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The woods are pretty damn safe. I mean, you can spend every weekend hiking through areas “infested” with dangerous wildlife, and see nothing more than a snowshoe hare or a mule deer. But Lady Luck is a fickle bitch and there’s always at least a miniscule chance you will run into something – or someone – that wants to take a peek inside you. There are as many strategies for deep woods self-protection as there are picnic tables in Yellowstone, so the first order of the day is to know your adversary . . .

This is a discussion about hiking and camping, not hunting. Where you choose to commune with nature defines the short list of bad guys you’ll need to concern yourself with. If you aren’t in the Northern Rockies, things get much easier since you don’t have to worry about grizzly bears or Northwest Canada’s brown bears.

Mountain lions are likewise limited almost exclusively to the western US. Eastern adventurers’ biggest worries are black bears, and to a lesser extent, tasty members of the porcine family. Protecting yourself against an angry pig usually involves trying to steal his bacon to begin with; I’ll leave the mechanics of hog-defense to our Texas boys.

Black bears are the wimps of the woods…usually. Most black bear encounters end with the bear asses-and-elbows. My only blackie encounter occurred in the woods of western Massachusetts in the Deerfield River area. I was lugging a 20 pound camera rig down a two mile forest service road when I rounded the corner and came upon a large sow. I knew she was a sow because of the cute little cub nearby.

My first instinct was to film the encounter; my second was to run like hell. But long ago I learned you never run from a predator and my feet stayed planted. I raised the camera to my shoulder, and started shouting “HEY BEAR” while trying to look as big (and in hindsight, as stupid) as possible. It worked. Mama bear dashed into the woods and I never saw her again.

That doesn’t mean that they’re harmlessm though; far from it. Virtually all black bear attacks are predatory in nature (the exception being sows protecting cubs). Bear experts recommend fighting for your life if you’re attacked by a black bear because it wants to eat you. What’s that? You don’t want to be eaten? Then you need to fight back and on this blog that means bringing firepower to bear.

Now let me contradict myself. Your primary weapon against any bear should be a can of bear spray. Not pepper spray, but the 2% Capsaicin stuff specifically for use on bears.  Before you guys get all up in a huff, consider your point of aim on a 200 pound black bear that just put his head down and starts charging you from ten yards.

One second later, at about two yards, he will jump and knock you down. How’s your aim under duress? Will your round be strong enough to penetrate its skull? Can you find a heart shot and will the bear drop before it takes some good-sized chunks out of you? All in a couple of seconds?

With bear spray, you can instantly put a big orange cloud of pain between you and the bear which almost always stops the charge. Any good brand of spray will be most effective between 10-30 feet.Use both hands to hold the can, (the pressure is high and the can kicks up), and you want to aim low so the spray doesn’t go over the bear’s head.

What if that hungry black bear isn’t affected by the spray or what if it’s windy and raining, rendering the spray ineffective? Get your damn gun out. Shoot the bear until it’s no longer a threat.

Now, you’re thinking, what gun is the best for bear defense?  Of course, one that will stop a bear in its tracks.  A .375 H&H Magnum always at the ready will do the trick, but that’s not very practical on a Sunday hike. Let’s look at what features and functions are important in bear defense.

If you have never seen a real bear up close, it can be hard to convey the power and speed the brutes have, especially grizzly bears. I took my dad to Yellowstone this past week, and we had the extremely rare opportunity to observe a big male grizzly up close. He was on the side of the road, just out of the park, and we watched from the safety of the car while he grazed on the low shrubs.

Without warning, he took several steps toward the car; just a drainage ditch separated us. Fingers went to the power window button. His next move revealed raw speed and power. The bear turned and bolted up the hill, easily covering thirty yards in about three leaps.  Imagine you’re in the woods, and that griz is thirty yards away.  What firearm can you bring to aim in less than two seconds? Forget long guns; unless it’s an SBR, you won’t have time to swing it around to target.

Who wants to hike and carry a long gun anyway? Sure, if you’re hunting, but on a camp & hike trip it’s going to be a burden. The logical conclusion is a handgun in as big a caliber as you can comfortably manage.  Internet Forum concensus seems to hold across the board that nothing less powerful than a .357 Magnum for black bears, and for grizzlies, a .44 Magnum is minimum, with .454 Cassull or .500 S&W recommended if you can handle the large frame. When it comes to Canada’s brown bears, forget it. If you don’t have a big bore rifle, you’re on the menu. Accept it.

Grizzly bears are the assholes of the forest.  It’s very rare for them to prey on humans, but most grizzles won’t hesitate to bitch slap you and let you know who’s boss.  Their aggressive demeanor is readily apparent in their tactics. Grizzlies will bluff charge, and possibly knock you down, even giving a bite.  If you are no longer a threat, the bear will usually leave.  But if you act like a scared little animal, it could return and eat you.

Just keep your spray at the ready when the line of sight is limited and you’re in grizzly country.  If you do have to shoot, put as many big bullets as you can in the area above the lowered skull and below the big, muscular hump.  As a last resort, if the bear is on you, shoot inside the mouth, in the eye if you can get it, or in the chest under the neck.  If that’s your only strategy left, at least try not to be under the bear when it dies.

The next consideration to bear is your choice of bear ammunition.  There are a few manufacturers that make rounds specifically for bear defense. They’re hard ball and non-expanding so they can punch through 8-12 inches of skin, muscle and fat in order to hit a vital.

Now, we’ve covered everyone’s scary nightmare animal. What about the rest?  Wolves, mountain lions, rabid badgers, anything not a bear gets treated like a human, which for me means 20+1 rounds of 9mm Hydra Shok 124 grain in a Beretta 92FS.  I will likely never have to shoot anything in the woods, but I know that my handgun and a couple of extra mags makes me a bit more prepared to handle the unexpected. Especially when the unexpected has teeth.

My recommendation for the trail is a three-tier approach.  First, bear spray in a holster on your pack’s chest strap, strong-side.  Any time DefCon bear ramps up, unholster the can to reduce draw time.  The spray is also useful against lesser mammals.

