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Over at, FWP Region 2 Bear Management Specialist Jamie Jonkel informs readers that black bear and grizzly habitat overlap with humans’ happy hunting grounds in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley. “We hope that all this heightened bear awareness, combined with bear spray in the hands of more people, will help to keep hunters safe out there.” To that end, the Big Sky State’s giving away over 100 canisters of bear away (and a bunch of inert ones for practice) to help outdoorsmen resolve grizzly “bear and hunter conflicts.” [NB: Bears don’t attack. They “conflict.”] Which would you carry and deploy against our ursine pals: bear spray or a big bore revolver? Or, perhaps, a rifle at the ready?

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  1. I’m no expert, but when something as big as a bear can charge at 50 feet per second, I don’t want it to get within bear spray distance. Add a little wind to the situation, and Buffalo Bore seems like a better choice. Sure, the bear may be simply bluff charging, but I don’t want to wait long enough to find out.

  2. Like for 2 legged critters, a depth of defense is always recommended. When you train to react with gunfire to EVERY threat, then that is exactly what you will do when “stressed “. It is not an either/or situation. In bear country carry whistle, spray , pistol, shotgun wifh slugs or rifle. ALL OF THEM! Travel in groups. Carry radios. Tell folks of your agenda.

      • I was going to say the same thing. Options are good.
        Depending on how the bear is acting you might choose one or the other. Is it night time, is there wind, or rain? Did you surprise the bear or visa verse? Is the bear charging to try and get you to go away, with lip smacking, or is it stalking you slowly?
        All of these situations might warrant a different response. I surely would want a lethal option in my choices. Of course we don’t plan on shooting a bear if we don’t have to. In many cases if they know you are there, they will bug out first. It is when they don’t that problems arise.

  3. I’ve never had an encounter with a bear — all of the Bears I know come from Chicago — but if I found myself in an uncomfortably close proximity to ursus arctos horribilis, I’d like to have a can of bear spray, a big-bore handgun, a rifle in .375H&H mag and a change of underwear. If I was really lucky, all I’d need would be the BVDs.

  4. Last time I was in grizz country, we saw several and each had a can of bear spray on our quads, had .44 and 10mm hand guns on the hip, our hunting rifles (7mm, 300 win mag and 300 weatherby mag) and we had a camp 45/70.

    Even still, none of us felt sure/safe when it came what to do/use in the event of a Grizzly “conflict”. Popular opinion up there was that bear spray is probably the most effective (vs a split second chance at lethal bullet placement) but for some reason, none of us felt all that safe (are willing to defend ourselves) with an aerosol can either. 😉 When off doing the business, I had my .44 and the 45/70 with Buffalo Bore in it.

    Maybe it was just the ego that preferred carrying the rifle around…

  5. I think “conflict” is fine as a word for bear v human interactions, since as far as I know bears rarely stalk humans and only come into conflict over food, in defense of cubs, or because the bear and/or human became startled.

    That said, if you’re in bear spray range things have already gone wrong, and I don’t think the bear is going to mind if you are pepper-flavored when they charge you. Give me both please (the spray is for chasing away dangerously curious cubs).

  6. Bear spray is probably a better choice in most situations than a revolver. The sort of shot placement necessary to put down a charging grizzly is difficult with a heavy recoiling gun fired off hand, in the heat of the moment, when you’re trying to avoid a spontaneous bowel evacuation.

    Rifles are better than handguns, but again, putting the bear in the dirt immediately is a lot easier said than done.

  7. Bear spray won’t stop a bear permanently but a bullet will so I would rather have that. There are people who can fight through anything and I imagine there are bears who do the same. You can’t best death though and neither can a bear.

  8. Bear spray, bear spray, bear spray. We don’t carry it here in Montana for no reason. It has its limitations, you have to be pretty close and if its windy, you’re in trouble. That’s why you have a big bore pistol to back it up if needed. My FIL has deployed it twice against sow grizzlies in Yellowstone and it saved his bacon both times.

      • My Montana hunter friends do what Ryan does: spray first and have a big-ass backup gun.

