quick search realized he was under it, rolled the bear off and were about to start compressions when he spontaneously breathed and generated a pulse. X-rays showed they would have killed him – his ribs were in pieces.
    F&G requires hide and skull to be recovered. They did the next day and found 2 slugs spread on the skull the kill shot had entered the eye socket. I would have been doing a death report if they had been body shots even if the bear had died.
    Most Brown attacks here occur when the bear is startled and close. Others are sows with cubs or bear on a kill.
    They found the compressed grass where the bear had been sleeping less than 10 yards from where they found them.
    Lt told me that he was sure that if he had been out of combat for a couple weeks more he would not have gotten more than 1 shot if that. He turned, saw it coming and reacted.
    Blacks are known to stalk humans here while Browns will generally avoid humans and noise is a safety device that promotes separation. We call them “bear bells” for a reason.

  8. Hi, article and follow on comments appreciated! Anyone have any comments on the .40 S&W round for the lower 48 hiking?
    I own each of the 3 main Glocks in .40 S&W and curious if anyone uses this as a bear or hog weapon of choice. Also would higher grain bullet be the main choice (180 grain over a 165 grain)?Appreciate any feedback!

  9. John Bibby,
    This was a great article.

    Are the 3 gun competitions ran by USPSA or the IDPA?

    Have you ever considered doing a CTD blog post for proper equipment for 3 gun competition (ie, ammo, protective and safety gear, holsters, fire arm and caliber selection, best progressive reloading machines and related equipment, organizations to sign up with to participate in the sport, live fire commercial practice target [paper,steel, best companies and target style/designs to get better at the sport] and live fire drill selection, dry fire practice routines to optimize performance, etc.)?

    All the best,

  10. i have fired on many bears the beat gun i ever use on a bear was a smith wesson 500 a head shot will drop him right where he stands

  11. To John Bibby: I have to add a bit of credence to your ballistics lists for the calibers you list, because what is there is not complete, and hence a bit misleading. I am a bit of a ballistics expert, in that I have created a very large and detailed ballistics file that covers 35 handgun and 25 rifle calibers.

    1) The 45 Colt varies from the very weak Cowboy load all the way up to 1,344 ft. lbs. of ME (BB K/20), and not the 1090 that you list.
    2) The .44 Mag round goes up to 1,533 ft. lbs. (BB 4D/20), as you essentially show.
    3) The 454 Caull goes up to 2,040 (Grizzly) and 2,238 by Swift.
    4) The most powerful round I show in my table for the .460 S&W is 2,799 ft. lbs. (Grizzly).

    From this we you can see that the max .44 Mag load is 14% more powerful than the max .45 Colt, and that the .460 S&W is out of this world power wise! But NOT the Rowland 460.

    Also, converting a pistol to be able to shoot .460 Rowland is somewhat of a joke, unless you just have to have a semi-auto pistol. Both the .45 Colt and the .44 Mag are way more powerful. In addition, the .357 Mag goes up to a power of 907 ft. lbs. (by PPU).

    And finally, the 9mm is also a big joke. But there is a 9mm load you did not mention, and that is a 115gr from Winchester Active Duty that has a MV of 1,320 fps, and delivers a ME of 445 ft. lbs. But the bullet is so small, I doubt it would have any affect on big game, unless you were close enough and that it wen right into the heart. And this may not be enough either!

  12. Thank you for you article. Very informative. I know you can’t test all but I carry the 9mm +P rounds in my Glock 9mm. It has much higher velocity and I can get more rounds off on target in a short period of time. When camping in Bear country I have my 12guage slugs or .308 rounds. Thank you again.

  13. I shot my Ruger old Vaquero 44 magnum loaded with 300 grains into a clay berm. The tunnel was 45 inches deep and the width of the hole was fist sized. Recovered, the soft point was mushroomed, brass jacket intact. The bear would have to be over 3 and a half feet deep not to see daylight through him, at high center mass. But the problem with bears is their tremendous speed and short term ability to absorb wounds. You’d be lucky to get off more than two shots when they charge.