If the spray can isn’t an option due to weather or other circumstances, or if you decide the threat requires lethal force, your favorite pistol open-carried in a retention holster is the way to go.  I carry my 92FS at 2 o’clock, secured to my pack’s waist strap. It’s a bit worse for wear after a couple of trail spills, and I’ve only had to draw once, when the stench of cat urine filled the air while we were crossing through a tight spot.

The final line of defense is a large caliber revolver as a backup. Carry options are open, but my preference would be a Ruger Alaskan in a weak-side ankle holster, because if you reach the stage where you will need to draw it, you are going to be in a fetal position anyway, putting it within easy reach.

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  1. There are not bears in Indiana, but there are snakes!
    My gf got bit by a copperhead several years ago and she spent the weekend in the ICU getting antivenom administered. 11 Vials total ~$90,000 before insurance (thank Christ for good insurance).
    +1 for CCI SnakeShot

    • I have never heard of antivenom being given for a copperhead bite. Copperhead bites are painful, and nasty, but never fatal. The antivenom is more dangerous than the bite. It sounds like the treating physician was an idiot. Either that, or they wanted to rip off your insurance company, and get some antivenom off their shelves. As far as shooting a snake, that’s dumb and unnecessary. If you see the snake, you can avoid it. If you don’t see it until after you’re bitten, then what good does it do to shoot it? A better strategy is to dress properly, meaning leather hiking boots, and long, loose fitting pants, preferably denim or canvas. And don’t place any body part somewhere where you can’t see whats there. I hike and camp in snake country all the time, and have been doing so for 50 years. I have never been bitten by a venomous snake. They are no threat at all if you use your head. And these predators are an important part of the natural balance.

      • You’re right, copperheads, along with cottonmouths, are generally much less lethal than rattlesnake bites and needing crofab is less common. However it is wrong to imply these snakes aren’t dangerous and many serious copperhead envenomations occur, even death. Care should always be taken around crotalidae snakes. I’m sure the antivenom was indicated if the girl was in the ICU, and suggesting that your opinion is more correct than the physician who actually saw the patient is assinine. I suppose you hike with a very large hat as well, to shade your large head.

        – a wilderness trained emergency physician annoyed at baseless posts from self proclaimed experts

        • Blah blah, douchebag. I am a physician. Yes, I do know more that a lot of ER docs, and you don’t know more that i do.Now go fuck yourself.

      • wrong…. my buddy’s neighbor was bitten by a copperhead and it killer her. She was middle-aged and healthy as I recall.

      • Local mayor recovering after bite from copperhead snake

        “Doctors had anti-venom serum on hand and told her that if the swelling and discoloration went much above her knee, they would have to use the serum. Fortunately it wasn’t necessary.”

        And yes, many times ER Doctors don’t understand exactly what happened right away, unless the aggressor is seen by the victim. Years ago I was bitten by something as I started my motorcycle in my garage. My right big thumb swell up like one of those mini-bananas, it progressed to muscle pain all over my body and it was worse in my calves, to the point that I couldn’t walk. In the urgent care, the few physicians who were there could not tell what it was. Some of these physicians were foreign born so I do not know if they were familiar with the local pests here in my State. Well, they sent me home with no treatment and by the next day I was feeling better. A few weeks after that I was at a charity event that feature firefighters/ems personnel. When I told them my story and showed them my finger which had these 2 small markings they knew right away that it was a Black Widow bite, they had seen this many times before, more so with kids and the elderly.

        • Go fuck your own self Michael Lawson…..physician my ass….corkscrew…..anyone can smell out a liberal douche-mouth-wash-bitch like you…..pray to God that you have no children….they would be just as you are….fucked up…….

    • I thought so – and I am from western Canada.

      I grew up in a suburb of a big city that was nonetheless frequented by black bears – you get used to them, but you still respect and avoid them. Never had a close encounter of the Grizzly kind, but I’ve hiked in their territory a bunch of times. Good luck bringing you heater into a Canadian national park.

    • Nope. Kodiak bear is what I assume he’s referring to. Average size is over 1000 lbs, while average size for a Grizzly is no more than 700. They are big scary mother fuckers, even in captivity.

    • Grizzlies (Ursus horriblis) are brown bears, but there are significant differences between the two. Coastal browns (U. arctos) are the largest of the brown bears; some clock in at over 1,300 pounds. The grizzles of Yellowstone are much smaller, usually under 600 pounds.

      Yellowstone-area grizzlies are more aggressive, as well. Scientists think it has to do with their diet; southwest Montana grizzles are mostly meat-eaters, whereas most other browns eat berries, moths, and squirrel caches as a primary protein source.

      • My brother should read this, he is looking at S&W x-frames for just ONE trip to yellowstone where they will probably get out of the car just ONE time to look at the park.
        Fool, probably going to spend 4 digits on a revolver that he wont even want to get out at the range.
        But as the saying goes, when your an eye doctor you get to spoil yourself, wait, maybe thats not a saying yet. Well, it will be.

        • Hey if that’s what you have to do to justify to your wife buying another piece for the collection I say – what the hell. I’m guilty.

        • If your brother draws down on a bear in Yellowstone, he better be ready to deal with a lot of fat white people in bermuda shorts.

      • Kodiaks and Grizzlies are both brown bears.
        Ursus Arctos is the species name.
        Ursus Arctos Horriblus is the subspecies name for Grizzly, and it exists from the Rockies up to Alaska.
        Ursus Arctos Middendorffi is the Kodiak, only found on the Kodiak and nearby islands.

        However the subspecies for the Brown bear are -very- subjective, as there are close to 40 different describes subspecies, and Brown Bears even in the same litter can come in a variety of colors, including brown, black, tan, grey, as well as many mature specimens achieving the “grizzled” (or frosted) look.

    • My understanding from people who have dealt with them is that the Brown Bear is the grizzly’s bigger, meaner, older brother, who is experiencing roid rage. Which is why Canadians usually sport a 12 gauge with slugs, when dealing with them.

