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Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection

11 Apr 2012
@ 06:15 am (GMT)

Steve Novotny

I'm considering carrying a light AR-15 carbine in .50 beowulf during hikes in grizzly country. I wonder what others think of this approach, and whether something else might be lighter and just as effective (.500 S&W pistol, for example).

In any case, for relatively large bore, but slow velocity cartridges, what is the best bullet type for dangerous game?


13 Apr 2012
@ 09:53 am (GMT)

Nathan Foster

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
Hi Steve, there are certainly a few things to think about here. A few weeks back, an acquaintance was attacked by a grizzly sow, an extremely large bodied animal. She spied the hunter from about 40-60 yards, made her decision, then came in with absolute determination. She was despatched at a range of about 4 yards with a .270 WSM and 150gr GameKing. She was coming in straight but then came around at an angle which made it a quartering on shot- no time to use the scope. The bullet missed the shoulder which I think was fortunate and instead, struck the rear ribs, raking through to the liver. She peeled away and died about 4-5 yards from the hunter. A full report was given to the local authorities.

High velocity can kill but with a small bore, penetration can be iffy and if a tough bullet is used, wounding can be narrow. A larger bore used at high velocity such as a .338 can be immensely effective but there is one problem with this- recoil. Losing the sight picture under recoil and losing time between follow up shots is a potentially big problem in dangerous situations and this is where the slow moving big bores prove useful.

So its not about the stopping power as a single factor. If it were the single factor, a .460 Weatherby would fill the role. What is required is low recoil, adequate penetration and wide wounding. The wounding needs to create both mental trauma (the brain cannot cope with feedback and needs to go into coma) and physical trauma (blood loss / CNS damage etc). As a plus, the wider we go in bore diameter, the less velocity is required to initiate trauma- providing a suitable bullet design is employed.

A hand gun has two potential problems, the first is the sight radius. On a fast moving target, it is too short for optimum target acquisition and shot placement in all but the most experienced of hands. Recoil is another factor, especially in the big bores. Of course, if you are determined, a handgun can be made to work, the recoil dampened, the shooter practiced etc. This is not an argument, just the basics of it all, a rifle is simpler to use and simple is an important consideration.

I believe you are on the right track with your current set up and cartridge. Providing an expanding bullet is used, this will maximize trauma. The rifle is capable of fast follow up shots and the semi auto mechanism helps dampen recoil. Goal velocities of 1800fps would be ideal if possible.

Of the available projectiles, the 350gr XTP is the most traumatic in wounding. For more controlled expansion, the 300gr Speer Gold dot HP is very good. Avoid the Speer bonded soft points as there is always a slight delay in killing with this bullet style. The DG HP can be enhanced a bit by drilling down to the actual gold dot, this helps quite a bit in delivering trauma, speeding up incapacitation but there is a sacrifice in penetration, though its not a big deal with frontal, quartering or broadside shots.

Honestly, I don't know if you could find a better combo than what you already have.

Just a few other potential rigs could include:

Rossi lever action .44 Magnum with 240-300 grain bullets. The single advantage of this rig is its light carry weight. Load to maximum velocities and check that the sights match the bullet path. Grind foresight to suit if necessary.

Marlin 44 Magnum- slightly heavier than the Rossi but recoils less (stock design).

Rossi lever action chambered in .454 Casull- excellent power from a small lightweight platform. Recoil is fairly high. Some practice will be important.

.450 Marlin or .45-70 Marlin rifle. If full power loads are used, recoil is heavy, throwing the face off target, slowing down follow up shots.

Shotgun. First shot Buckshot, follow up shots using Brenneke. Good possibilty of the bear surviving yet moving away if hit at 40 yards with buckshot- from a conservation standpoint.

Pepper spray

There are of course plenty of other cartridge options and combinations. For the average woodsman who does not wish to use a purpose built/purchased rifle, an old .30-06 or .35 Whelen is entirely adequate.