  14. Excellent guidance on ballistics and bear stoppage choices. While big bore revolvers are the top tools for stopping a very large bear, I’m in the lower 48 and black bear avg 250-350, large males can reach 600 lbs. I noticed you jumped from 40 to 9mm, but didn’t look at 357 sig? (Eye roles). If I compare the ME of 40, 357 sig and 9mm, the 40 moves heavier grain loads better, no argument. But the 357 sig can regularly deliver 584 flbs of ME with a 125 grain bonded FMJ or hard cast lead. (Handgun ammo performance specs on this beats the 9mm’s 380-450 ME easily, I like the bottle nose cartridge design as well, loading issues are extremely rare in my 8 years of using this caliber. It’s not a big bore revolver punch, but it’s (vehicle) penetration specs are why the Secret Service uses 357 sig. Maybe something for sports men & women to consider as a lower 48 woods gun?

  15. the redhawk/suprredhawk will handle heavier than 300gr hard cast bullets-the cylinder is long enough
    That 7.5″BFR 45/70 ought to be decent too.For a long gun,how about a Marlin 1895GS Guide Gun 45/70 with twilight aperture receiver sight?
    I can’t find those Brenneke slugs in marxist NYState.More reasons to get to a non democrat state.Have gotten sticker and water shock[lack of]in MT.Am open to referrals.Retired and not” Warren Buffet”.

  16. Idiots talking like there are no grizzlies in the lower 48 have never been to Montana, I have grizzly scat in my back yard right now..lmao

  17. ruger redhawk in 44 magnum 7.5 inch barrel front bandolier holster. very hot handload 300 grain lbt heat treated solid at 1200 fps. i practice a lot with this load and my holster draw is extremely fast. i have tested the penetration of this load in wet newspaper and it exceeds 30 inches!

  18. This has been said by others, but a 12ga. shotgun is the way to go. I carry a Remington 870 with an 18″ barrel loaded with Brenneke Special Forces Maximum Barrier Penetration slugs. These things can penetrate a car’s engine block and will stop anything. It’s a 1 3/8oz. alloy slug. When I’m fishing, and away from the shotgun, I have a S&W 460V loaded with Underwood .454 Casull 360gr. hard cast loads in a chest rig. The key is to practice A LOT. The first time I had a bear move on me, I couldn’t believe how fast he was.

  19. I carry a 1911 that I machined from the ground up for .460 Rowland, in the streets and in the woods. For bear, hard-cast 255gr or 300 gr with loads carefully worked up to maximum velocity with Quickload, a chronograph, and careful examination of the brass for pressure signs.

  20. To answer a few questions

    I didn’t include the 500 S&W because the 460 is a skinnier bullet and has the same or better energy with many of the loads. This means it will will (should) penetrate better.

    I didn’t include all of the others as I wanted an article that covered guns mainstream likelihood of owning them. Most people have never heard of the BFR and most people will shoot it once. If you can shoot it and afford it, I am sure it will work well. Same thing with the Linebaugh…

    Someone else said basically the same comment I would have on the 357. Run 200 gr Hardcast and hope for the best. They will penetrate decently and have decent energy, but… you are still quite a bit below 44 magnum and you might get two shots… If you own one, it is certainly better than your Glock 26.

  21. Lower 48, envision a Harley doing 40 mph, the Harley does not want to tear you apart and kill you…the grizzly has this intention, choose accordingly.

  22. FMJ for penetration. Soft points will flatten on a grizzly skull and under penetrate a body shot. Save the last one for yourself.

  23. I own two S&W .357 magnums….a model 19 with 6″ barrel and the other—a model 66—in the 2 1/2″ version. Would either of these two revolvers be worthy of carrying in bear country where sightings are rare, or should I consider the caliber too light? I like the model 19 because of its lower recoil and its accuracy, and if there is a cartridge/bullet combo that might work for bear defense, which would you suggest?


  24. I own two S&W .357 magnums….a model 19 with 6″ barrel and the other—a model 66—in the 2 1/2″ version. Would either of these two revolvers be worthy of carrying in bear country where sightings are rare, or should I consider the caliber too light? I like the model 19 because of its lower recoil and its accuracy, and if there is a cartridge/bullet combo that might work for bear defense, which would you suggest?


    1. I carry the S&W .357 Model 686 7 rd.
      I load it with 200 gr. Hard Cast for bone breaking penetration.
      The key is being able to get the weapon back on target for follow up shots, which takes longer (for me) with a .44 or larger.

