I’m thinking you shouldn’t be looking for anything in a brown bear rifle other than schmutz. Anyway, according to Layne Simpson’s column in rifleshootermag.com, you’d best blast a brown bear with a rifle using a McMillan stock (in the Griffin & Howe pattern) boasting a Lilja 23 1/2 inch barrel chambered in .358 Shooting Times Alaskan. (That’s an 8mm rem. mag necked to .358 dontchaknow.) Oh wait. Simpson also shot a bear with a pre-production Remington Model 700 in .300 Ultra Mag. Ursine-elimination-wise, Simpson also keeps a Marlin 1895 in .50 B&M Alaskan handy. In fact, most of Simpson’s supersonic soliloquy is about bear hunting cartridges rather than rifles. Bottom line: “bullet performance and placement far outweigh everything else in importance.” As it always does.

43 Responses to “What to Look for In A Brown Bear Rifle”

  1. What I really appreciated most about the referenced article is that he would be happy with a 30-06 loaded with the right bullet and emphasizes the proper shot placement, which can get the job done vs. the biggest baddest magnum only shooting the bear in the butt.

    Plus, remember that the really big magnums (like the 300 ultra mag) can be really really expensive to shoot – about $100 per 20 rounds last time my hunting guide who owns one checked. Good luck spending all that dough on a rifle just to learn what ammo it likes much less be able to practice to be efficient with it.

  2. All those big bore, butt kickin’ magnum cartridges, and then he says that a .270 or a 30-06 is perfetly suitable to the task as, after all, bullet placement is everything. Really?? Then why should I punish myself with the big guns? I am also confused as to why you would need a scope to take something as big as a bear at 25 to 50 yards. Like Really?

    • According to the article on rifleshootermag.com which this post is citing, Mr. Simpson shot one of his bears at 319 yards. That seems like a perfectly good application for a large scope such as the on in the picture.

    • There’s another reason involved, which non-american hunters will often cite — american gun culture defaults to “over-gunning.” That’s why you’ll constantly hear about people “needing” 308 and 30-06 for deer, and “needing” .338 and the magnums for elk, moose, etc. For decades, 6.5 mm killed more moose than probably any other cartridge. The “lowly” (by american standards) 6.5×55 has allegedly killed every big animal on the planet including numerous elephants. The modern .260 Rem cartridge is the modern functional equivalent of the old 6.5×55, and the .260 gets dismissed routinely as “undergunned” by Americans who don’t know better.

        • 243 is a terrific round.
          I’ve been a 12 ga guy all my life, but lately have been asking myself “what can my 12 do that a 20 can’t do easier?”

        • It’s harder to find cheap practice buckshot & slugs for a 20. That’s about all I can think of.

      • Many guide and hunting outfits have minimum calibers that they require and, IMHO, they are based off some city slicker (who’s hunting consists of “Deer Hunter” video game at the bar and a once a year/every other year deer hunt) being able to one shot kill. I believe this helped fuel the “I need to buy a really big gun” craze after many hunters spent months saving and finally go to set up their hunt only to find out the guide won’t let them use their trusty gun. Now they have to spend that savings on a new rifle, learn it and start saving all over again. (Seen it to many times) That leads to the advice of buying at least the smallest gun needed to hunt the biggest game you may ever possibly want to hunt.

      • A former boss of mine went elk hunting in Montana every year–probably still does. I only remember one year he didn’t come back with one–and he blamed that on the yahoos he was with. At 6′ 4″ and 240 lbs, he is big enough and strong enough to handle any caliber; his choice is .270. His scope cost twice what his rifle did.

  3. Maybe part of the reason for the heavy artillery is that on the off chance that you don’t immediately incapacitate the apex North American predator you stand a decent chance of inspecting the damage your bullet did cause from within the bear’s alimentary tract. Moose are big animals too, but they’re not likely to eat you. Trying to track a wounded and bleeding brown bear through a forest is not a pleasant prospect. Maybe Cape buffalo hunters would see this as an interesting exercise, but most hunters would take a pass on that.

    There’s also the aspect of respect for the animal. Sure, you could put a solid .223 through the liver and wait while it bleeds to death, but who wants to do that? Kill cleanly and quickly, part of that is using enough gun.

    If you’re not willing to use enough gun to pin an animal in place and kill it quickly, then just take up bowhunting.

    (kidding about the bowhunting thing. mostly.)