    • Grizzly bears and brown bears are the same species, but they are quite different. A brown bear is a coastal bear, whereas a grizzly is an inland bear. Coastal bears get to feast on the salmon runs and so become much larger. Because they have to put up with other bears while crowding around the same streams, they are more tolerant of intrusion in their territory. Grizzly bears tend to be a little more ornery and easily startled. So while a coastal brown is bigger, a grizzly is generally more dangerous.

    • I live in British Columbia where we have a good population of Grizzlies pretty much all over the province. Grizzlies have been known to attack people, just without warning and in a situation like this if you don’t have your gun or bear spray in you hand you are in for a big problem. This is rare but every year we have grizzly attacks in our province and in the Rockies in the province of Alberta. Personally bear spray is the better defence but if you wanted to choose a gun, a shotgun is the best for a grizzly, with alternate loads of buck and slugs, which are way more devastating to the bear than a 44 mag or 45 acp. It is easy to carry bear spray in your hand and it has proven to be extremely effective. The chances of a bear attack are extremely rare but…..

      • Bear spray, bear spray bear spray….!!!!

        Pistols and or buckshot will get you killed, period full stop. Hardened 12 gauge slugs will work but you better be able to aim cause a wounded bear no longer understands flight… only fight.

  2. I’ve always been more concerned with the two legged predators than the four. That being said, I’ve migrated from a .38 SPL to a 9mm to a .45ACP.

    • Here in Colorado the most prevalent and dangerous predator in the mountains and on the plains is the ‘homo sapien horriblis’ or ‘Knucklehead’ as they are known locally. For those, it’s true a semi-auto, standard capacity (that means more than the low capacity 7-10 magazines) pistol in say 9mm or more power is a good call. Besides those sneaky human pests, we do have bears and cats.
      That said, being an OFWG, I like a double action revolver in .357 Remington magnum. The S&W Model 66 with a 3″ barrel works pretty good. It’s not too heavy, has good stopping power, yet can shoot .38 Specials for practice and can handle the weather, being stainless. I’m pretty well sold on stainless steel for working guns.
      I must admit I’m interested in those Model 686 Plus’s. One more round might come in handy sometime. I just don’t care for that dang lock. I know that they can be removed. I’ll wait til S&W figures out we don’t like ’em and that the pansy ass “guns bad’ jackasses aren’t the ones to listen to when designing guns. Maybe then I’ll get me one of them.

    • Overall the 10mm glock or same caliber of another comfy brand will do both man and beast well. 15 shots of 10mm should suit the task and the weapon is easily swung about. Use solid brass bullets made for bear in wilderness and a softer projectiles (I.E. silvertips) in town. The Glock 20 or 40 are the best all purpose sidearms for the 1 pistol for all purpose Excellent energy penetration and bone breaking value. 180 to 200 grains weight is suggested. Watch for the scat in identifying the type bear in your area and always have the spray at ready and wear little jingle bells. A smaller bears poo will smell like poop and have small nuggets in it and a grizzly poo will smell like bear spray and have jingle bells in it. Sling a 12 gauge as well – get to it if you can. 00 buck is death for you.

  3. Growing up in Wyoming and doing a fair amount of packing into the north western quarter of Wyoming being prepared for bear encounters was always a priority. Personally I have never come across one in the back country however my father did many times and bought a black bear tag annually. He ended up with a couple bears over the past 35 years living there.

    Typically we would be in the backcountry to hunt so the standard 300 Win Mag or 7mm Rem Mag seems more than ample protection.

    One trip was none other than an extended pack trip 20 miles into the back country by pack string in the summer months. This area is prime grizzly country and came with extensive warnings to be prepared for the inevitable grizzly encounter, so much so that areas are indicated where large steal bear boxes are left by the DNR or FS for public use.

    After extensive research here is the approach we settled on.
    – Several cans of bear mase
    – An 18 in pump action 12 ga.
    – Recommended load was the first few rounds to be fire would slugs, followed by a couple of 00 buckshot and ending with your final shots being slugs.
    – The idea here being that the slug would be more effective at distance, the buckshot as the animal is very close and your retreating to shelter of some kind and the slugs as a final effort to end the bear if he is on top of you.

    – In addition we used a portable electric fence to not only surround our horse but also our tents.
    – It goes without saying that we also hung our food high and between trees and use the provided bear boxes.

    In hindsight the shotgun seemed like a great idea but in all practicality it’s pretty hard to take aim and hit anything at distance with a pistol grip shotty. Now retreating and letting loose some hail mary buckshot fire is another story. I’m not sure how that buckshot would do at stopping the threat but it would definitely do one of two things, really piss of the bear and speed up your demise or maybe make him change his mind. Not a gamble i’m totally comfortable with.

  4. Heard this guy on the radio a couple of months ago. Ex-cop who looked into missing folks in national parks in the US and Canada. All I can say is that it scared the living bejezus out of me….The US Park Service doesn’t even track missing people cases in its parks. Get that. You go missing, your story just disappears into the either after a day or so. Lovely….Government at its best…

    • Sorry, Tommy, that’s just crazy talk from a Bigfoot research site.

      Hundreds go missing in parks every year; but hundreds do not go unrecovered in National parks.

      The Forest Service and National Parks Service runs search & rescue events every year, (with the help of local police and fire depts) with recovery rates near 100%.

        • Those four hundred cases are over a period of a hundred years. Paulides, of the North American Bigfoot Assocation, may have an agenda (a big, hairy, agenda with a loping gait) constantly suggesting there is something sinister in the woods, something unnatural.

          Many of the specific cases he names have much saner explanations, from wildlife attacks to hypothermia.

          Sorry, but I give no weight to anything put forth by bigfoot researchers.

        • yep – 100% of the bigfoot chasers cases are suspect, of course. Having worked for the NPS and been on dozens of SAR missions in several parks, I can tell you no body goes missing in a national park without a large scale SAR, including air assets in wilderness areas. Also – having worked in law enforcement in areas with apex bears, a handgun is a back up at best and should not be your first firearm choice.