I have to be honest, the only dangerous encounters I have had have been with wild cattle and boar at ranges of 30 to 0 yards. I have always had the wrong caliber with me (I wasn't hunting these species during the incidents- Murphy's law). In my 'dangerous' encounters, things have gone very wrong and after emptying the magazine I have ended up having to use a knife which may sound all brave and cool but if you were there, you would think I had been taking dance lessons. By the by, its also why I prefer a good bowie on my hip, not the small folders I see guys carrying around these days.

If you haven't already, please read the article I wrote about the effects of the meplat on terminal performance in the knowledge base.

Hope that helps a bit.

03 Jul 2013
@ 01:47 am (GMT)

bryan b

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
For me the question revolves around if you want a firearm for protection or hunting. I live in British Columbia, Grizzly populations are carefully managed, with hunting by lottery only. Personally if they leave me alone i will leave them alone.

If i was hunting Grizzly, i would put myself in a position to take a shot from further than point blank. Any firearm with "magnum" on the cartridge head stamp capable of firing a premium bullet of 200 grains would probably suit the bill. I personally would want a weapon capable of firing high energy 225 grain or better, that is just me, with a animal capable of eating you, it does not hurt to kick a little harder. Calibers such as the 300 mags, 338 mags, or 375 mags would be the range. My personal choices would be 338 win mag, followed by 375 H & H. My reasons would be availability of factory ammo, and the ability to use the firearm for other hunting. If one reloaded, the Ultra Mag and Weatherby families, as well as 338 lapua could be included. Rifle configuration would start with a good bolt action and a low variable scope, perhaps open sights as a redundancy should optics fail in the middle of nowhere. Grizzlies like to eat gut piles, as such the sound of firearms is like ringing the dinner bell, especially in areas with no inshore salmon runs. For this reason when hunting game in Grizzly rich areas i still like to carry enough gun. One of the reasons 338 Win Mag is a popular caliber for Elk.

If protection from Grizzly was the purpose, the firearm would need to suit the most likely use. For example if one was living in Grizzly country and the Bear had just eaten the freezer on the porch and was coming through the door. Well a hunting rifle as above or a repeater shotgun would be my choice. If i was backpacking into a remote area where every ounce in the pack was important i would choose a 12 gauge single shot, carry slugs, buckshot, and birdshot in the event of a survival need. In certain protection situations i would include the popular large caliber lever guns such as 45/70 govt or 450 marlin. My opinion of when would be horseback hunting, or retrieval of game. These calibers operate best at relatively short range, since i would not chose to hunt a Grizzly at 50 yds in my opinion other calibers are more appropriate and versatile.

In a more direct answer to the actual OP question. No i would not choose 50 Beuwolf. If i remember its based on the 7.62 x 39 case. Excellent choice as home protection for 2 legged Grizzly, or as a range toy for someone who already has too many guns. For the real thing just not enough powder case capacity to do anything but annoy a large bear. The package would be more expensive and less effective than a true magnum and still be relatively heavy and full sized thus not a great gain in portability. I would want enough gun to kill a large bear with one good hit. Many years ago a Grizzly took a Moose from me, carrying a Alaskan 60"+ Bull 400 yards. Any such encounter imprints respect for the power and danger involved, caliber choices start to include bores one can walk down with a cowboy hat on or are moved on carriages. Use enough gun its not a academic question its survival.
04 Jul 2013
@ 01:13 am (GMT)


Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
I have spent countless hours debating this around camp fire for decades and I have talked with Nathan on this subject quite a bit;

I have lived in BC all of my life, I have killed two Grizzlies, one with a 338 RUM and another with a 30-06. My wife has harvested a very large Grizzly with her 300WSM (she has the biggest one, go figure). I have also shot or been on dozens of successful black bear hunts. We use nothing smaller than a 270 with an appropriate bullet and there is usually pepper spray on someones hip as well as. As for point blank shooting Bryan, thats when the real fun really starts LOL. But really if a bear is being shot for the thrill of atrophy hunt, not just for the meat, the closer the better to judge size and hide quality, boar or sow and good shot placement! Bryan I think your post is pretty spot on, just shoot what you can shoot accurately, using a a cartridge of reasonably sufficient power and bullet of suitable construction. The .30-06 loaded with a heavy bullet springs to mind, an ideal base line.

