On Yellowstone Grizzly Hunting, Politics and Making Sure to Use Enough Gun

By Larry Case

It has been an historic past few weeks for hunters and grizzly bears in Wyoming. Grizzly bears have been returned to the protection of the Endangered Species Act by order of a Federal District Judge and a long-awaited hunt for the bears has been canceled. Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department had scheduled a grizzly hunt for September 15 through November 15 with a maximum of 24 bears to be taken in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Wildlife Biologists estimate there are over 700 grizzlies in this area.

There was a myriad of other regulations governing this hunt to include only two grizzly hunters could be afield at the same time, only two female bears could be taken in the entire hunt and when two females are taken, all grizzly hunting would end.

A total of ten male bears could be taken and when that happens all hunting would end for the season. So where did that 24 maximum number come from? You tell me. I read the now defunct regulations several times and I still don’t understand it, but math was never my best subject.

All of this doesn’t matter now anyway because District Judge Dana Christensen, after delaying the grizzly hunt twice, struck down the de-listing of the Yellowstone ecosystem grizzlies by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). This returned the bears to the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

It would be easy as a hunter to argue with righteous indignation about how the judge should not have canceled this hunt. Like many things in life however, this is a complicated issue. In his ruling, the judge stated that this decision was not based on the ethics of hunting or trying to solve problems with interactions between bears and the public. Instead, the court ruled on whether the USFWS had legally de-listed grizzlys.

While it is easy to get into the weeds when discussing any lawsuit or legal matter, the judge ruled for the plaintiffs in this case on two major points. First, the ruling said that the USFWS service had not taken into account how de-listing the bears in the Yellowstone area would affect grizzlies in other parts of the lower 48. In other words, are the bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem going to be harmed if they’re not allowed to mix with grizzlies in other areas? (I don’t know, and I don’t think the judge does either.)

The ruling also stated the USFWS acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in the de-listing process, mainly in the area of how the present grizzly population was counted. “The court does not question the commitment of the Service and each of the states to continued grizzly recovery; however, the general good intentions of the parties do not override the ESA’s mandate that decisions be made in accordance with the best available science,” the judge wrote.

I am not going to question whether state and federal wildlife biologists used the best available science, but that’s just me.

The ruling is what it is, and for the time being there will be no legal grizzly hunts in Wyoming, Montana, or Idaho. What we will have is more grizzly interaction — much of it bad — with hunters, hikers, ranchers and most anyone who trods the ground in grizzly country (and that country is growing).

The day before the grizzly hunt was to have started, a guide and two elk hunters were attacked by two grizzlies in the Jackson Hole area of Wyoming. One hunter was injured and the guide was killed. Wyoming Game and Fish personnel investigated and killed both bears involved.

Whatever your politics, and wherever you might stand on the recent court ruling, it occurs to me if you plan to visit bear country you may not want to end up facing 500 hundred pounds of teeth, fur and claws without some protection.
Last summer I spent a week with some Alaska Department Natural Resources (DNR) folks as they trained for this very thing; how to protect yourself when you meet up with a bear that may be having a bad day.

Long ago Robert Ruark in his hunting classic Use Enough Gun cautioned us on being adequately armed for the game you’re hunting. In other words don’t be tracking Cape buffalo and elephants carrying a .220 Swift. Here is a CliffsNotes version of what I leaned from the Alaskans on guns for bear protection:

Shotguns are it. More Alaskans carry a 12 gauge pump shotgun than anything else. Tactical models are the most popular, with short barrels and extended magazines. Shotguns are versatile, can shoot different types ammo and are considered very reliable.

A 12 gauge slug is devastating at close range and close range is what this is all about. Most bear charges start at 50 yards or less and a brown bear can be on you from that distance in three seconds. A Remington 870 pump gun was the shotgun most seen with Mossberg 500’s and 590 variations a close second. Rifle sights or a ghost ring set-up is better than a single bead on the barrel.

Big Rifles. Shotguns are popular but many Alaskans carry rifles for bear protection. Steve Nelson, the instructor who taught the bear protection class I attended recommended “anything .30/06 and up” but admitted he could often be found packing a .375 H&H bolt gun or a .45/70 Marlin Guide Gun. Training with your chosen rifle, (or any firearm) and learning to operate the weapon under stressful conditions cannot be emphasized enough.

Big Bore Handguns. Carrying any firearm can be a real pain in the derriere. Handguns lighten the load and with a good holster system they bring the huge advantage of being on your person and readily available when things get real.