          If you want to survive a bear encounter first you need to training & experience in bear country. You should never be caught off guard by a bear charge – they make plenty of noise (teeth grinding, grunting, warning stands, etc) and they SMELL – they release a pheromone when aggravated. It is then that you ready your bear spray and LONG GUN. In Alaska, the wildlife troopers have done extensive studies what show: 1) bear spray is about 90% effective in stopping an aggressive charge. 2) Handguns – .357Mag & larger in this study – are about 58% effective in stopping aggressive charges. 3) Long guns (12G shotgun, or 30.06, 300Win, 338, 358Win, 35 Whelen, 45-70 being the vast majority used in this study) are about 84% effective. So Spray is your best first defense. Followed by a suitable rifle / shotgun. You will not see professional guides carrying a handgun as a Primary weapon, but as a back-up as they are intended to be.

  5. I’ve stopped carrying when I go backbacking in the Cascades, because I am going ultralight these days and don’t want to carry the extra 2-3 pounds. My 5 day pack weighs in at 24 pounds. I sometimes see black bears, but they are usually in berry-gathering mode during the summer, and are not interested in people. When I hike the Seven Lakes / Bogachiel Peak area (Olympic Nat. Park), it is not uncommon to see 20 or 30 black bears over the course of a couple summer days. Also, I’m not too worried abouty two -legged varmits up there. Criminals are pretty lazy for the most part, and I doubt too many want to hike a trail with 3000-5000 feet of elevation gain just to steal my crap or kill me. Nah, the bad guys will just clout your car while you are gone.

    I did witness what I think was a grizzly “faint” (false charge) in Yellowstone in ’89. We were coming down that open barren ridgeline that leads down from the larger ridgeline that sports the petrified trees (on Specimen Ridge). One guy in our large party (20+ people) was walking 75-100 yards or so ahead of the main group, and a grizzly bear bolted out of the treeline from the right (northeast). From our angle it seemed like the bear was coming right at him. We started yelling and screaming waving our arms, pointing, etc, and the bear stopped, spun around, and bolted back where he came from at a full sprint. All over in seconds. The bear’s speed was amazing. None of us could figure out what triggered the “attack” (or whether it really was an “attack”?). In my mind, the bear was running too fast at the guy to make me think it was not an “attack” but some of the other folks thought it was just a random encounter. We did see a moose in that same wood line, and I’ve always wondered if that had something to do with it. Based on that experience, I know having a holstered gun would not have helped that guy, because it all happened so fast. Just overcomming the shock of seeing this big ass animal running at you when you don’t expect would undoubtedly take a second or two.. or more. I found the location on Google Earth this morning to try to refresh my memory on distances, etc. but it didn’t help me remember details.

    • Live in the same area you do, Pac NW. Spent three days with a couple of mountain goats at 4k feet in the Olympics, IN CAMP. They even knocked over a pot one afternoon. Had bear spray and a scandium SW .44 mag. Happy to have both when the two big males came bowling into our camp. They were cool and only butted each other around, which was funny, but you never know. The next day some German tourists were hiking up there and throwing rocks at them so they would turn for a picture. The goats were getting pretty PO’d, which I wouldn’t hold against them. I’ll keep packing, thanks, you can keep your “It won’t happen to me” attitude.

  6. Open carry isn’t allowed in Arkansas, except for inside one town that I know of. Thus the need for new laws, at least in rural and backcountry areas.

  7. At Wholesale Sports in Portland two of the salesmen told us how the last four men who separately bought the short barreled (2″+?) Smith & Wesson in I believe .500 caliber though it might have been .460 all later came back to the store with their right arms in a sling. The men had purchased their revolvers as an emergency bear defense gun for their fishing trips up to Alaska.

  8. A really good book on the “staying safe in the woods” issue is “Trail Safe”, by Michael Bane. He mainly discusses avoiding problems with 2-legged predators, and reminds you that the “great outdoors” is not immune form low-life encounters. The book was out of print for its political incorrectness for many years, but it is now available again on Bane’s website:

  9. A really good book on the “staying safe in the woods” issue is “Trail Safe”, by Michael Bane. He mainly discusses avoiding problems with 2-legged predators, and reminds you that the “great outdoors” is not immune from low-life encounters. The book was out of print for its political incorrectness for many years, but it is now available again on Bane’s website:

  10. as for not carrying because of lazy criminals, valid point. personel choice, but if i had seen that many bears on a trip i would like to carry. especially since black bear attacks are predatory. seeing that many bears on a single trip might mean overpopulation and short food supplies. tasty hikers stave off starvation. 1 of the rare times that jeff cooper recommended anything other than a 45 was just for these animal attack scenarios. with his experience he figured that such a scenario would be fast brutal and wind up with the person under th animal. he thought a short barreled s&w 19 might be best for that problem.

    • Model 66 is the stainless version of the Model 19. Bill Jordan asked S&W to build a ‘K’ frame .357 Mag. The result was the Model 19, “Combat Magnum.”
      Using that gun and a “Jordan” style holster, he designed, Bill Jordan was filmed drawing and hitting a target in .27 of a second.

      • The model 19 is an EXCELLENT handgun, and a good quality Jordan style holster is a pretty good choice as well. That is essentially the set up I used to use when handgun hunting white-tailed deer in PA, except my revolver was a Dan Wesson.

  11. First time my wife and I went camping and climbing in Colorado (1975) we were unarmed. Heard cats all night long. Next year I carried my 1911. Since then I never go into the woods without some sort of firearm even on the benign hike up Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain Park that I took in early June. In all my years of outdoor activities I have never seen a Mountain Lion. I have seen bears when out hunting, coyotes and host of other game. When you go out to the Blue Ridge in Virginia the biggest four legged threat is a pack of ferral dogs. A 22 rifle is sufficent to deal with that. I did learn that cats are very responsive to pepper spray. They are much more sensitive than canines and a shot of standard self defense pepper spray will send them packing unless they are rabid.