    • The flip side to the truism about “bringing enough gun” is to only bring enough gun that you can shoot really well. Too many guys bring the biggest baddest magnum they can get a hold of, only to find out that they can’t hit very much because they get scared of it. That 5 & 1/2 Lb “Mountain” .300 Win Mag may look really nice in the store, but its downright punishing in the field. I have a Ruger .375 H&H Mag that weights over 10 lbs and is cabable of sub-MOA accuracy, but most guys still can’t shoot it worth a damn.

  4. Alaska Fish & Wildlife has some experience with brown bears. They recommend a 200 grain well-constructed expanding bullet in .30-06 as the smallest suitable caliber. I have no idea why someone going larger wouldn’t simply jump to a .375 H&H Magnum, which is good for long-range mountain sheep hunting in Canada, excellent for brown bear, more than adequate for Alaskan Delta Bison, and good for most African hunting. In the fog and rains of south coastal Alaska a scope presents risks. Iron sights or an EOTech on quick-release mounts makes more sense. A Winchester Model 70 in your preferred grade (nice wood or kevlar, stainless or blued-with-parafin-for-Alaska) seems like a nice choice. Just don’t put a muzzle-brake on and shoot near me, thank you.

    • Preach on brother! There are two big bore/big game cartridges that really top the charts: .375 H&H and the .35 Whelen. I like long, old loads, with gentle shoulders. True, they don’t have quite the velocity of the new, high pressure rounds. But the .375 H&H wont knock the fillings out of your mouth when you touch it off. A .375 Rem Ultra or .378 Weatherby will hurt you about as bad as the bear would. I can only imagine what a .358 STW will do.

  5. My favorite bear rifle is the one I never bought so I have no reason to get within a few hundred miles of a damn Kodiak. Ending up a bear turd isn’t on my bucket list. I’ll stick to javelina and prairie dogs.

      • I’ve eaten bear meat, and it isn’t bad, but I wouldn’t pay big money in a restaurant for it. I think most folks hunt bear for the thrill of hunting an animal that can kill you as easily as you can kill it, that and the bear skin fur rug.

        • Not trying to quibble, but when a bear can kill me at 300 yards, without even breathing heavy, then I’ll start to believe that I’m hunting an animal that can kill me as easily as I can kill it.

  6. The subject of what caliber for what class animal has been discussed, and will continue to be discussed, ad nauseum. Meanwhile, Eskimos, Inuits, etc, have been taking polar bears with .22 rifles and headshots for probably as long as the .22 rifle existed.

    As far as I can tell, no round on earth has a 100 % stop rate on charging rhino, elephant, grizzly, cape buffalo, african lion, tiger, etc. When authorities recommend cartridges for certain animals, they recommend with the average hunter in mind, not the expert hunter, nor the expert marksmen in mind.

    • We did an experiment one time… with a .270 Win Savage, we “broke” the scope (not really, we just took it off). We were aiming at 10″ round targets at 100 yards with nothing more than the scope bases (not ring bases) to “sight”. Almost everyone who tried was able to at least get 2 hits out of 5 on target at 100 yards…

      So you don’t really need irons, but they are nice to have (I love em’ actually and sometimes hunt without a scope).

      • Field expedient rifle sights are a good question. Off the top of my head, if the scope is torn off, I’m thinking ductape front and rear sight. Any other ideas or experiences?

    • The advantage of alloy scopes is when you go over a waterfall airborne and bend the eyepiece so the bolt can’t open, you find some suitable rocks and bend it back….then you carry on tahr hunting and if it’s a Leupold the zero doesn’t move. It’s an NZ thing.

  7. I think we need to find a way to make the .50 BMG louder, with more recoil, and use that for hunting all game. Maybe we could still use .338 Lapua for squirrels and rabbits.

  8. I’m starting to think I should change my screen name to PETA, although I hate them and most amimal rights groups. Without reading the article (lazy I guess) why shoot a bear? In my mind there is a difference between that and shooting overpopulated vermin like hogs and prarie dogs if you want the sport kill rush. I’m not going all crazy and saying it should be outlawed, but what’s the point, really?

    • For the same reasons all trophy hunters kill — because they can. Oh, you’ll hear other rationalizations, but most of them are flimsy. Not to say that trophy hunter revenues aren’t important to conservation efforts, and sometimes, to local economies.

    • Why does it matter to either of you why someone you don’t know wants to hunt a bear? If you don’t want to hunt or “kill” a bear then don’t. No one questions what you like to do, do they?

