Fuzzy Thinking

Oy, here we go again with an article written with no clear purpose in mind.  Entitled “8 Best Charge-Stopping Bear Cartridges “, it represents unclear thought and worse, unclear direction.  Really, it should be two articles:  best long gun cartridges and best handgun cartridges, but they’re lumped together, with hilarious results.  Here are his top 8:

  1. .45-70 Government
  2. .454 Casull
  3. .44 Remington Magnum
  4. .375 H&H Magnum
  5. .50 Alaskan
  6. 12-Gauge Slug
  7. .338 Winchester Magnum
  8. .357 S&W Magnum

Let me do the low-hanging fruit first:  as much as I love the thing, forget the .357 Mag as a bear-stopper.  Seriously.  Considering that the .454 Casull has been included, there’s no reason to ignore the .500 S&W or for that matter the .460 either.  And I may be out of touch — it’s been known to happen — but I’ve never heard of the .50 Alaskan.

I’ve never hunted bear, but having hunted in Africa I know a little about dangerous game.  Understand one thing:  there’s a difference between hunting dangerous game — where your shot hits a body which isn’t expecting it — and stopping dangerous game, where you have to stop something weighing at least half a ton running at you with a quart of adrenaline pumping through its veins and homicide in its heart.   If you want to stop that beast, there needs to be a “.4” in the cartridge nomenclature, and “.5” is better, but not many people can handle the recoil of the latter, me included.  Also, a quick follow-up shot is more difficult when your rifle barrel is pointing at 12 o’clock after the first one.  Don’t as me how I know this (hello, .505 Gibbs and .500 Nitro).  Bullet weight should be in the 400gr-500gr range.  Dave Petzal has the truth of it, here.)

Here are the cartridges I would consider as bear-stoppers, divided into rifle and handgun (and handgun only because you can’t always carry a rifle).  I’ve left off the Nitro Express and exotic cartridges from Dakota, STW and Lazzeroni simply because you’re less likely to find them at Bubba’s Bait ‘N Bullets out in Nowhere WY


  • .458 Win Mag
  • .460 Weatherby Mag
  • .416 Rem Mag
  • Honorable mentions for the .460 Dakota, .404 Jeffrey and .458 Lott, which are excellent, but not freely available.

And now the marginal stoppers:

  • .375 H&H Mag (see here, on a black bear)
  • .338 Win Mag (not many African PHs use this — “too much kick, too much noise, not enough stopping”, as one once said to me)
  • .45-70 Gov (Buffalo Bore loads only, none of that Cowboy Action stuff)
  • And an honorable mention for the 12ga slug, of suitable mass and velocity, at close ranges only.

Now for the handgun cartridges (the list is much shorter):

  • .500 S&W Mag
  • .454 Casull
  • .460 S&W Mag (XVR)
  • Honorable mention for the .480 Ruger.

…and the marginal choices:

  • .44 Rem Mag
  • .41 Rem Mag

Don’t even think about the Magnum Research BFR in .45-70 Govt, because shooting the heavy and fast Buffalo Bore loads will end in wrist reconstruction surgery.

Speaking of the XVR:

I would respectfully suggest that if you’re going to carry that beast around, you may as well carry a rifle.


  1. No Very pistol? No bazooka?

    More seriously, you mention the 12 gauge shotgun; how about the 10 gauge?

    1. Not that I’d recommend it, but a guy took out a charging sow grizzly with a .410 loaded with shot some years ago. It was a contact shot, he stuck out the shotgun, touched the bear’s nose and pulled the trigger. DRT.

      I’ve heard .357 is good enough for black bear, not that I’ve had experience.

  2. Got something against the .416 Rigby?

    And a Ruger .480? Seriously, the cartridge de jeur? Which magazine is it on the cover of?

    1. A guy let me shoot his at the range the other day, in a Redhawk. Not at all horrible, and there’s LOTS of ammo for it at the gun shops.

      1. Also, I like the Rigby, but you have a better chance of finding it in Africa than in the U.S.

  3. There’s a difference between stopping an attack in an instant with a single shot, and “stopping” an attack by dissuading the animal from continuing its aggressions.

    If the first is what you want, then Kim’s points are – erm – right on target. And I’d add that there’s no handgun in the world that I’d pick over a long gun (12ga slugs for me) for that sort of job.

    But, if you are concerned about not getting mauled/eaten by the wildlife, it turns out that handguns are just fine – at least for bears, anyway. See this report: https://www.ammoland.com/2020/03/update-handgun-or-pistol-against-bear-attack-93-cases-97-effective/#axzz6kCf47CWp

    Now, those results are anecdotal, and “no guarantee of future performance” (as the small print is wont to say), but for most cases (i.e., NOT for cape buffalo!), I don’t worry about the stopping power of my handgun. The real-world chances that I will be injured by an animal that I shoot with my handgun (almost regardless of caliber) are vanishingly small.

  4. > 12ga slug, of suitable mass and velocity, at close ranges only.

    I submit that for *stopping a bear attack* it’s going to be at close range.