  12. Oregon has a problem with an abundance of big cats and surprisingly has the third largest snake population in the US after Florida and the Southwest. A big snake population is located a few hours south of Portland. Residents haven’t helped with dumping their boas when they get too big which can survive the winter here in parts of the state. I’m no expert yet I believe the Kel-Tec .22 mag pistol would be good defense for both species.

  13. When I lived in the Yukon we never went hiking without the 870. I was always jealous when we went to alaska and the guys all carried big revolvers….much lighter than the shotty

    That said< i had more then one conversation with Mr. Griz while staring down the sights. Never had to fire but it is unnerving when they are within 25 yards

  14. Been on two Alaska hunts in Denali…both times we saw griz. This last time I went, we saw them multiple times. I had the pleasure of sitting at camp (perched above a very large field) watching a mother griz and her cubs playing. I couldn’t believe how fast mother was. Scary really. Amazingly huge yet nimble, FAST creatures. I quickly realized that under MOST circumstances, you won’t have time to reliably react with a firearm. You’re likely going to have a bear on top of you and your buddy is going to come to your rescue with the big bore. Bear spray was our primary defense (we each carried a cannister), I kept the 300 weatherby mag on the handlebars of my quad, a .460 rowland 1911 with 255 grain buffalo bore on my hip (others had .44 magnum’s). Between the three of us, we had plenty of firepower and yet never felt “safe”. After I took my bull moose, we slept with one eye open since we had meat bags hanging all around our camp. We got out without any encounter. I’ll tell you a lot of this “internet talk” about protecting ourselves against big bears with firearms is well…just talk. #1, don’t be alone in the woods where those bears are. It’s your friend that’s likely going to save your ass during a bear attack, not you. #2, use bear spray – more effective given the time/conditions usually presented during bear attacks. #3, have a big enough caliber on the hip or ankle as a last resort to shoot any bear that is on top of you. As far as the threats in the mountains here in CA, my .357 snubbie with buffalo bore should suffice.

  15. I’ve spent actual months in the back country in bear areas of the west and far more in the east, especially on the AT. I’m A mountaineering guide and an ultralight hiker. In the east, I carry a G19 because over the last thirty two legs has been MUCH more of a problem than four. I’ve had several close encounters with black bears. One actually involved Bear Spray. It works well. Out west in BIG bear country I carry a Scandium .44 in a chest pouch. It isn’t fun to shoot a lot but it is a great gun. As a mater of fact, it is my ONLY revolver. I also sometimes carry what is basically a legal length, stocked 12 ga. entry gun. Ghost rings, light and a newly added green laser.

    Learning bear behavior is a very important factor in backcountry travel.


      • Here is one .. Do not suprise them – Make some noise – attach some bells that sound as you walk to eliminate suprising a sow in bear country.

  16. “Who wants to hike and carry a long gun anyway?”

    My friend does! 🙂 when we go hiking we are usually all carrying a weapon. I usually have a pistol on me and my friend for some reason carries an HK G3 with him. I dont know how a bear will react to a bunch of 9mm hollow points from my pistol, but i think it might be a little annoyed.

    I’m not too worried about bears in southern arizona anyways…its the two legged animals in the illegal drug/human trafficking business that have me concerned

  17. Bear spray and snake leggings will keep a hiker safe from most of the four-legged and no-legged scary things in the woods. However, if you’re hiking without tick repellant, you are nuts.

    Before tick fevers were well-known, several of my fellow hikers were taken down by Lyme Disease, one got Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and another had encephalitis that was probably tick-borne. The guys all survived, but one of the Lyme Disease victims is permanently disabled (although he still hikes).

    Repellants aren’t fool-proof, but I won’t go into the woods unless I’m well-slathered. There aren’t many big animals who can hurt you as badly as an insignificant, little tick.

    • I don”t see any ticks in the Cascades, although eastern Oregon has lots of them. Nasty ass little creatures.

  18. How do you tell the difference between Black bear feces and brown beer feces? Brown Bear feces has bells in it and smells like pepper spray.

    • Seriously, in Colorado so many people have put bells on their packs in the last thirty years or so that the bears now know the sound means someone is bringing “delivery” dinner. We call them “bear dinner bells.” It is not that the bears are going to go after people just the tasty treats they bring with them.

  19. What about defense here in the Western states forests, that involves defense against black bears, mountain lions, and dangerous humans – pot farmers guarding “their” areas in the national forrest, as well as the occasional hostile drunk redneck.

    What would be good for both animals and hostiles? It can’t be only a big bore revolver, as that would be too slow, I think.

    Maybe a full sized Glock 20 in 10mm. That should have enough power for the critters, and be fast enough for the hostiles.

    I would love to hear peoples inputs on this on.

    Thank you

    • If you need to up the firepower, I’m with you on Glock 20 (I prefer the SF model; fits my hand better). There are other choices, like the Colt Delta Elite and the EAA Tanfoglio Witness, but I wouldn’t worry about abusing a Glock.

    • I think if Moose and Grizzly aren’t going to be a problem for you then 10mm is a perfectly adequate choice.
      The Glock 20 would give you a fairly light, high capacity, option too.
      10mm loads aren’t anything to sneeze at either.

  20. Bottom Line Up Front:
    Bears will generally follow species and regional tendencies BUT! Individual animals might not!!! Don’t get suckered into thinking things like “Grizz will always feint first.” This is actually a huge issue with some people.

    For a real education on bear country travel start with “Bear Aware” by Bill Schneider and “Backcountry Bear Basics” by Dave Smith. They say it a whole lot better than I can in a post.

    On bear protection gear, some see it like an LE belt with an escalation of force spectrum. In reality it’s more like a golf bag except you get to pick “two clubs, if you’re lucky, to play the whole game! Consider it an armed encounter. You won’t have a lot of time to make choices once the fun starts.

    The joke is funny but factually wrong. People don’t take black Bear seriously, thinking they’re harmless, and get bit by that assumption (literally!) Some one recently asked me when bears and humans first started having encounters and suggested the fifties. I laughed and pointed out that we’ve been competing with bears over living space, and food sources, for at least 40, 000 years according to archeological finds.