        It takes almost a magic bullet to stop a bear instantly, but a snoot-full of OC makes them (almost always) WANT to get the hell away from you. It may also have a ‘hazing’ effect to make them more avoidant of humans in the future.

  9. My wife and I hike in the Sierras during the summer. On one of our last outings we came across 2 Black Bears(No Browns in CA anymore). We had a whistle, spray, and a .357 Mag with 7 rounds of 180gr Bear loads. For the Black Bears I think this was enough, but anything bigger such as a brown……a 12ga with slugs would do. I have seen those big Alaskan browns up close….I would not trust a handgun!

  10. I am in the carry both school of thought and practice. I like bears and don’t hunt them. I don’t want to put one down so if possible I will spray and pray. If it is unavoidable then I will have to trust my 1911 or my Remington 700 to do the job.

  11. Both. And a sincere desire to never have to use either. Bear spray in left hand and buffalo bore launcher in right. The pistol needs a lanyard too. Hell of a bad time to lose your pistol with a grizzly parked on your chest.

  12. I bought 2 of the bear spray canisters that shoot up to 35 feet for my sister and cousin, but it’s only for home defense and they don’t like guns (my youngest sister has a 44 mag for home defense so she doesn’t need the spray). I wouldn’t count on any spray to stop a bear. Now my 4 inch S&W 500 with the 385 grain hollow points or the 500 grain will take out any bear. The recoil isn’t so bad compared to my 600 & 700 grain ammo which really hurts out of the baby 500. My 8 3/8 and 10.5 inch 500’s could also be used with the carry sling and the recoil is much less using the 700 grain ammo. This link shows my snubnose shooting a 700 grain with a bushnell holo sight. This is only used a range toy but it would stop a bear if needed. (please ignore the comments from the rascist jerk, he’s a complete moron)

    • That’s not a bushnell, it’s a sightmark (I switched the bushnell to my bullpup AK) This sight is cheap and the lens got blow out after a couple of shots. The bushnell works much better

    • I’d stay away from the hollow points there. HPs trade penetration for expansion, which is a great trade-off so long as you are already guaranteed to get penetration to vital organs from nearly any incident vector. With the larger bears you have a lot of hide, muscle, bone, and fat over those areas. The same situation is why African hunters stick with Solids for projectile choice; with a caliber large enough to leave a telling cavity in the first place.

      With a hollow point, there’s lots of impact scenarios that could leave you with a very painful wound on the bear, but not a truly harmful one.

  13. Bear spray should be your first line of defense.

    For those who say that you don’t want to be that close to a bear… if you have an encounter, you’re already going to be that close. If the bear is within 30 feet, and charges, you won’t have time to draw your handgun, let alone get a rifle up to bear. A canister of bear spray in a holster on your pack’s chest strap can be deployed quickly, even without unholstering.

    For those who worry about wind and blowback from the spray… you’ve never pulled the trigger on a can, have you? Unless the wind is serious – 20kts plus – the spray will go where you intend. If you haven’t used a can before, you should try it, even with an inert practice can. The pressure is much greater than you expect. It’s recommended to use two hands when deploying the spray, to avoid the can “kicking up” and going over the bear’s head. We’re talking air tool pressures, not home bug spray.

    If you still consider a .44 or larger as your primary, then get some practice appropriate for the threat. You’ll need to place your shots in an area about 5 inches in diameter, located above the charging grizzly’s skull, and below the muscle hump. For full realism, the target needs to be charging at you at about 30mph and bouncing up and down. You have about 1.5 seconds to accurately place all your shots. Good luck with that.

    The best defense is to make your presence known. Make noise, sing, clap, shout at the invisible bears, and they will usually leave you alone.

    My “perfect” setup: UDAP bear spray in a holster on my chest strap, held in the hand when I’m in an area of limited visibility or bear sign. Second defense would be a 10mm semi-auto in a retention holster on my pack’s waist strap. Finally, a .44 or .454 revolver in an ankle holster, ’cause if the bear gets through the first two defenses, it will be easy to reach while curled up in the fetal position.

    • Make noise, sing, clap

      I’ve found that a couple of choruses of “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” scares the crap out of the bears when I sing it. And people, too.