    As for the .45-70, it’s my (potentially horribly wrong) understanding that the .45-70 in lever guns is what the guides in Alaska carry. They’re were the problems happen, and it may be that they carry what they can shoot well rather than the thing that does the best stopping.

  5. No gun will relieve the immediate “oh shit” generated by an agitated momma griz and a couple of cubs. It’s the fluidity and speed , not just the strength- they move so quick over rough ground. Better have the gun in hand. I carried a 12 gauge with Brenneke slugs- they are hard and won’t flatten out like the old Foster deer slugs.

  6. My step-sister runs a trap line in Alaska. Her primary defense against Alaskan Brown bears is her pack of sled dogs. Second is the 12ga (I’m assuming slugs) in the scabbard on her sled. Third is the 44 Magnum on her hip. She says she doesn’t worry too much about bears.

  7. I vote for 5.56mm. Fired from a MiniGun. Mounted in a helicopter. At a minimum altitude of 100 Ft.

    Back in the 90’s, based on advice from a friend of mine that had been stationed in Alaska and had worked with Eskimo Scouts, my in-laws got a Mossy 12Ga to carry in their RV as they drove the ALCAN Highway.

    Neither are gun persons. FIL could handle the 12Ga ok (I worked with him on the range). And (at that time, not sure what today’s .gov stupidity is) it was legal to carry it in the RV while traveling through Canada. (CDN Customs asked if they had a gun, what type, where it was, then waved them through).

    Not the optimal, but it fit the criteria and circumstances in that case.

  8. I would say nope to your pistol list. For me the .500 S&W Mag, .454 Casull, .460 S&W Mag, and the .480 Ruger are all one shot pistols. I can manage 6 shots with my 44 Mag if they are loaded to high end before I have to put it down. I have been loading my 44 Mag to the lower end for about a decade.

    I think a 30-06 would get the job done. The 12 gauge and .45-70 would also do it with the right ammo.

  9. Alaskan DNR agents use Brenneke slugs. I’ve fired 6 Brenneke Magnum Crush slugs in less than 1.6 seconds out of my FN SLP and I whimpered like a little girl for two days. I probably need reconstructive surgery. I definitely needed a competency hearing. Do not do this just because you can. Only do this if you have to.

    My brother and I went prospecting in the Yukon in the 1980’s and 90’s. Whoever stood griz watch carried a .416 Rigby or a .458 WinMag and a Ruger Blackhawk .480 Ruger in a chest holster. Never had to use it, but got a chance to shoot all three and they are serious snot knockers.

    I hunt wild boar twice a year in Georgia and Texas/New Mexico using a 450 Bushmaster. Biggest pig to date is a 466-lb sow and she went 18″ after being hit and that was likely impact reaction from the wound.

    I’m now investigating UK and NZ made air rifles in anticipation of The Purge of SBR (Scary Black Rifles).

  10. By God’s Grace I’ve lived in Alaska for the past 45 years (yes I’m bragging!) and I’ve seen just about every rIfle, pistol or shotgun carried “For Bears”. I myself carried a beautiful Mauser .458 for years, lost in a real boating accident-damn it! Now I carry a .45-70 lever as I can get a second shot off quicker. I hunt with the 45-70 so I have it when I’m in the woods . Short-ish range, but within my minute of eyesight. The .50 Alaskan was developed here in South Central. It’s a .348 Win blown out to 50 cal. I’d say that the 12 gauge is by far the most carried for protection. Funny thing, the Natives say that rifle calibers get bigger the closer you get to Anchorage.


  11. Assuming we are talking about griz here. Black bears are lot easier to deal with pistol cartridges. 357M or 10mm should be fine. Griz or polar bears are another thing altogether. 12G with slugs is my preference although for convenience I have a 44M. And there is a difference between Kodiaks and inland griz. Other things like 45/70 or 444Marlin should be fine too if you are into rifles.

  12. I never have had to stop a brown bear charge, thankfully. But when I’m at the cabin, I carry the 12 gauge. I took an old friend’s advice. The first shell is not a slug but shot. The purpose is to slow/blind/ and get the beast to rise. The slug is next to stop the bear. Our bears are huge. (But they are fun to watch from inside the cabin.)

  13. My brother-in-law did stop a charging black bear with .357 magnum. He and a buddy were hunting bear on Drummond Island, Michigan with muzzle-loaders. (If the DNR didn’t set the rules to disadvantage hunters, there’d be no bears left to hunt.) His buddy wounded a fairly large bear late in the afternoon, and they wound up tracking it by flashlight. Eventually they got close enough and the bear charged. All Ralph could see were eyes and teeth, so he put one shot between the eyes. (That’s a thin spot in the skull for most critters.) The bear dropped dead on the spot, no problem…

    But Ralph was not only a crack shot, he was a man with no nerves. For him, shooting a charging bear was no different than puncturing paper at the shooting range. For most people, accuracy suffers under stress. If you’re worried about bears, you need a weapon that will disable the bear even with poor shot placement.

    And there are bears in North America that are much larger than any black bear. If I needed to walk through a Kodiak’s territory, I think I’d want a 12 gauge pump shotgun loaded with magnum slugs. And I’d practice with it until I could obliterate the bulls eye at 25 feet with each shot.

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