    On that 10MM, a lot of people agree with that reasoning, including Ron Hood, the survival teacher.

    Hope that helps!


    I hope that helps!

  21. I spend 90% of my outdoor time in the low desert around Phoenix which pretty much means either mountain lion or pissed off javelina (which can be nasty customers). I usually take my EDC 1911 but am saving my pennies for a Glock 20 so I can keep the 1911 at home, dust free and ready to go without have to clean it right away. Three days of trail in a Jeep with no top or doors is guaranteed to get dust in places you didn’t think possible.

  22. My wife and I hike the Central Sierras a couple of times per year. While there are no Grizzles left in CA, there are tons of Black Bears and Mountain Lions. The last time up we ran across 3 Bears. The first one crossed the road in front of us just like we were not there, the next one was a scant 15 yards away running away from us, and the third was knocking over a trash bin outside our condo.

    While there is nothing like standing on top of a 10,000 ft peak looking over the top of the Sierras, in my mind it is a Recon mission. Constant Condition Yellow from start to finish. Anything, and I do mean anything can happen in the Mountains! I carry Bear Spray and a S&W 686 +P 6″ .357 Mag with 180gr magnum rounds everytime we go up. In Alaska, it is nothing less than a .44 Mag

  23. Glock 20 SF 10mm with 16 rounds of 200gr Hardcast Double TAPS. I hike the AT in PA with a 10mm becasue I can deal with a black bear if bear spray (that my anti gun fellow hikers carry) does work. The real problem is the 2 legged animals. We were hiking 4 dads with 5 kid ages 5-7 years old on the AT when a nutjob on an ATV came up and started to yell we were on his property. We were not becasue the white blaze trail maker was right above him. However he had an ak 47 straped to his ATV and I at this point had my hand on my gun (still out of sight but more ready than his AK)I decided that it was a better idea to agree with him and hike and cut our trip a day short than go to jail. Good news all the no guns from me fellow hiker told me they were happy to have options. What would I have done if he would have reached for his gun? Not sure and I thank God that I did not have to find out. I love my son and my friends much more than the man on the ATV.

    • Thank you everybody.

      I love the 686, and the also the Glock 20. The 686 is beautiful. The Glock I wouldnt’ worry about getting wet and muddy on camping trips. I may have to get them both. For a tool to use right now and not worry about, I am leaning towards the Glock 20. Plus, if running into dangerous people, I like the additional firepower.

      Sam – what a scary situation. Good thing you had options, and that no one was hurt. I actually worry more about people than bears and mountain lines. I have run into both pot growing areas, and areas with a number of mountain lions. I was fishing in an area with active mountain lions – one came into a small town and killed a dog. Anyway, good to be prepared for both.

      And, as an aside, good to take a first aid class as well and be prepared for medical emergencies.

      • Pro arms podcast (Mas Ayoob, Chris Christian…) did a podcast talking about 10mm glocks and there was a lot of discussion that glock 20s were suitable for this sort of thing with the full-power 10mm loads.

        /Do want.

  24. I caught Matt Damon on Jon Stewart plugging “We Bought A Zoo.” Stewart asked him it any of the animals in the movie were especially impressive, and Damon said that being up close and personal with an allegedly trined grizzley bear was quite an experience. All he knew about grizzlies up to that point was that one time his dad was fishing in Alaska and noticed the guide had a .44 Magnum with the front sight filed off. The guide explained “That’s so after I shoot the bear it won’t hurt so much when he sticks the gun up my butt!”

  25. tl:dr version:

    Use bear spray first on things with 4 legs: its more likely to work in the fraction of a second you have. If the bear spray doesn’t work, you’re dead by now anyway, so who cares what gun you brought?

    And there is a reason why it is Ursus arctos horribilis.

    • Although, at least in California:

      Black bears? Who cares, they aren’t going to bug you.

      Cougars? If you see them, they aren’t a threat: pick up a stick and they will leave you alone. its the ones you don’t see that will get you. They are ambush hunters. So your gun does no good anyway.

      Pot growers? Thats why you have your hunting license, pig tag, and suitable gun when hiking in the national forest or similar wilderness.

      The hunting license and pig tag means you are hunting, and therefore can carry concealed in the woods where hunting is legal, regardless of your particular county’s ease of getting a concealed carry permit, and its open season on pig in California so if you see one, you dine well.

      • Looks like it is time for me to get a hunting license then. That will allow me to carry concealed in CA, when I am out in the remote areas of the National Forests? (Shasta, Trinity, Lassen, etc).

        • Or move up here and ask the County Sheriff for one. He will likely oblige. Unlike his brother officers further south.

  26. I live in a rural area of Virginia. The black bears that lived on or around my property were pretty shy. They’d generally skedaddle when they’d see or smell me. I even watched one cub eating apples from a tree in my front yard. Then he saw me and took off. Not sure where his Mom was. He lasted part of one hunting season. My neighbor killed him – with a black powder rifle, I believe. Frankly, the neighbors’ dogs that would pack up and attack my dogs or another neighbor’s livestock were more of a threat. Not sure all black bears are the same, though. When I was in British Columbia many years ago, the black bears there were bigger on average and had a reputation for attacking people and not running away. So I kept a pretty keen eye when my wife and I were hiking and made plenty of noise. As for a weapon, what can you legally carry where you’re going? A big bore pistol will make enough noise to scare off or kill one who moves toward you…if you can place your shot.

  27. I’ve spent the last 30 consecutive summers on Kodiak. My handgun of choice is a S&W 500 with a four-inch barrel – securred in a high-quality leather chest holster. The best defense is common sense – meaning be bear alert and make enough noise to let them know that you’re coming. However, it doesn’t always work due to varrying conditions – terrain, weather and wind. I’ve had a number of close calls over the years. In 1984, I was cornered, in a doorless outhouse, by a large sow that was a mere 12 feet away. I also experienced a couple of bluff charges while guiding clients on wilderness fishing trips, etc. A few years back, we were pinned down by a boar leaving us with no place to retreat (pinned up against a granite facier). My partner cut loose twice with bear spray at close range. Each time, the bear spun 180 degrees and retreated 20 feet or so – only to advance on us again, and again. This went on for close to 45 minutes with my rifle shouldered – no easy task since the .458 weighed close to 10 pounds. A large-bore rifle or .12 gauge shotgun is far more effective than a handgun but obviously more cumbersome to carry.