      • Ralph must have listened to our news reports this week about a bear roaming the streets and back yards in Cranston. The reporter said to speak to the bear in a low deep voice and to spread your arms out to show that you’re not afraid. The bear should then turn and run, but I wouldn’t count on it. I haven’t heard Ralph sing, but that might do the trick.

    • Hmmm…sounds like one needs to practice with the spray, same as a gun, otherwise, in the stress you have a good chance of screwing up.

  14. I’m of the persuasion that using spray is generally a better idea, and backing that up with a big bore handgun should be your backup. Bear have very sensitives senses, and a spray of hot pepper near their faces with probably turn them around. Yeah, you have to be close, but as fast as they move you’re going to be about as close with a handgun as well. I think it would be a lot easier to hit them with the spray under stress than with almost any handgun.
    That said if you’re in bear country you should carry a big bore handgun and practice with it, and practice the charging bear drill as much as possible. I’d say be prepared to use either one, and if possible carry a large rifle or a 12 gauge with solid case slugs.

    If I lived in black bear country I’d probably feel fine with a 10mm or a .357, brown country is another story. If I felt like I could potentially be charge by a brown I’d probably want something along the lines of a Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan in .454 Casul. As outrageous as that sounds, you’re probably not going to have time to fire off more than one shot, and it might as well be something huge.

    In the end I’d probably feel the most comfortable with a 45-70 lever gun or an 870/500 loaded with some really solid slugs, but then you can’t carry either of those everywhere.

    • For the most part the Blacks run when making noise. We do not want to injure them either. They are beautiful creatures and we do enjoy watching them in the Mountains when we see them.

  15. In the choice of a handgun (any handgun) vs. bear spray, I’ll take real bear spray. Look at something like UDAP.

    First, let’s get the stupid handgun issue out of the way. Unless I’m hunting with a handgun in that region, I’m hunting with a competent rifle (the .375 H&H counts, as does a .338 WM, .375 Ruger, or old classics like the .35 Whelen, 9.3×62, etc – basically mid-30 calibers and larger, 3500 ft-lbs of ME or more), regardless of whether I’m hunting elk, deer, sheep or goat. The choice of a larger rifle is partly influenced by the fact that these rounds could stop a bear on the charge. You need big, heavy, deep-penetrating bullets. Something in mid-30 cal or larger with > 250 grain pills. With any of those rifles, I have no need for a handgun as a backup. First lesson here: if you’re carrying a gun as protection from a bear, bring a real rifle. A .45-70 absolutely qualifies and is a great choice for a bear encounter. A .30 or smaller rifle in some flat-shooting “magnum” caliber… is not.

    Another alternative if I’m not hunting would be to carry a light 12 ga with a Brenneke slug. For short-range encounters, it’s superior to the listed rifles. It’s vastly superior to any handgun.

    For bow hunters, however, you don’t have those options. You’re packing a bow, not a rifle. In some archery hunting areas, you are not allowed to carry any firearm. Period.

    Even with a rifle or slug gun, during a bear attack, you’re going to have a non-optimal shooting situation. This won’t be like hunting a bear, where you take your time and lay in the shot in a critical zone while the bear is a nice, safe distance from you, and you get to choose your backstop and shooting lane. You’re likely not going to be carrying your rifle at low ready or port arms. Bears are predators – they’re notoriously good at slinking around to close the long distance. By the time you realize s/he is coming after your ass, it’s very late in the game.

    Now, with a large target on the move towards you… you’d better be a very good moving target shot.

    Right there, I’ve eliminated 95% of people who shoot. Most people can’t place a shot on a simple moving target with a handgun or rifle. Of the 5% who can, maybe 1% are cool enough to place the shot under the pressure of the apex of apex predators coming for your ass. I’ve shot plenty of coyotes dead as a wedge when they’ve been on a full run, at distances from 50 to 400+ yards. I don’t think that prepares me to shoot at a bear coming for me. The coyotes were running away from me, and it was a nice, clean academic trig problem to dope the wind and their vector. An attacking bear? We’re talking stark fear in most people. Between the adrenaline dump and the bear’s movement, someone is trying to convince me that they’re going to be Joe Cool Handgunner? Yea, I’ll take the other side of that bet.