As for protection, that's a tough one. I have had two charges, both bluffs and I was lucky enough to see the bears before they saw me. I have startled bears up close and they spooked and broke immediately- away from me, but I think of that (but running to, rather than away) as the more likely scenario in an attack.
Going from a nice calm quiet walk to an explosion of breaking branches and "popping" jaws is scary as f__k! and a bit disorienting. I have no experience with a .50 buauwolf or any of the AR style rifles (Canada eh), but on one bluff charge I had a 30-30 lever and that was very comforting and I felt very confident. 7 rounds that aren't going fast enough to blow up but also have adequate power at PBR- and a rifle that I am VERY familiar with. I think familiar is the biggest key, especially if your surprised such as a predatory attack (think of a 500 lb Jack Russell terrier chasing a ball, and your the ball!!!) So I guess I am trying to say is use adequate power/bullet construction that your VERY familiar with. Do NOT strap it to a pack unless you can see a few hundred yards! Carry Pepper spray & fix blade knife on your hip and a GOOD DOG goes along ways to staying safe!!

OK and lastly, my hunting partner was charged by a grizzly (with the intent to eat him). He saw the bear make the charge from a standstill and after 2 misses hit the bear at less than 4 meters. My point is- if possible wait till the last moment to fire. The bear might hold up or turn off (you have saved a bear and paper work with the CO's) And oddly enough this hits home as the mountain out the front window of the the house had an attack today.

Guys please play safe, be aware of your surrounding and take bears seriously!!

P.S. Gary Shelton has written two very good books, really worth a read. The first if memory serves is call the "deadly truth about bear attacks". And an interesting watch is a documentary of a guy named Tredwell (I think) that was (miss guided IMO) who loved bears, his death by a bear was accidentally recorded and was reportedly a 30 minute endeavour. The documentary is very well done and the bear footage is outstanding.
27 Feb 2014
@ 02:41 pm (GMT)


Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
All comments here are useful and good. There is a lot of very useful information on this subject on the Garret Cartridges website. As Randy Garrett has always maintained "penetration is Vital". Hydrostatic shock would be very useful as well - if the hunter/victim can handle the recoil a 375 caliber (H&H or the new Ruger) is not inappropriate here. A Bowie is an excellent precaution as is a quality double action revolver in 44 or 45 caliber. Even the ol' 45 Colt is an effective round if a hard cast bullet with big meplat is used, same for 44. The best way to incapacitate any charging DG is also the most difficult shot - to the head or central nervous system. An angry Bear is a nightmare to face. I will relate a story I heard about three hunters who flew into Kodiak Island to take a Bear in a remote spot: the Bear was shot and he charged, killing the first hunter by crushing his head with one swipe of his paw. As more shots were fired the Bear killed and mauled the second hunter, as the third man crawled under a ledge that left the soles of his boots exposed. When they searched and found the hunters the Bear was laying dead at the feet of the last hunter. He had gnawed off the soles of the boots and so mangled the hunters feet that he bled to death. Apparently many charges are bluffs but one cannot be too prepared when going into Bear Country. A double rifle or mauser type (controlled round feed with claw extractor) is better than any semi-auto for avoiding a jam in hte gun. A revolver (double action preferred) is a good precaution and as usual shot placement is of great importance. I have attached a youtube video that gives a graphic demonstration of hydrostatic shock:

I might be advantageous to alternate rounds - solid, then expanding, then solid for large dangerous game. If using a 375 or even a whelen/9.3 a heavy gun (in weight) will smooth the recoil. You cannot be overgunned when facing a large bruin as long as you are able to place the shot. Personally I would not want to face a charging bear with a 30-30.