Any large bore handgun is going to be better than no gun, but the DNR guys and girls I was around liked the Ruger Super Blackhawk Alaskan Model (2 ½” barrel) in .454 Casull. The .454 is real beast and if you can hit anything with it will probably solve many of your problems. Stepping down to a little easier-to-handle .44 Magnum was thought to be perfectly acceptable among those I met who work the bush in Alaska.

Debating issues to the point of tedium, like whether the grizzly should be hunted in the lower 48, seems to be in vogue right now. Rest assured that in any confrontations with a grizzly bear there will not be much time for debate. I would suggest that you be prepared and use enough gun.

 

Larry Case was a Conservation Officer and Natural Resources Police Officer for 36 years, worked as a rifle, pistol, and shotgun instructor and retired with the rank of District Captain. He is a lifelong hunter and shooter and a graduate of the Gunsite Academy Defensive Shotgun Class.

www.gunsandcornbread.com

 

comments

  1. avatar Nam62 says:

    That should be Ruger Super REDHAWK in 454 Casull!! That’s what is in the photo.
    I have one and really kicks..

  2. avatar mbbj says:

    A Colt 45 and two Zig-Zags, baby that’s all we need.

  3. avatar Ralph says:

    “In his ruling, the judge stated that this decision was not based on the ethics of hunting or trying to solve problems with interactions between bears and the public.”

    Yeah, I’m sure that no judge would just make sh!t up. Not in our system. Never. No way.

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      I can’t disagree with that, but it is also true that the wildlife protection laws are biased in favor of protected species, and the burden on de-listing is rigorous.

    2. avatar GS650G says:

      The judge doesn’t venture into the wild it seems

  4. avatar daveinwyo says:

    The jellystone attack was the end result of poor judgement. Too many grizzly in that area including the Bridger-Teton National Forrest. This area has been mismanaged since Teddy R. WGF has giant feed grounds where-in the G&F feed thousands of Elk in this part of Wyoming. This concentrates the Elk, Wolves and Grizzly in an unnatural eco-system. But not to totally blame WGF, the ranchers ( mostly cows now but sheep until not too long ago) graze in the area where the Elk, Bear and Wolves and Big Horn Sheep Should be roaming. The attack was in an area that has been known to have bear run TO the sound of gunshots, knowing a gut pile would be waiting. The guide did not have a suitable hand gun and was by himself, poor judgement.

    1. avatar possum says:

      I had a dog that was terrible gun shy, just closing the bolt and he’d high tail it. Come duck season he’d sneak down and grab cripples that got away, this going on with all the shooting. So I can sure see them bears come a running

      1. avatar daveinwyo says:

        Sorry Possum. True story. Also Ravens know how to open the storage flap on snow machines and steal tourists lunch. The term used to describe this behavior is called habituation. Reward the dog with a gut pile and maybe he will WANT to go hunting with you.

  5. avatar Mark N. says:

    Guide gun in .45-70 loaded with 500 gr hard cast bullets packs a lot of steam and with a lot less pain inflicted on the shooter than a .454 Casull. Although you only get 4 shots, you won’t have time for any more than that if you miss.

    1. avatar Ing says:

      What I want to know is why those guide gun configurations always have such short magazines. Wouldn’t it be better to run the mag tube out to the end of the barrel and get 5 or 6 shots instead of only 3 or 4?

  6. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Imperative note to anyone who uses a large bore revolver for BIG bear protection: make sure your cartridges have heavy-for-caliber hardcast lead bullets and stout powder loads.

    Regarding .44 Magnum for brown bear protection: you can somewhat compensate for the relative “weakness” of .44 Magnum (versus .454 Casull) if you carry a .44 Magnum revolver with a 6-inch barrel which boosts muzzle velocity something like 200 fps over 2.5 inch barrels.

    Be aware that a longer barrel could interfere with your ability to shoot a BIG bear once it is on top of you. In that situation a shorter barrel would be better. (Lower velocity hits are far better than higher velocity misses!)

    The numbers:
    A 6-inch barrel and stout .44 Magnum powder loads will launch a 305 grain hardcast lead bullet at something like 1,330 fps which is almost 1,200 foot-pounds energy. Even at 25 yards, that heavy bullet will still be moving along at something like 1,275 fps and still have over 1,100 foot-pounds energy. As a result of that velocity and the properties of readily available hardcast lead bullets, they create something like a one-inch diameter, four-foot long hole (permanent wound channel) in a brown bear. That will take the wind out of the sails of any attacking beast in short order with decent shot placement.