    But many bear encounters don’t happen in clean target environments. Many encounters come when you’re in camp, eating and your food scents get on the wind. Bear spray would be vastly preferable if a bear comes into camp and now things get really western – with a gun, I might end up muzzling hunting buddies, my wife, etc in camp as we’re trying to deal with a bear. Not very suave. When the fur is flying, lots of people could get hurt in a panic of shooting.

    Bear spray puts up a cloud in the bear’s face, and exacting marksmanship isn’t as necessary, and it isn’t lethal if you miss or over-spray someone. Let’s say you’re trying to get a bear off someone – you can’t shoot a bear so neatly when it’s already on top of someone without endangering the person being attacked. Spray has no such over-penetration issues. Big benefit to most people right there. Even if you’re a complete moron and cover yourself in bear spray, the bear isn’t going to like that result either. This ain’t poultry seasoning we’re talking about here.

    People need to understand two things here:

    1. Handguns are ridiculously ineffective at stopping something like a bear. You’d better bring your “A game” of marksmanship under pressure here, because nothing but being a wickedly cool hand with a gun is going to save your ass when Mr. Grizzly wants you. The only way you get to even have an “A game” with a handgun is to shoot… a lot. Most people won’t be able to handle the recoil of the S&W depicted above. They will have no “A game” because of the cost and pain of practice with that handgun. They will have no practice at moving targets, because most people don’t have the facilities to practice shooting a rifle or pistol at moving targets.

    As guides in Alaska have told me: “If you bring a big revolver like a .44 with you for bear protection in Alaska, file down the front sight nice and smooth. That way it won’t hurt so bad when the bear shoves that hand cannon up your ass.” They’re big believers in 12 ga slug guns, BTW.

    2. Now we get to the astounding ignorance of the public of what makes bears tick. Bears have exceptionally acute senses of smell. Their exquisitely fine-tuned sniffers are why they’re sometimes seen standing up on their hind legs – they’re not trying to get a better look, because their long-range vision isn’t that good. They’re seeking to get a clean scent trail in the air up off the ground, which confuses and muddles scent dispersion. They want to get a clearer idea of the direction the scent they’re interested in is coming from. For bears, smell is their best and primary sensory asset.

    If you stuff some high-quality OC up their schnozz, they’re in a world of hurt. I’m not talking self-defense OC. I’m talking for-real bear spray that we see in sporting goods stores in ID, WY and MT: absurdly concentrated, with high-volume delivery systems.

    Think you’re hurting when you get OC’ed in the face by a cop? You’ve never experienced OC like real bear spray. I’ve caught the merest whiff of this stuff off a breeze and it was like inhaling liquid fire with a sledgehammer chaser. If cops wanted to stop a riot in urban areas without shooting people, they should look at real bear spray delivered when there’s a breeze blowing. It would stop a full blown riot in mere seconds.

    • DS,

      Thank you for your comments. Your contributions to TTAG enrich this site. Is there a type of shotgun(s) you would recommend for carrying in bear (black and brown) country (for self-defense) that could also fill the role for hunting other game? There are plenty of mountain lions in my state so defense against those cats is another consideration.

      I have not yet hunted and my experience with shotguns is limited. I have no idea if I should consider semi, pump, breach-loader, double or single barrel, etc. Someday, I’d like to try hunting smaller non-aggressive game such as quail, pheasant, rabbits, and maybe turkey. I live in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon).

      “This ain’t poultry seasoning we’re talking about here”
      — That’s a great line.

      • Slug guns usually are used for hunting big game – like deer, pigs, etc. Some slug guns might have rifling in them, some are smooth bore, usually with more open chokes or no chokes. They’ll have short barrels (20 to 24″) and some will sport optical sights. With careful choice of slug and choke (for those slugs that allow chokes), you can pull off 100 yard shots on big game. When you hit a deer with a slug… it falls down like a sack of hammers.

        For upland game (quail, pheasants, rabbits) you’d want a gun with longer barrel (26 to 28 inches), usually a modified to improved modified choke.

