Stopping Bears

Seems like I may have been a little too dismissive of smaller calibers when it comes to stopping bears.  Here’s one story:

The startled cubs bawled out for their mother, which came running around the corner. The woman fled into her house, but her dogs slipped out the open door. A fight ensued between the adult bear and the dogs, during which the woman attempted to scare the bear away. The woman’s husband arrived armed with a .22-caliber pistol and fired a single shot in the bear’s direction, Peralta said.
The bear ran off and collapsed about 40 yards away, dead from the gunshot wound, Peralta said. One of the cubs was found near the house and the other was found in a tree.

Frankly, this is what I call a “David & Goliath” story:  David may have killed Goliath with a single stone, but that ain’t the way to bet.  A more likely outcome is this one:

On 1 September, 1995, two male tourists were attacked by an adult male bear on a remote island in eastern Svalbard. The two tourists defended themselves with a .22 calibre pistol which proved ineffective. One man was killed, the other injured.

These, and a whole lot more actual reports of people stopping bears with handguns of all calibers can be found here.

Basically, all this stemmed from a letter from Loyal Reader Steve N, who asked the following:

I’ve never hunted anything more dangerous than ruffed grouse, but I love guns vs. bear talk.  I inherited a Marlin .444 when my dad passed away a few years back.  I shot it a bit and always thought it would be my go-to if any of these NH black bears up here needed tuning up.  Any love for the .444?

Frankly, I’ve never been a great fan of the .444 Marlin cartridge.  Compared to a .44 Rem Mag, you get a whole lot more performance (for a lot more money — .444 typically costs almost twice as much as .44 Mag — I don’t know what the current situation is, in these ammo-free times), but I’ve yet to shoot more than three rounds of .444 Marlin before my shoulder really started to hurt — I mean, worse than after firing three rounds of 7.62x54R with a Mosin M44 carbine.  That may be because of the rifle type, though:  WinMar lever guns don’t give a lot of recoil protection.

All that said, Steve, the .444 Marlin should work just fine against the smaller black bears — and as it’s an heirloom rifle, the cost of the ammo should not be an issue.  Carry it in good health.  (Just remember that the .444 is a stand-alone cartridge:  you can’t shoot a .44 Magnum in your rifle — even though they’re shooting the same bullet — as the .444’s case tapers from a wider base, compared to a .44 Mag’s straight case.)

And because this discussion is useless without a picture:

For everyone else’s benefit:  if I were starting from scratch with a lever rifle, so to speak, I’d prefer to carry a rifle chambered in .45-70 Govt around in a New England forest (or pretty much any forest, come to think of it) rather than a .444 lever gun.  But that’s just a preference on my part;  your opinion may vary, and that’s not a problem.


  1. Make mine a 12ga auto shooting sabots from a 10 round box magazine. Otherwise, I’ll be home in front of the fire sipping something tasty and I’ll watch the bears from the front window.

    1. My choice too though I carry a coach gun (not going to get more than two shots on a charging bear) and Brenecke slugs.

  2. I hunted with a guy in Upper Michigan who carried a .444 Marlin. He won it in a VFW lottery back when Reagan was president and described it as the best $5.00 gun he’d ever owned. One year he was set up about a quarter mile from me and I heard him fire. There was no mistaking the sound of that cannon. After some time (probably when his ears stopped ringing) George called me on the radio and asked if I’d help him with his deer. He’d taken a nice 6 point and it had gone down with one shot.

    Nothing to see here, right? Until George pointed back to the spot where he was sitting. Between George and the deer there was a tree that we later measured at about 2″ in diameter. His round had hit the tree dead on, blew the tree apart, and then hit the buck. I had to ask “Did you intend to do that?”. He admitted that he must have pulled the shot a couple of inches off to one side. We got a bow saw and cut the section out of the tree and George mounted the antlers and the tree trunk on the wall of his shop. Yoopers generally don’t have dens – they do their drinking in the shop which always has a third hand refrigerator full of the cheapest beer they can find.

  3. Marlin 1895 Guide Gun for an all-weather handy rifle (18.5″bbl, 4+1) for dealing with bears.
    Had a client ask for one prior to a salmon fishing trip to AK.

  4. One wee point Kim: the bears in Svalbard are polar bears. Much larger and vastly more dangerous than a black bear. I was too late in signing up for a trip to see an eclipse in Svalbard some years ago but had I gone, I’d have taken training and a rifle – not a pistol – in a serious calibre, not .22.

    1. I know, but there are other instances of bears being killed with a .22 — large bears, that is.

      1. Actually, powerful guns for extreme conditions might be a good subject for further thoughts from you.

  5. Read this and be amazed — how about a slim, modest Grandmother killing a record grizzly with a .22?
    Just read the article:
    The rifle looks like an old, abused toy and Grandma Bella looks as if she couldn’t say boo to a goose. The reality was quite different. What a heroic woman!

  6. I have no experience with bears. I do have some years experience with 45-70’s–bought my first one in 1973. At one point I was playing around with paper patched lead bullets. One experiment was with some .454 diameter 255 gr Kieth style 45 Colt bullets that I had cast. They shot very well indeed. IIRC, I was running them at about 1400 fps out of my Marlin 1895. Sorta turned a 45-70 into a poor man’s 444.

  7. Had the good fortune to run into a Winchester 1886 (made in 1890) in 45-70. No doubt a great bear gun. Well maybe… It is very heavy, would not want to lug very far. Them old folks had to be strong. A great shooter though.

  8. I remember reading a book in the 1950’s that was about hunting in Africa and the writer told about a lion being dropped by a .22 shot that was coming into the tent and then the author went on to say that the shoot was a lucky aberration and would probably never happen again. There are always lucky thing that happen in combat, plane crashes and life but the fact that a .22 ever killed more that a Jack Rabbit is a fucking lucky shot.

    1. I’d also read that a hunter (not a PH, if I remember correctly) killed an elephant in Africa with a single shot from a .22, although what a hunter in Africa was doing with a .22 I don’t recall.
      But yes, these were all lucky shots, and not the way to bet.

  9. Yeah, it’s possible to kill a bear with a .22. I’ve even heard about a guy who killed a grizzly with his bare hands. That’s not the way to bet, though. I’m with those who favor 12 ga slugs, though I hope to never encounter a bear in a shooting situation.

  10. I’ve had a handful of encounters with black bears. Fortunately all I’ve ever seen of them is their rumps running the other way. Cougars on the other hand, I’ve had to shoot in my back yard.

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