Across much of the country, fall bear season has been in full swing for a couple of weeks. If you are in Alaska or Canada, it has been open even longer. Regardless of where you pursue them, there are three main methods of hunting bear.
One of the most common questions I receive is, “What is the best caliber for hunting bear?” The answer—as is so common in shooting—is, “That depends.” For example… I grew up and live in the Midwest. In my home state of Wisconsin, there is a healthy population of bears. (Even healthier than was originally thought as new counting techniques show there are at least twice as many bears here as was previously believed.) The terrain the bears live in, however, is dense forest, swamp and marshland that cover the entire northern part of the state.
Spot-and-stalk isn’t really an option… unless you don’t want to see many bears!
Bait and Dogs
We use bait and dogs in Wisconsin. We set up most bait hunts with a firearm with a shot between 50 and 100 yards—even closer if you use archery tackle. Choosing a gun for most is rather simple. Your regular deer rifle is perfect. Make sure to choose and spend the extra money on a premium bullet such as Barnes X-bullets, Hornady GMX, or Nosler Partitions, to name a few. You want to ensure the bullet delivers accuracy and holds together when punching through a tough animal at close range. I’ve seen inexpensive jacketed bullets blow up on a deer under 50 yards. Bears are tough and their fur is long. At times, the fat will even seal up a hole from a bullet or arrow. You want to use a heavy-for-caliber bullet.
With dogs, your shot will be very close and you’ll probably have plenty of time to set up and deliver the coup-de-grais. Many prefer a shorter “brush gun” in this situation such as a lever-action .30-30 or .45-70. Both are ideal. As you move west into mountainous country, both the method and the necessary equipment for a successful bear hunt change.
Most western states and several Canadian provinces allow for spot-and-stalk hunting of bears. Western bears are typically found by hiking logging roads where they forage for berries and grasses that grow along the edges or by glassing open meadows from a distance that provide the same buffet but in larger amounts. In this country, while grandpa’s ol’ .30-30 will certainly kill a bear if you get close enough, it is not the ideal weapon to take a shot at 200 yards.
No, when you are shooting bears at a distance, a much better choice are guns that end in “um…” as in .300 Winchester Magnum, .240 Weatherby Magnum, 7mm Remington Magnum, .338 Winchester Magnum, and .375 H&H Magnum. These guns carry a great deal of energy over distance and still pack quite a wallop at 200 to 300 yards.
However, no gun is a good choice if you can’t shoot it well. Choose the heaviest caliber that you can put 5 shots into the bottom of a pop can at 200 yards and you’ll be just fine.
Hunting bears anywhere is a lot of fun. Not being the only thing at the top of the food chain is exciting.
Follow this advice and you’ll do just fine.