    2. Neil, I also own a .357 Mag revolver. Mine is a Ruger Blackhawk (single action), with a 6.5″ barrel. But .357 is not powerful enough to take down a Brown bear who is charging at you. I have an Excel file where I list ballistics for handgun and rifle ammo, where each entry is a link to a web page where you can buy the ammo. So, my list now covers 34 handgun calibers, with over 1,700 entries. In this list I show that the max ME for the .357 Mag is 900 ft. lbs. In today’s handguns, this is not a lot, but a lot more than almost any semi-auto handgun. I also own a Ruger .45 Colt, and this ammo tops out at about 1,300 ft. lbs., which is probably not enough still! The .44 Mag tops out around 1,550 ft, lbs. Both of these are serious loads, and kick like mad. But it still may not be enough, especially when your life is on the line and a big bear is charging you.

      So, I and and the author of this article think that more power is needed, especially a lot more than any .357 round can provide. These calibers are the following: (1) the .454 Casull, which I show topping out at an ME of 2302 ft. lbs., with many available rounds in the 1800-1900 ft. lbs. (2) the 45-70 with has several rounds with an ME of 2400, and some at 3600 (this may be from a rifle). This is not listed in the article. (3) the 460 S&W with a top ME of 2800 ft. lbs. (which may also be from a rifle), and many lesser ones between 2200-2400 ft. lbs. (4) the .500 S&W whose ME tops out at 2700 ft. lbs.

      But keep in mind that the guns/rounds that seriously kick make it hard to shoot again at the moving target in a timely manner, so you may just get one round off at a charging bear with these! I would say that the best trade off would be either the .460 S&W or the .454 Casull. One very nice property of these two is that these are exactly the same caliber bullet at .452 inches, which means they can shoot ammo of this same caliber, which includes the .45 Colt, which is much lower in cost than either the .460 S&W and the .454 Casull.

      Vincent (08-10-2020)

    3. so get a BFR 45/70!My 357Mag is a 4″ GP100[>=170gr cast],the 44mag and 45Colt are Redhawks[>=300gr cast].I’d like to get a SuperRedhawk 5″in 454Casull

  25. I’m assuming you are thinking of Grizzlies, and this is well done if that is your intention. It’d be interesting to get your thoughts on Black bears, which is much more common in the 48 contiguous states!

  26. All your recommended choices, especially the wheel guns, are great for BROWN bear country. However, if you’re in most of the lower 48, where you’ll only encounter BLACK bears, a lower-power, less-expensive, easier-to-fire choice might be better. IMHO, in this case, a 44 magnum or even a 6″ 357 magnum might be a better choice- again, in combination with the proper ammo for the purpose.

  27. I believe you are leaving out one of the best options by skipping the SW500 Magnum. For people who are not intimidated by the recoil it’s amazingly accurate. I don’t shoot mine daily but once every few months and accuracy is never an issue.

  28. I carry a Desert Eagle 44 mag. I’ve had it for decades and it’s easy to shoot for a big gun. It has 2 recoil springs and is accurate because it’s not flying all over the place from recoil.

  29. I don’t expect to encounter a bear in my area — Florida/Alabama line. I carry a Sig p226 in sig .357. I have a 5” ported barrel by fire dragon. I was surprised .357 wasn’t on the list. I am interested in comments of .357 and large game like bears. Please inform. Other than .357, I’ll show up with .223 or .308.

  30. How about a .357sig I have a Glock are these rounds good ? I know it has a good punch ! Just curious ? Very new at this . feel stupid asking ?

  31. I’ll stick with my Taurus mod 608 6.5” ported 8 shot .357mag with the liberty civil defense….. if that won’t do the job then I don’t need to be there

  32. If I were walking around in Grizzly country I’d leave the boat anchor at home & carry a can of bear spray that weights in at less than a pound.

  33. I use and have a 454 Casull, 335 gr. WFNGC. I also have and use a Magnum Research model 19 Desert Eagle, Semi Auto, in 50 AE, 300 gr. Solids. I carry this on the hip or shoulder holster. For those that put their trust in a 9MMS or even a 10mm, you have to remember what you are up against. From Grizzlies down to black bears. These animals are quick and fierce, especially a Sow with Cubs. When I was young my father gave me an article about 3 hunters in Alaska, the bore ran through 2 of the hunters who emptied their full clips of 30-06 into him and finally the 3rd hunter downed him to where he was down to his last round. That’s 14 rounds of 30-06, the F&G counted in the hide. As the editor said, you will probably get 2 and maybe 3 shots. Make sure you have the heaviest caliber and weapon you can control.