        For a multi-purpose gun, it’s difficult to beat the bang:buck (pardon the pun) of a pump shotgun where you can easily change the barrels to suit your purpose. The easiest choice is the Remington 870, another is the Mossberg 500. Both make it very easy to change your barrels to suit your task. Likewise, you could put on a 30″ barrel for turkey hunting. If you’re going to favor slugs and turkey hunting, I’d recommend you look at a heavier gun like the Mossberg 835. When you’re upland hunting, you’ll be packing around more weight than you might want, but when you light off a slug or turkey round, you’ll appreciate the mass in a 835.

        The reason why I’m recommending the shotguns at the cheaper end of the scale of shotgun prices is that when you start adding in additional barrels to make a shotgun multi-purpose…. the overall price of the gun starts going up rather quickly.

        • Dyspeptic Gunsmith,

          Thank you for your thorough reply. It was great and makes sense. Your explanation and advice provided me with a really good foundation to move forward. My next step will include lots of reading on the subject along with visits to my LGSs.

    • Dyspeptic,

      There’s a lot of energy and penetration overlap between the .45-70, .45-70 +P, .460 Smith, and .500 Smith. The ultimate stopping powers lies with rifles (well, howitzers), but experienced shooters can and do use handguns. If you are convinced that handguns are worthless, that’s certainly up to you. I’ve made hits in the field on running game with a handgun, and there are more experienced TTAG shooters than me.

      I also scared of a black bear while hiking in CA when I had a G35 loaded with 15 rounds of FMJ on my hip. Of course black bears are usually sissies.

      • Did anyone mention the fact that .460 and .500 Revolvers are exceptionally loud? I’m not sure if there are citations to back it up, but a ported .460 or .500 revolver is one of the loudest guns available. Like potential hearing damage after a few rounds of unprotected fire. After touching off 5 rounds at a running deer (3 hits), my ears were ringing for the rest of the day. I use Surefire plugs if I’m hunting with my .460.

      • Accur81, I’ve encountered black bears in the woods and gave them not much concern.

        Until I read an article from “experts” that stated when a grizzly attacks it’s because you’ve invaded his space and the attack usually stops once you hit the ground and play dead. A large number of the people that are attacked by grizlies are injured but survive.

        But when the black bear attacks it’s because he intends to eat you. The attack doesn’t stop until you’re lunch. Made me rethink my attitude about black bears.

      • I didn’t say handguns are “worthless.” I said that your chances of stopping a grizzly attack with a handgun are low. That’s a fact. Lots of people in grizzly country know this to be a fact. But if you’re in black bear country, and you’re a good shot and the bear isn’t running, you could argue for using a handgun to good effect.

        Here’s another fact: If you don’t stop a grizzly with a handgun, but you hit him, what have you done? You’ve just pissed him off to new heights. Was that what you wanted to do? Take a predator of whom all other predators in his environment give wide berth and piss him off to new heights?

        I don’t think so. You want to stop him. Now. Not 10 minutes from now when he bleeds out. And that’s where handgun advocates lose perspective. It’s quite like the “.22’s kill lots of people” argument about self-defense guns.

        Do .22’s kill lots of people shot with .22’s? Yes.

        Do they kill said people right now, right where they stand?

        Not very often.

        And this is why we use larger handguns for self-defense – against humans.

        The difference here is that the .22 is scaled up to a hand cannon… but the “perp” we want to stop is scaled up even further… and sometimes filled with the kind of mean that no human on drugs could remotely muster.

    • I agree with DG.
      If you are not hunting, ie hiking, camping, having some bells on your back pack makes the bear hear you before you even see them. I would say most of the time they will go the other way and avoid you completely.
      Understanding what makes them tick, when they are most dangerous, like a mother with cubs, will help you in the long run.