Nathan I wanted you to know that to me, you are following in the footsteps of the great Elmer Keith, which is to say practical experience and research in the field on live game. Your knowledge and writings are absolutely outstanding and I very much enjoyed your boar hunt story on the 35 whelen/9.3 link. More of the same would be welcome. Best to all.
27 Feb 2014
@ 02:53 pm (GMT)


Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
I forgot to mention that a rifled 12 gauge pump firing the latest saboted solid copper slugs is a viable option. These rounds cost about 4 bucks apiece but they will shoot clear through an engine block.
27 Feb 2014
@ 05:31 pm (GMT)

Nathan Foster

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
That was a good clip for sure.

I will be happy when the KB has all of the medium bores uploaded. The site is lopsided at the moment, its all O'Connor and no Keith.

I don't know if you have seen but I put an article up regarding frontal area. If you go to the cartridge research tab and then tick bullet frontal area, the meplat article link will appear.

Thanks Gregg, really appreciate your support.
27 Feb 2014
@ 06:10 pm (GMT)


Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
N - your meplat discussion is another outstanding article. Your point about delayed incapacitation when using lower velocity, large diameter bullets (hard cast or FMJ) is extremely cogent in any discussion of a DG rifle/cartridge.

An interesting point brought up on the Garrett site and discovered at the Linbaugh Penetration Tests was that increasing the size of the meplat (up to about .360 on a 45) INCREASED penetration, apparently due to getting enough weight to the front of the bullet to avoid any tumbling caused by having substantially more weight in the rear of the slug on a pointed or small meplat hard cast non-expanding bullet.

Counter-intuitive, as is the fact that SLOWER bullets will penetrate deeper until you get below about 1500 fps. When I asked Randy Garrett about this he suggested I attempt to run while standing in a swimming pool. : )
28 Feb 2014
@ 06:59 pm (GMT)

Les Mulloy

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
Upon reading some of the posts here I must say that some of the methods and suggestions seem rather extreme to me -- in my neck of the woods the following methods are employed to control GRIZZLY"S
1/ do the washing up without being asked to
2/ offer to wash clothes or at least help to hang them out
3/ tell them their hair looks nice at least twice per week
4/ pick flowers from the garden often
5/ make sure the fire is lit before they get home from work ( seasonal )
6/ ensure you empty the vacuum cleaner when you are finished
7/ find out what they like to drink and keep ample supply in fridge
8/ do not wait in the car at supermarkets- go in and push the trolley
9/ always ask how their day has been
10/ keep a close eye on the calender ??? ( birth days are very important )
These methods greatly reduce the risk of serious attacks occurring but it is always wise to have an escape route planned
28 Feb 2014
@ 10:42 pm (GMT)


Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
Tee Hee!! Yes, we are so much more likely to encounter these "Homeland Grizzlies" than their much larger cousins : )

I have only encountered one Grizzly and he took off the other direction with his huge shoulder muscles rolling across the hump of his back. It was a beautiful and awesome sight - especially since he was going the other way.....

Perhaps he sensed the multitude of protections swirling around in my fevered brain? Or perhaps he thought my fishing pole was a 600 Nitro Express??
01 Mar 2014
@ 03:51 pm (GMT)

Nathan Foster

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
I can see you are an expert on this Les, the accuracy of your statements is astounding.

I stuffed up the vacuum cleaner bag changing a while back. Will be scared for life.
07 Apr 2014
@ 08:42 am (GMT)

Tony Marasco

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
Keep in mind the charging Grizzly hysteria surrounds us.Cow talking elk definetly brings them in -sometimes like a freight train.They are not charging though.They are curious at times, beligerant other times and hell on a chicken house.I carry a 12 gauge in the summer, makes a bang and a little easy on our grouse for the pot...cheers
25 Mar 2015
@ 03:48 pm (GMT)