    Once again, the best advise is to make noise, travel in groups and try to maintain a safe distance from these remarkable animals .

  28. In NJ you better have a bear spray can. You probably won’t be able to bring a gun with you here, which is a shame because there are a Ton of bears out in these woods. I’ve run into them nearly a dozen times a nearly every summer for 3 years. They are usually shy but I would hate find one having a bad day

  29. Live in New Zealand to most dangerous creature is the katipo spider that would make you sick if you were a sick new born baby

    • Or you could go camping and find the Black Power encamped next to you. I was nearly forced to live in a Mongrel Mob housing complex, but luckily Housing NZ came up with an alternative. I did work for 20 years for WINZ, and frequently spent time with Black Power and other gangsters. No problems, but they did make me smoke plenty of dope to prove my bona fides… Alas, all of our dangerous critters walk on two feet.

  30. In Black Bear country I carry a Ruger Alaskan .454 using .45 Colt .300 grain hardcast bullets by Buffalo Bore. I fly fish; so protection is my mission.

    The same gun used by a gentleman with a last name Bush killed a 900 lb Grizzly in Alaska using 360 grain bullets.

  31. Forgot, he was using .454 hardcast bullets in 360. He shot him in the neck. I think a spine shot is, indeed, the best target.

    I did hear that a guy shot a grizzly in the knee cap with a 9mm and ran away to live.

    Shoot to stop, not necessarily kill on first shot. If you aim at the neck when the bear’s head dips, you will hit the neck or when he lifts his head, you hit the head.

  32. Here on Vancouver island,we have the largest population of cougar in north America. cougars are constantly being spotted and shot by the r.c.m.police and c.o.s around schools .we now have grizzly bears on the island from Campbell river north on east side of island. past week,2 cougar shot at neil and in summer a 600lb.male grizz shot after killing a guard dog at local fish farm. in port mc neil area. I prospect/hunt/fish/camp all over the island . I would no more think of going bush unarmed than I would leave my DEPENDS at home. (RETIRED Eh!!) be armed,be safe, get home.

  33. Out here in Maine, black bears are your usual big predator. I’ve been out in the woods here for as long as I can remember and have seen plenty of sign and a few bears. But the ones out here aren’t very afraid of people. They usually just stare at you and act like they’re trying to figure out what you are. One big thing when out hiking, hunting, or fishing is to ALWAYS be alert and never go alone. Know where you are, what’s around you, and know how to defend yourself accordingly if something were to attack you. There are many other nasty creatures out here that are much more daring than a bear. We have big Canadian lynx that can take down fully grown whitetail bucks, coyotes (though they’re more of a pest than anything), mountain lions, I’ve even seen a few giant fishers out here that I would not want to mess with. Always carry spray, a gun, and a knife. And always use common sense when out in the wilderness.

  34. Come on folks, everyone knows that as long as you make NOISE when hiking in the woods you’ll hardly ever have a bear altercation! Sing, talk (even to yourself) or get a walking stick that has jingle bells attached to it. Don’t be afraid to make a little noise on the trail and you’ll most likely never see a bear. Right?!!
    And just in case you do see one, carry your bear spray. Even when your out on the trail and stop to pick some huckleberries, have your bear spray handy!
    Now, when out in the woods it’s a good idea to ‘read’ the territory your in. Animal tracks and scat (poop) are good to pay attention to. A good size pile of scat usually found right in the middle of the road or trail, as bears like to make it OBVIOUS who’s territory your in, can’t be missed. When it comes to bear scat, it’s easy to tell the difference between black bear and grizzly bear scat. Black bear scat will have evidence of its’ diet as you’ll see remnants of huckleberries and it’ll even have a fragrant odor of berries. Grizzly bear scat will too have huckleberry remnants but a close look will reveal pieces of a walking stick and those jingle bells still intact. It’ll have a distinct odor of bear spray as well!
    Good luck out there! Don’t forget your .45 semi-auto with +p rounds!

  35. in northern B.C with bears with browns growing over 1100 pounds the best bear medicine in my opinion is a big cloud of bear spray. If he still charging my 2 hiking partners can put 5 rounds each of .45-70 into him and me too if I can get it into the face area. no bear is still mauling after that happens.

  36. I live and hike in the Inland Northwest. I spend most of my time in the woods in NE WA, N Idaho, and Western Montana. In these areas, especially up north near the Canadian border about every North American predator is around. If I am not in Grizzly country than I normally carry a .40 cal handgun for protection from cougars, wolves, black bears, and humans. If I do plan on passing thru Grizzly habitat than I always carry my Ruger Redhawk .44 mag on my hip. I have not yet encountered a Grizzly in the wild, but I find I am able to sleep much better at night with my .44 laying on my chest at the ready!

  37. Having lived on the edge of Alaska’s bush country a significant portion of time I say bear in a bad mood won’t be too impressed with anything youre going to throw at it, even if it is 500 S&W’s. The day you see a bear leaking blood clots the size of a fist after absorbing multiple .338 Win rounds is the day you decide to never fuck around with a brown bear.
    Secondly, anyone who claims to walk more than a mile through the bush with an ankle holster is a fucking liar. You should try it, I’ll be on hand with the metal detector to find the gun you lose

  38. @Colt L…LOL…I second your ankle holster thought. I live in Alaska too and while fishing the various streams and rivers in the mat-su valley all the way down to the Kenai, I can tell you that I always have bear spray and a back up gun. While fishing it ranges from my 454 Alaskan to a Kimber 1911 10mm with hot rounds. Have fished around and met many bruins – too many to count – and never once have I had to jerk my go-to bear spray. Call me lucky but the fact of the matter is they are more concerned with the salmon in the water than you. Be prepared, learn as much as you can about bear behavior, and try not to be alone. Common sense should always rule the day! They are one of the most awesome creatures on our earth and to see one in the wild doing what they do is equally awesome!