  7. avatar ROBERT Powell says:

    ONLY the bars wearing the blue dem teeshirt are fair to shoot ,we are culling the inferior stock..those with brain-damage or sexual MALFUNCTION will be legal also..GOOD LUCK

  8. avatar New Continental Army says:

    For a bear I’d love to have a gun that was essentially an enfield but in a caliber a little larger. I mean .303 is powerful and all but .375 or one of the .338s would be great in that fast action.

  9. avatar possum says:

    No bear hunts because the studies of bear and a diet of pepper spray and tinkley bells

  10. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    What we should be doing with all the excess grizz in the state is sending them elsewhere. We should help them re-establish in their former habitats elsewhere.

    Let’s think about this for a sec. What state has a grizz on their state flag? Oh, that’s right – California.

    So we get a tranq gun. Tranq a few bears. Load ’em up with happy juice and send ’em on a one-way trip to San Francisco… where we can put them in Golden Gate Park to sober up.

    Leave town, turn on the news. Quality entertainment will ensue.

    1. avatar Geoff "Mess with the bull, get the horns" PR says:

      You’re as sick, twisted man, DG.

      I knew I liked the cut of your jib…

      *snicker* 😉

    2. avatar Chadwick says:

      Well they do send all their high tax and social justice virtue signaling dopes to grizzly country… Hmm.

    3. avatar Gralnok says:

      Best Idea EVER! 😆 I’m already trying to figure out the logistics, but it really doesn’t matter how much it would cost. It would save everyone in the long run. 🐻

    4. avatar GS650G says:

      The bears would feel right at home among the street vagrants

    5. avatar jwm says:

      What did them bears do to make you hate them so much? Inside a week they’ll be crack addicted and overrun with std’s.

      Them bears will get Woke. They’ll realize they’ve been homeless their whole lives and they need section 8 housing.

      It’s cause they’re brown, right?

  11. avatar Gralnok says:

    I’m trying to find sympathy for people who looked forward to hunting grizzlies and we’re denied. Nothing yet. Normally I’m okay with hunting. I don’t, and won’t, but if someone else wants to do it, I’m okay with it as long as they eat the animal or the animal is a genuine pest. Grizzlies aren’t pests yet, and won’t be for a very long time. About now I’d give the standard speech about human encroachment, but I think everyone and their grandmother has heard it by now. Also, I’m pretty sure nobody actually eats grizzly meat, but I’ve been wrong about such things before.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      You meant: “Grizzlies aren’t a pest to me personally so I don’t care.”

      People who are elk hunting in Wyoming are being mauled or killed by grizzlies in the northwest part of Wyoming. You might want to pay attention.

      1. avatar Gralnok says:

        Links and stats, please. Where are bears actually so commonplace and so deprived of habitat, they are considered pests?

        1. avatar Gralnok says:

          Ignore this comment. The where is clearly stated, something my sleep deprived mind couldn’t wrap itself around.

    2. avatar Truth says:

      If you “don’t or won’t” do something then just keep to yourself. Your opinion isn’t merited nor should it be.

      1. avatar little horn says:

        so the only comments allowed are echo chambers and preaching to the choir? got it.

        idiot.

      2. avatar Gralnok says:

        Well there is that pesky ‘respect all living things’ rule. Yeah, if I don’t have to kill something, then I won’t. Now, if I were out traipsing around in bear country for no reason, or out creating nice smells out where I know bears are, then I’d imagine I’d need protection from what would obviously happen.

    3. avatar LarryinTX says:

      I have heard griz meat is yummy. What makes you think it’s not?

  12. avatar Wooden leg says:

    I have hunted all my life. The picture in this article of the smirking hunter with that great bear makes me sick. Kill it with a spear, then take your picture stud. I’m thinking that was probably more like killing then hunting with a safe long shot.
    I don’t see a dam thing for him to be gloating about.
    I am rooting for the bears. Go Bears!!
    Before you flame me go back and look at that animal.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      I see what you mean! Dead, he looks pretty harmless, doesn’t he? Wouldn’t you like to meet such a cuddly animal outside your cabin at midnight?

      1. avatar little horn says:

        and did he find this bear outside HIS cabin..or did HE invade the bears “cabin”???? yeah.

    2. avatar Kat Ainsworth says:

      You know, I am a bit skeptical of people who claim to be hunters immediately prior to launching into insulting hunters.

      It’s a gorgeous boar, he did good.

      Don’t hunter shame.

      1. avatar Larry Case says:

        Hey Kat! For now I’m just happy to get this many comments on my article! So they probably all read it, right?
        No?……yeah, that’s what I thought……

        Dang…..