  34. Buffalo Bore .357 magnum 180gr LFNGC. Almost 800 ft-lbs in my King Cobra with a 6” barrel. Plus its an easy gun to shoot and with 3 speed loaders I can handle a small army. Don’t ever go deer hunting with it. I blew off both shoulders and destroyed half the meat. Stick with a .308.

  35. I carry a Ruger Super Blackhawk in 44 magnum with a 5 1/2 inch barrel. My ammo is a Garrett Hammerhead 310 gr, hard cast, gas checked cartridge. I prefer the single action because I’m on a horse most of the time. If the horse rears up when I shoot, I’m not going to mistakenly fire a second round.

  36. 500 S&W, 8 3/8, already had the occurance with a large ANIMAL. Single shot heavy grain did the trick. I dont understand why it isn’t on the list, guessing its a bear to handle when in fact I shot 100rds, full power reloads and didnt feel any pain. I chose this gun because if its accuracy and ease of use along with its 1400fps capabilities on chrono 350 gr. Massive wound channel and a full large trunk freezer.

  37. I carry the S&W 686 (.357) 7rd. loaded w 200 gr. Hard Cast.
    Because being able to get back on target for follow-up shots is important when a Griz is “bearing” down on you.

  38. One hunting rifle caliber 3006, one handgun Ruger super Red Hawk 44mag and one large can bear spray.

  39. Good, well written article!
    Please consider Buffalo Bore ammunition. Good enough for Phil Shoemaker (Alaskan grizzly bear guide) to carry in 9mm, and successfully use, ending a charge, good enough for me.
    Check their site for the story. Also their write up of ‘bear country’ ammo.

  40. Admitted: I don’t live in bear country…
    But we have a serious wild hog problem here. And getting to the age where running and climbing are not viable options any longer simplifies my choices.
    I carry a Charter Arms Mag Pug XL chambered for .41 Rem Mag…
    Full power factory ammo in a 23oz gun takes some getting used to, but I figure it is easier than getting used to an extended ICU stay, or worse.
    Definitely not for everyone, but it is also my favorite CCW option.

  41. In the vein if trying to inform, I wish to add a few comments here about the ‘Top Five’. While I have absolutely no issue with the top four, the 10 mm is out of place here. The .357 Mag has rounds with more power than the max listed here for the 10mm. Also, the .45 Super has just as much, and even more power than the 10mm listed here. So, IF a semi-auto HAD to be listed, then I would go with the .45 ACP Super handgun. This can deliver 694 ft. lbs of ME (Buffalo Bore (185 gr at 1300 fps-delivering 694 ME), and 771 ME from MagSafe with 68 gr at 2260 fps, delivering 771 ME. This means buying a .45 ACP semi-auto gun that can handle Super 45 ammo, or just beefing one up so it can!

    Secondly, the ammo listed for .45 Colt is not the hottest .45 Colt ammo made, so comparing this with the others is a bit misleading. I own a Ruger 45 Colt Convertible, so I can shoot most of the hot 45 LC rounds, and any 45 ACP round, including the 45 Super. I have shot the Buffalo Bore 45 LC (item 3C) that has an ME of 1214, but they make an even more powerful load: the 3K with a bullet of 260 gr bullet firing at 1500 fps or 1526 (depending on handgun and its barrel length), delivering 1299 or 1344 ME. This is now in the 44 Mag high end range.

    Third, the 454 Casull ammo and specs do not seem to be correct, unless some of the ballistics are from a very long barreled handgun or a rifle. My research shows than none of the 300 or 335 gr bullets in this caliber are shot at such high speeds. The max I see for the 300 gr bullet is 1650 fps, delivering an ME of 1813, and the 335 gr bullet being shot at a max of 1550, delivering an ME of 1787. However, the max ME I shoe for the 454 Casull is a bullet of 240 gr fired at 1900 fps, delivering an ME of 1924. This is very close to the max listed here in this article for the 454 Casull, which is good, but not with he bullet loads given in the list herein. If there are such cartridges with these ballistics (weight & matching speed), I would like to know the manufacturer and the model.