  39. I hike and backpack in the PNW southeastern Cascades avidly. I do lots of trails and the occasional through the forest backwood make your own trail backpacking trips. I carry a Taurus .44 magnum Titanium with Buffalo Bore 255 grain FMJ and my Glock 23 with extra mag. Every now and again I get funny stairs from the occasional Liberal nerd/dork I pass on the trails deep in the woods and completely unarmed. I’ve only ever seen one hiker who was packing bear spray. Tell you what, you can keep your bear spray and if it don’t work, playing dead might. As for me, I’ll hang onto my peace makers and continue on my adventures with my trustee dog, Princess the Pitbull. I’ve yet to see a Black Bear but I have seen a few cats and two fuckheads who were out scouting places in the woods to grow their weed. I’m not sure if the dog made them nervous or the rugged Mexican carrying a huge backpack armed with two guns coming out of the dense forest with a shermagh wrapped around his face did. I guess I’ll never know. Princess is kind of intimidating though but she would’ve licked them to death on command. Moral of my story is this. Never go in the forest without any sort of self defense. Alway be prepared be it a gun, your bear spray, hair spray and lighter combo or even your Jim Bowie. Whatever it is, take it cuz it may save your life or others around you.

  40. I sw new mexico and. Plan in fishing and camping next yr 2015 northern nm and i. Have ruger redhawks ss a 4in and a 7.5 in which would be better to pack. Ruger guy

  41. I carry a firearm(concealed) whenever Im camping/hiking. In my state, and the states around me, which honors my carry permit, in the state parks, I carry not so much for the 4 legged animals, but much more for the 2 legged evil kind. If you are of the total liberal mind, and think that you are ok in the back woods, and totally safe from the evils of the world, you are totally out of touch with reality. Thugs, rapist, murderers are on the trail also. Wake up and be safe out there.

  42. For me it’s the same argument for people who say “What, you need a .40 with 10 rounds and a spare mag while buying canned spaghetti at the grocery store”? It’s not “I know I’ll need this”, more “What if I need more”. As I increasingly decide to vacation in mountain areas (Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado) I feel more of a need to carry more to keep myself safe. In the Grand Canyon you might run into an angry elk that you surprised at sunset, or a mountain cat, so my Ruger 40 is fine. For Montana, Alaska and Wyoming the chances of running into a big bear, a wolf, a moose or an American bison gives me greater pause. I bought a Raging Bull 45/ 454 to carry in those situations. Bear spray if able, hand cannon if necessary.

  43. Unbelievably 3 years ago was attached by a large mountain lion while hiking on my ranch checking for deer poachers. One round hardball from Govt 45 ended the attack, and cat ran off leaving a good blood trail. Never found the cat so prob not a fatal wound.

    One interesting aspect of the attack was the elapsed time between seeing the cat, recognizing that big furry tail, coming on the run from 25-30 yards up the trail and shooting was about 4-5 seconds at most with the round hitting him at about 4 yards from me. Fortunately my gun was in a strong side tactical holster or this could have gone hands or paws on:-(. Very unusual behavior for a lion in my experience of living in lion country and hunting them on a couple of occasions.

    • I just bring a pack of hot dogs when attack occurs, fire away with a wrist rocket. At face or nose of subject. It shows who is master. And critters will scurry away but may follow.

  44. Thanks for an informative, real world, concise treatment of options…much appreciated

    You forgot “depends” for those of us that are more likely to shit in the woods at the sight of a bear, than the bear is…



  45. Something tells me 15 rounds of 9mm would make any bear re-think their attack. I always have 4 loaded magazines ready to go when hiking. However, just in case that does not do it, I also carry a Desert Eagle .50 caliber and have a couple grenade launchers just in case there is more than one bear attacking.

  46. “Your primary weapon against any bear should be a can of bear spray. ”

    You’ve just killed a person with that advice. Don’t believe me, go buy a big 30 ounce can of bear spray. Then test it. It will test fine. then wait 30 minutes and fire the whole can . You’ll not find a 25 foot stream like they claim. You’ll get a 3-5 foot burst that is NOT a stream but a cloud.

    Those bear sprays should be BANNED for FRAUD.

  47. FYI, it seems every year, here in Montana, the majority of Grizzly attacks that are ended with a firearm, are pheasant hunters killing Grizzlies with birdshot. Use long rifles and pistols if you want, but imagine hitting a undulating curve ball coming at you at 45 mph, while your under duress. That would be the scenario of hitting a charging bear with a one projectile firearm in the brain. Fifteen .32 caliber bullets traveling at the same velocity as a .44 mag, fired from an 18 inch shot gun would, I believe, prove more effective. If you have time to aim a rifle or pistol, and fire it accurately enough to hit a charging bear in the brain, it is probably stationary, and if so, one could try to back out of the situation. When I was young, I carried .357 and .44 magnum pistols. I was at the time shooting about three times and week and competing a few times a year. As I have aged 40 years since then, I realized my folly and the false sense of security I was provided. If you are proficient with a shotgun (point and shoot) I feel it is a much better choice. Plus, with the shot shells, your are provided more targets, ie, nose, mouth, eyes, windpipe, and arteries. That being said, if you aren’t trained and comfortable with a firearm, pepper spray is said to be effective in many cases. Remember, when it happens, you have fractions of seconds to analyze the situation and react. Otherwise, if a bear is at a distance, just try to avoid it. I carry an 18 inch 12 gauge, with 00 buck three inch magnums in the chamber, at the ready (never slung over the shoulder). In the last four years, I have had five encounters, but I never had to pull the trigger. I did lay the gun down one time and was taking off my pack to take a break, and wouldn’t you know it, a grizz came up when my back was turned and luckily, one of my two dogs growled, and before I could react, put the run on the bear. Had I not had that dog, I am sure I would be here writing this. Ultimately, its your own personal decision.


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