  16. • Situational awareness, we are intruding on their territory not the other way around. We need to be aware of what’s around us so that we can avoid such conflicts in the first place.
    • A big-bore lever action in 45/70, .450 marlin, or comparable caliber for hard hitting fast follow up shots. With something as large as one of the big bears, you need to assume that one shot isn’t going to do it and that your shot placement won’t be ideal. Lever actions offer mechanical reliability, fast strings, and a level of public acceptance that black rifles should have but don’t.
    • My S&W 629 with .44 magnum loads as a back up and pass over gun in case a friend isn’t hiking healed. You need a big caliber that has the potential to be fired with some degree of repeatable accuracy. Having fired the .500 magnum and .460, I wouldn’t want to go bigger than the .44. The revolver has a level of comfort and reliability which also makes it desirable to me.
    • Spray as double redundancy and less-lethal deterrent against cubs and lead resistant parents.
    • Cell phone for emergency calling if the worst happens.

    Others may run toward a glock 20 and a sport utility rifle in .450 bushmaster, .458 socom, or .50 variant, but the principal holds. One is none. Hike smart, carry redundancy, and plan for the worst.

  17. I think carrying bear spray (reach distance up to 30′), a powerful handgun, a powerful long gun, and as a last resort a sharp knife. Grizzlies are fast can cover up to 30′ a second, I believe. If I was with a few others who also had guns I think we would be better off all firing at the bear. If I was alone I’m not sure what I’d do if suddenly a bear appeared 20′ away. I would be concerned that if alone my ability to accurately shoot and kill a bear with one shot might not work. In Oregon it is currently legal (based on the advice of a CC trainer) to use bear spray on a human attacker if that is what you have to defend yourself.

    “The top 5 rated bear sprays on the market today are:
    –UDAP Bear Pepper Spray – UDAP believes in quantity, and shoots a large amount of spray in every shot. They also sell holsters.
    –Guard Alaska – A good range of sizes and strengths available as well as a holster.
    –Frontiersman – Glow in the dark safety, and guaranteed not to freeze.
    –Mace – A six second blast and a 30 foot reach on this one.
    –Counter Assault – A great selection of sprays and packages with a variety of holsters.”

    ‘Disabled Grandma Uses Bear Spray To Fend Off 13 Attackers After Her Marijuana Grow’

  18. At Dispeptic gunsmith:
    Thank you for this.
    My posted preferences are based on having a variety of tools available. That said, it’s nice to see some practical consideration of the problem that acknowledges the limitations of the average hiker.

  19. The gun sales staff at a LGS/sporting goods store told me how the last three (3) men who separately bought the S&W .50 cal with the short barrel did so as a backup gun for a grizzly bear emergency while planning their Alaska fishing trips. The staff told me how the next time they saw the men ALL of them had their arms in a sling! I noticed how the reviewer of this video stated that he has not yet fired the .50 cal gun so he does not know what the recoil will be like.

  20. A 50 cal 2″ hand gun? Has there ever been an accurate measurement on the torque at the grip on one of these hand cannons? I think the shock wave would drive those ear plugs out your nose. (Family oriented analogy).

  21. What’s the old joke about not having to out-run the bear, just having to out-run your hunting buddy? Haha.

    Maybe somebody should make a modern version of the LeMat revolver, chambered in like .357 magnum and a new, special shotgun round that’s anti-bear.

  22. My vote is for bear spray with a potent handgun as backup/hail mary. No real experience here but I’ve heard that the bear sprays are pretty effective. Add on to that the bear lives to remember and associate the nasty stuff with the humanoids they encounter. Word gets around in bearville to stay away from humans or you’ll get it worse than from a skunk.

  23. A 2008 peer-reviewed study on the Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska showed that 3 of 9 people who sprayed charging grizzlies were injured. The study did not include data on incidents when people carrying bear spray did not have time to use it. Bear spray advocates provide you with different statistics about the Alaska bear spray study. They tell you that during 72 bear spray incidents involving 175 people, just 3 people were injured. Bear spray advocates won’t tell you that 50 of 72 incidents involved bears that were curious or seeking garbage or food. In 2 cases, subadult polar bears approached “humans” in a pickup truck, so the humans sprayed the bears and bear spray worked. The authors of the study failed to mention that the humans in the pickup truck were U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologists. Incidents like this increase the overall success rate for bear spray, and reduce the human injury rate.


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