David Gray

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
Marlin guide gun. Mine has 1x3x20 Weaver mounted. You may choose no scope. My eyes won't focus on irons anymore. The Weaver is extremely light(for a scope). Maybe even one of the mini red dots. Or a reflex sight? Either .450 or .45-.70. Recoil has never bothered me shooting offhand. From the bench it'll let you know it. Course I've never faced a charging Grizzly. I just bought it "because I could".
27 Mar 2015
@ 08:47 pm (GMT)

mark korte

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
Hi Guys -
I have lived and worked in excellent grizzly habitat here in Montana for the last 17 years and while out bird hunting was charged by a suprised sow protecting 3 small cubs - she had done nothing wrong, it was just a complete accidental too-close encounter. I'm sorry to see that no one except Nathan and faulkner mentioned pepper spray. I can tell you that pepper spray will stop a determined charge very, very quickly, is light and convenient to carry and best of all - is not fatal to the bear. You can also afford a near miss - it has a pattern like a shotgun blast. I no longer leave the house for even a short hike without it. Pepper spray is highly recommend over firearms by every bear manager I know of here in Montana. I would still be agonizing in guilt had I offed that sow and orphaned those three young of the year cubs. I also avoided a lot of bothersome investigation by the federal authorities. Carry pepper spray and keep it where you can get to it in seconds. Better yet - be ultra aware of your surroundings, wind direction and the presence of bear sign. If you are not hunting something else, make noise and try to travel downwind, especially in heavy cover such as you might encounter while fishing a stream.

I think Les makes some very good points as well.
30 Mar 2015
@ 09:24 pm (GMT)

Alvaro Piqueras Alonso-Lamberti

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
We have some bears here in Spain. But they are nearly extinct, so an encounter is less than probable. Fortunatly, their population are growing, like the wolf one.

For what it worth, when tracking boars with a bloodtrack dog, I wear mi 44 magnum ruger deestalker. 240 gr XTP bullets, low recoil and massive stopping power.

No need to say, a boar is not a bear, but I don´t like knife fighting like Nathan, so better to stop them a couple of paces away LOL
07 Apr 2015
@ 10:06 pm (GMT)

Buck Slammer

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
I was an outfitter and guide in BC, Canada in a former professional life. The original post was for protection whilst hiking, so anything more than adequate protection is unnecessary cost and effort. To legally kill in self defence of an attack by a grizzly would require the animal to be VERY close, i.e. a range at which you would not need scope or even proper sights, though a front bead and a peep might be good. I know from personal experience a 45/70 will sit a grizzly down promptly, but a follow up shot or two would be likely to insure its down for good. The Marlin guide gun is perfect. A short pump action shotgun like a Remington 870 with a pistol grip and no but stock and 20" bbl would be my pick for pure protection. That loaded with 4-5 3" magnum solid slug shells is devastating at 10 yards. Porting would benefit the speed of a follow-up shot, and who would care about the mouse if you're being charged or attacked. It's for protection, not hunting. I have had charging angry bears with a 338 in my hands when guiding and I felt like I was holding a .22. When last I guided in bear country I carried a 416 Ruger in a Ruger Alaskan. But I had that for protection as well as anchoring wounded bears at distance. The 416 sure game me confidence!
26 Nov 2016
@ 04:31 am (GMT)

Tim Hodgson

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
A black bear broke into my cabin four times over the last two weeks coming through the window and over the bed where my wife and I sleep. After waiting for it to show for two days straight with my .30-06, the Calif. Fish & Wildlife trapper brought a trap which I baited per his instructions. We caught the bear. When I locked up the trap he was very aggressive howling and hissing and lunging at the grate. The trapper estimated that the bear weighed 500 lbs and was the bear which had charged him on horseback late this last Summer.

What should I use for bear protection when it is coming through the window and only feet away?

Would either 3" Brenneke Magnum Crush

or 3" Brennek Black Magic Magnum

cause hydrostatic shock at that range?

Would a .450 or 45-70 be better?

The trapper recommended #4 buckshot. I thought I would put one round of 00 or #40 buckshot followed by 3" Brenneke Magnum's (which one?) in my 18.5" Mossberg 835 with extended tubular magazine.

But Mr. Foster and others, what do you suggest?