    Lastly, my ballistics data does support your 460 S&W ammo ballistics. Grizzkly makes a 300 gr bullet, traveling at 2050 fps, which delivers an ME of 2799! What an awesome round, and what kick it must have also! And to back up my stats, I have a ballistics Excel file where I have been accumulating data from the internet over the past 10 years on ammo, mainly so I can buy at the lowest prices, or get the exact power I am looking for. This file has grown over the years, and now covers ballistics for 34 handgun calibers and 19 rifles. Each entry in this file is for a particular round that you can buy online (hot linked), and ballistics for each and every entry, including bullet type and price per round. It now has 1,767 entries for handguns and 589 entries for the rifle calibers. This file is listed in order first by caliber, and then within that by manufacturer, and then within that by bullet weight. All the handgun data cones first, followed by all the rifle entries. From this, you can tell I am more handgun oriented than rifle. I send this out (for free) to about 15 people every few months.

    Vincent (08-08-2020)

  42. Everyone I know in Alaska carries a .22lr for bear encounters EXCEPT when in the bush alone. The philosophy is that it is light and easy to carry. The key is shot placement: you shoot another member of the party in the leg because you don’t have to out run the bear, you only have to out run one other member of your party!

  43. I like my super redhawk .454 casull, 5” tokalot. Lots of recoil with bear loads but it’s a little lighter then the S&W 460 for carrying all day.

  44. I’d go with my S&W 629 stealth hunter in 44 magnum. Probably use my favorite ammo Hornady 240 gr XTP. However, hate to say this as I’m a firm believer in firearms for almost any self defense situation, but in reality a pepper spray designed for bear is the best option for defense. That’s what I always carry in bear country. Quick to deploy, wide spray and will effectively incapacitate the bear. Just need to avoid any spray being carried back toward you by the wind. Remember, brown bears are very fast and the vitals are a very small target on a charging grizzly!

  45. I prefer the Dan Wesson .445 super mag. With “black coated” FNL 300 gr bullets, it penetrates 3/8 steel plate at 50 yards.

  46. M.R. B.F.R. in 475/480. No one can argue the power of either choice when properly loaded to the task and properly delivered on target. Google Ross Seyfreids elephant encounter with one o’ Ken Bowens first examples of the 475. 8.5′ down an elephants spine passing through the skull and brain is impressive in any universe!

  47. I would have expected the s&w .500 magnum to make the list. I live in Alaska and carry one every time I go into the woods.

  48. All when I was talking with guides for an Alaska or Canada hunt and they were telling me to get a bear tag, not because I wanted a bear but because it reduced hassle if the bear forced me to kill it none of them were happy with pistols to stop bears. Basically their comments came down to save the last round for yourself because you are going to have really pissed off that bear, he may die but not before he gets to you unless it is a really lucky shot.

  49. When I moved to Alaska in June 1996, most fellow Alaskan hikers preferred short barreled shotguns with slugs for bear defense. Not wanting to lug a shotgun while with walking with/occasionally carrying two small kids, I purchased a DE AE50 for the job. At the time, it was the most powerful handgun available and, in my estimation, the only one with the potential to take out a charging grizzly or brown bear before becoming an afternoon snack. In 3 years we saw many bears while out and about, but only had to fire the Deagle once (into the ground) to convince a menacing sow that she wanted no part of us.

  50. When riding my dirt bike in big bear country (mostly Colorado) I carried the short-barrel Ruger Alaskan .454 Casull in a zip up bag mounted on the front of my chest protector. Not the best place for rapid access, but better than nothing. Carrying anywhere else on my body made the gun too prone to loss or damage in a fall. It was always loaded with bear rounds, usually around 300g. It was, and is, difficult to shoot, especially now that I am older. It is still a great gun when loaded with .45 Long Colt rounds and very pleasant to shoot. When out in bear country in my Jeep I carry a 12 gauge pump shot gun on a sling loaded with slugs. I might by another .454, but if I do, it will be a long barrel (ported) and I’ll wear itin a side holster.

  51. I’ve always carried my Colt Trooper 357 magnum. Did everyone forget about 357? I was under the impression the round was designed for taking down a bear. That’s why I carry it. Certainly not a wimpy load.

  52. I have a Freedom Arms 454, but when I am in Bear Country, I carry pepper spray. It is lighter and no risk of collateral damage.

  53. Come on. You know the reasoning for carrying a 22 in bear country. You shoot the knee of the guy you are with so you can leave him for the bear while you get away. 🙂

  54. I agree with you article on bear hand guns, But you failed to list one very important caliber. The 41 magnum. I own several 41 Mags as well as 10mm and I prefer the 41mag over the 10mm for bear , but of course that is just one mans opinion. But I believe its worth mentioning.