  13. avatar Mike H says:

    Bear caliber/platform conversations are a lot of fun, but what I’d really like to see is a write up on self defense loads for velociraptors and bigfoot. (Bigfeet? what’s the plural on that?)

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Bigfoots. Thought they taught that in school.

      1. avatar Mike H says:

        I went to a public school. We only went over the Himalayan Yeti.

        1. avatar LarryinTX says:

          “Yeti” is singular and plural, both, right?

        2. avatar Mike H says:

          LarryinTX, since you made me look, Miriam-Websters doesn’t offer a plural for yeti, so yeah. However, it does offer both bigfoots and bigfeet as acceptable. What concerns me the most, though, is that we don’t have a dedicated handgun cartridge designed specifically for them. I’ll have to petition the industry right away!

    2. avatar jwm says:

      6.5 Creedmoor. Have you not been paying attention?

      1. avatar Mike H says:

        Dang, hadn’t thought of that! I’ll be wanting one in a S&W N Frame, plz!

  14. avatar little horn says:

    i just have to say it is QUITE hypocritical that we all preach about cops coming into our houses, uninvited and shooting us. but we when do the exact same thing to an animal..its ok.
    you literally went into its home and killed it. how moral.

    1. avatar WildBill says:

      You are a moron.

      Humans and bears are not equivalent.

      The human hate that so many have is sick.

    2. avatar LarryinTX says:

      There are a couple of videos around of griz killing humans. Why don’t you view a few and get back to me. And might we assume you feel the same about eating a cheeseburger?

  15. avatar jwm says:

    If you live in big bear country. If you work and play there. But you ain’t a hunter with an extensive battery of guns. You just want to keep you and yours safe a 12 ga. shotgun has a lot going for it. Simple manual of arms. A short barreled pump gun is surprisingly light and easy to wield.

    And it costs a lot less than a decent heavy rifle or handgun. A lot less. People on a budget who need more than 1 gun can get 2 or more pump guns for less than one decent hunting rifle or big bore handgun. And while slugs are not cheap per round they are in the running with heavy rifle loads and magnum handgun calibers. Cheaper than most, round per round.

    A little off topic. But last time I priced .500 nitro express they were over 140 a box, on sale. That was a box of 20.

  16. avatar Julie Argyle says:

    judging from his training, of course the first thing he would go to would be a gun. It wouldn’t make sense for him to use bear spray or anything else when he has been trained in so many different situations where a gun is involved. He has also been a lifelong Hunter. Rather than writing an article from the view of a trained gunman or a Hunter, or on the opposite side, someone who is totally against hunting and carrying guns, they should interview someone who is neutral and finds it OK for people to hunt and also OK to co-habitate with grizzlies, especially in areas where man has taken over the grizzly bears territory. Man has trained a grizzly bear to view an elk carcass as a free meal. They leave gut piles all over, so really when you think about it, what do they expect to happen in grizzly country.

    1. avatar Larry Case says:

      Hey Julie, thanks for the comment, maybe what the article doesn’t say is that when it comes down to your life or the bears life, enough gun is the only viable option (if you want to live), I spent a couple weeks with Alaska DNR, Fish and Game, USGS, and others who routinely have to visit the bears neighborhood and if you come across the right bear on the wrong day, there will be no debate and no cohabitation….you will just be another statistic and maybe indigestion for the bear.
      The people in Alaska I was around are not big fans of bear spray…..you dont hear much about the incidents where bear spray fails and it does. What does bear spray do when it is below 32 degrees? Pouring rain? 25 mph crosswind? Some bush pilots dont want the pressurized cans on a plane. A bear you surprise at 50 yards can be on you in 3 seconds, the gun you carry may not stop him either, but a 12 gauge slug is much more persuasive.
      There are some that don’t want a bear harmed, no matter what he does, I’m just saying it is easy to write that sitting at home on the computer with a cup of Earl Grey, in the real world an all out bear attack is a gruesome, terrible thing and if you survive or not may come down to whether you had the right tools to protect yourself.
      Thanks

  17. avatar BD says:

    4 Seconds Until Impact is a good read for detailed info on the evolving subject.

  18. avatar George D. says:

    I’m not a hunter and not an Alaskan, but… if I were going to bear country (or moose for that matter, which can also be dangerous) I’d take a shotgun too. However, I’m surprised no one mentioned what kind of slugs to use. Not traditional cheap Fosters, but Brennekes. Many State LEOs and G&Fs swear by them. Very effective.

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