    • Who said all bear hunters are trophy hunters? I don’t hunt animals I don’t eat. I’ve eaten delicious bear. If I go hunt a bear, I’m turning it into food and furs or a rug. I waste as little as I can, I’ve tanned deer hides into beautiful and highly functional buckskin using brain and sewn with sinew. Let me tell you, hog and boar hunting would probably be my favorite of all if it was just about the hunt. But I’m not a big pork eater, and unless I start manufacturing boar-bristle hairbrushes there’s not much use for the hide I know of. So I won’t do it. Maybe if it’s pest control and I have some people hungry for the meat. Deer are good for me, pronghorn give great thin strong hides for buckskins, elk not so much (thicker, more tough hides no better than deer) but the meat is superb, moose is yummy and the hide is ideal for moccasins. I’d only kill animals in an ethical and responsible manner either for food or because they’re destructive/invasive/pests and I have to. It’s not too limiting, I’d be happy to eat most of the “trophy” species. Heck, I’d eat a lion once. I’d rather not make a regular thing of eating predators, though.

  9. On a slightly serious note, wouldn’t the caliber also reference distance? I mean here in CA, in most places shots on deer are closer range then lets say Nevada where you have large open spaces. Given trajectory models, a 308 is a little flatter than a 30-06.
    Depending on the game size and your accuracy you might want a little more stopping power, but then need to deal with the more pronounced trajectory.
    I wouldn’t hunt bear, so it really doesn’t apply to me, but for those that do my suggestion would be go to the range. Shoot at the distance you expect to take your shots and get good at it. Like koolaidguzzler said if you are accurate then caliber has less affect. I would not suggest your average hunter go for head shots with a 22 though! Most would probably just piss off what ever it was they were shooting at.
    And believe me those squirrels can get nasty!

  10. this is more about stopping bear attacks than hunting bears, but the BYU study of alaskan bear attacks in 130 years has interesting findings — the presence of firearms statistically did not have an effect on the outcome of bear attacks, and that “handguns slightly outperformed long guns, resulting in a positive outcome (meaning the gun stopped the bear’s aggression) 84 percent of the time versus 76 percent.”

    “A study conducted by BYU found that in 269 close-quarter bear-human conflicts in Alaska from 1883 to 2009, having a firearm made no statistical difference in the outcome.”

    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/53651498-78/bear-smith-bears-gun.html.csp

  11. you guy seem to have all the answers on bear guns. i’ve never been bear hunting
    i’ve killed elk,deer ,hogs all with the caliber 30 model of 1906( 30-06). but i have several of the bigger calibers that i like to shoot for fun .7mm mag’7 mm stw, 264win mag ,300 win mag & weatherby ,3-338 win mag,338 ultra mag,350 mag 35 whelen 375 h&h and 375 ultra mag. but i just hunt with the ole 30-06 with good bullets and yes shot placement is probally the most important part.

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  13. I grew up in S.E. Alaska. I shot my first brown bear in 1971 at age 11 with a single shot 20 guage at about 60 feet. Second rifled slug finished him. Granted, he was not charging, nor was he a large bear. In Alaska very seldom will the shot be in excess of 100 yards, I now use a 1886 Winchester 45-90 with open iron sights and the deer never walk away. It’s all about shot placement and wound channel. I have been hunting all my life and believe a larger hole is better. For any predatory animal it is critical to have a quick follow up shot at the ready. Most people spend too much time at the range and talking ballistic, just go hunting, it is the real test of a rifle.

  14. When I was a young man and did a bit of tramping about in Alaska I carried an oddball Mossberg .338 Winchester Magnum rifle. It wouldn’t shoot any ammo under 2″ at 100 yards but it would shoot all ammo 2″ all day long. I didn’t shoot any bears with it but at the time I considered it my minimum caliber for coastal areas. As I grew older and moved much farther south I ended up going from the magnum to 26 and 24 caliber rifles. Here is a link to an interesting article below. But if I was to return to Alaska I would carry a minimum 30 caliber (.308/30-06) and if I were living on the coast I’d still consider the .338. It’s a wonderful round. With 225gr bullets it will do most everything a .375 will and out produce the .35 Whelan.

    http://chuckhawks.com/myth_busting_calibers.htm

  15. I think the 7mm savage or the 270 is both a great gun they are both powerful i just like the 7mm savage the most.

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