  55. I realize my choice isn’t for everyone, I use a…shortened 12ga Coach gun. I always bring a variety of shells, for bears I utilize 1oz rifled slugs. My “rifle” is short enough to carry it slung next to my pack. I enjoy the versatility. Switching from extra light bird loads to rifled, HP slugs.

  56. Why no mention of the venerable 480 Ruger or 475 Linebaugh? I know you just can’t pick up the Linebaugh stuff off the shelf but the big Ruger is usually not a problem. The Hormady 480 std load sends a 325 gr projectile 1350 fps and 1350 lb ft of m.e. and Buffalo Bore has more stout loads. Ruger offers the 480 in both Super Redhawk and Super Blackhawk.

  57. I will take my S&W Model 629 in 44Mag any day, if traveling into Bear Country. Shot placement and bullet selection is the key.

  58. When I lived in Alaska, the only pistol I had at the time was my Springfield XD .45 caliber…so that’s what I took when I was out fly fishing on streams where the bears got very close at times. But they were busy fishing as well.

    If I ever went back to AK, I would definitely get something in the .454 Casull category. In my opinion… a 9mm or equivalent round isn’t going to do anything but piss off the bear.

  59. I left a comment about the S&W Mod 29 not being stout enough for heavy loads and stated that another “model” should be chosen. What I should have said, was another “make” of .44 magnum.

  60. For the mountains I carry a Kimber 1911 10mm, 8rd mag 5″ barrel in shoulder holster and also my conceal carry by choice a Kimber 1911 SS 45ACP 10rd mag. 4″ barrel.

  61. I carry A Ruger Super Redhawk. Either the Alaskan in 454 Casull or the Toklat in 454 Casull. So far I haven’t been able to get a new Alaskan in 460 Ruger to eject without resorting to a mallet, despite the best efforts of an excellent gunsmith, when shooting the only 460 bear loads I can find. It will be sent back to Ruger for them to look at.

  62. I would rather choose a model other than the S&W 29 in .44mag as they cannot take the heavier loads.

  63. You recommend the Smith and Wesson model 29 over the Ruger Redhawk in .44 Magnum? The Redhawk can handle more powerful loads than the Smith

  64. I prefer my 50A&E Desert Eagle with a 6″ ported barrel. I have shot completely through a 14″ pine log and 4″ into another pine tree behind it with a hornady 300 gr hollow point bullet at 25 yards. I bought this gun specifically for when I’m walking in the woods when bears are active. I am confident it would get the job done. It does require practice which can get expansive.

  65. I have never seen a bear shot with any handgun round, but as a former Army medic on a SAR/ Recon Team overseas and an ER nurse with 30 plus years in busy metro ER’s, I have seen hundreds of people shot with handguns. Many of them were shot with 9 mm and survived. I have also taken care of people who shot someone with a 9 mm and were then killed by the person they had just shot before that person also succumbed to their injuries.
    Now, I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I am not an offset spatula parading around as a real cutting tool. Considering how many people I have seen who were not stopped dead in their tracks by a 9, I found it hard to accept that anyone who is using a 9 mm to stop an angry bear will do little more than make an already irritated ursine really upset and guarantee that when Search and Rescue arrives, there will not be anyone to Rescue but there will be just the Recovery of a mauled and very dead shooter.

    1. Seems like the standard 7.62×25 is only btwn the 380ACP and 9mmx19.At best equivalent to a light 38 Special…..may be if you shoot the bear through the mouth or eye.I’d go for a bit more,even more than 9mm 147gr[again a light 38 Special].In an auto 10mm or 45 ACP or 460 Rowland,in a revolver:
      >- stout 357Mag or bigger[44mag,41Mag,45Colt,454Casull,45/70]

  66. I carry a Magnum Research 45/70 with a shortened barrel. Underwood 225g Xtreme Hunter loads in both my Marlin 45/70. Small enough for controllable recoil. Big enough for Cougar or Black Bear.

  67. If you are going up to the S&W 460 – the same frame and a little less weight will let you carry the 500. I shoot my 4″ version single handed at 100 yards (handloading 440g WFGC at 1300fps) and it is plenty accurate + a lot more bullet penetration…
    I agree that shooting the firearm regularly is a must, but I find my 500 easy to load for and comfortable to practice with – though certainly not on an indoor range…

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.