Thank you in advance.

26 Nov 2016
@ 04:33 am (GMT)

Tim Hodgson

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
BTW, we were not there when it came in. But I have been awakened at 2 am when it was three feet on the other side of the 1929 era wood framed single pane window.
26 Nov 2016
@ 06:43 am (GMT)

Mike Davis

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
a .12ga loaded with the hottest load of buckshot you can get would be hard to beat at sub inside the bedroom range it would be all hitting within a 3'' ball if indeed it even made it out of the wad.... at 3-34meters range we have shot boar pigs and retrieved the wad on BIRDSHOT from deep inside the animal..... the newer steel duck goose loads are fair honking along some even doing a blistering 1700fps...very hard on shoulder and ears but hit with tearing not just poke through..... a load of 00 doing that pace would blow patterns all over the show at any range but up close........ it would also be a simple matter to swap out the steel shot and slip a lyman cast slug into the wad and recrimp..picture a 3/4 oz pellet of same shape as you used as a kid in the .177 air rifle.

a good mate from wyoming has always carried a .12ga coach gun when in bear country.......
26 Nov 2016
@ 06:44 am (GMT)

Mike Davis

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
that should read 3-4 mtrs range not 3-34......doh
01 Mar 2017
@ 08:12 am (GMT)

Glen Urquhart

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
I had a nice big post written , but when I posted it . It disappeared into cyber space.
01 Mar 2017
@ 08:35 am (GMT)

Glen Urquhart

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
I have had several full blown charges from brown bear and dozens of bluff charges . I have used mostly the 458 Winchester. But also the 416 Taylor and Remington cartridges. I've also had to use a 44 mag revolver loaded with 320 gr Cast Preformance Bullets , LFN style pushed by 20 or 21 gr of Win 296. The 458 and 416s stop a charging brown bear wonderfully fast and decisively. The 375 will generally knock a bear down but takes a couple/few more shots to end things.
The 44 did its job of keeping my from getting bit however I was very unimpressed with its killing /stopping ability. And that bear wasn't very big. From what I observed it worked similar to a 30/06 . Which was always considered an ok rifle for a woman by the old timers up here
01 Mar 2017
@ 09:02 am (GMT)

Glen Urquhart

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
Generally speaking I use light fast mono Metal expanding bullets .In the 458 & 416s. Once they were available. Before that the 400 gr Barnes .049k" jacketed rnsn and 500 gr Hornady and 510 gr Winchester rnsn . All in the 458 . And the 400 gr Swift A Frame , 350 gr Speer Hot Core, and 400 gr Hornady rnsp in the 416 before I was able to get X bullets.
But, I didn't kill bears with all those bullets.
In the 416 My favorite bullet is the Barnes 300 gr TSX. In the 458 I like the 300 gr TSX and 350 gr TSX.
The recoil pulse is much easier to deal with with light bullets traveling fast. I push The 300s out of the 416 Remington @ around 2900 fps. And from the [email protected] 2700+ . The 350s I push at 2550 from both. And 2450 fps from the Taylor.
01 Mar 2017
@ 09:22 am (GMT)

Glen Urquhart

Re: Ideal lightweight gun for grizzly protection
These rifles can be made up with 18" barrels and will have slightly reduced velocities from what I've run . But still they knock bears down extremely well. I use crf actions. The Ruger M77 Mk ll is my favorite and what I currently have.
Bear problems seldom happen under ideal conditions. I've mostly used wide shallow V bead front express sights . And have since gone to 1-4 power scopes which I keep on 1 power . However , because of the low light situations and extremely limited visibility. I have gone to illuminated reticle.
Because I don't have a gun bearer. And the areas I deer hunted had Lots of bears. I use my 416s and 458s to deer hunt. I got so I could shoot them quite well and rapidly. I wish I could shoot handguns as well.

Anyway, that is my experience. The last bear I killed , about 8 1/2' square was at a measured 47 ' away. Also a good dog is almost as important as a firearm.


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