Bear Medicine

Thanks to Reader Evan M for sending this verified data about bears and handguns:

I engaged in a search for instances where pistols were used to defend against bears. I and my associates have found 37 instances that are fairly easily confirmed. The earliest happened in 1987, the latest mere months ago. The incidents are heavily weighted toward the present, as the ability to publish and search for these incidents has increased, along with increases in bear and human populations, and the carry of pistols.

The 37 cases include one that can fairly be described as a “failure”.

The pistol calibers, when known, range from 9 mm to .454 Casull. The most common are .44 magnums.

I’ve never been in bear country (I dunno if Wisconsin- and Michigan forests count), but if I were ever to visit Montana or Alaska, for example, there’s no way I’d get out of the car or house without one of these puppies :

For those unfamiliar, they’re the Ruger Redhawk (top) and S&W Mod 629, both in .44 Magnum… and inside a chest holster:

…AND my 1911 (loaded with 230gr FMJ boolets) in a waistband holster.

(Heh heh heh… a 1911 as a backup.)

Screw that bear spray bullshit.  If the Fishcops want me to use it, they can give me a can beforehand.


  1. Bears get all the publicity but wolves are an increasing problem. Thanks to government action and wolves own initiative, they are spreading. There are established packs in WA, OR, CA, WY, MT, NM, AZ, ID, MI, MN in addition to AK with sightings in NV, CO, and UT. The ones in the Northern parts of the West are descendants of the large Canadian wolves that were transplanted. I have talked to a number of people who have had incidents and I have had one myself. AFAIK the incidents have been in the nature of menacing rather than actual attacks. Watch your dogs, though. Mine survived only because of her extraordinary speed.

  2. About 1990 or so, we knocked a 160# black out of a tree.
    The deceased was used to verify the effect of our 1911 230gr:
    * slugs bounced off its skull
    * body-shots penetrated barely an inch into the outer fat after passing through the fur.
    Our conclusion:
    * a .45 pistol is good for making noise, but inadequate to deter a beast intent on supper.
    An aside:
    About a decade ago, a Douglas County, Oregon teenager was walking out to the family tractor after her pre-dawn breakfast.
    She was stalked by a cougar.
    The beast got about thirty yards from her.
    As we rehearsed, she drew her FN pistol from her shoulder rig, and hit the cat’s near leg and face with seventeen of twenty 5.7×28 slugs.
    As we rehearsed, she scanned for an accomplice while re-loading with her spare magazine.
    Within minutes, her father and their farm-hands were at the scene to render unneeded assistance.
    We operate a small organic teaching farm near the outskirts of Eugene, Oregon.
    Cougar and bear country, goofballs in warehouse-pallet hovels covered with blue plastic tarps.
    I carry an AR pistol in .300BO, loaded with a twenty rounder, two spare twenty rounders as counter-balance.
    Rarely more than a dozen paces away, I have an AR rifle with thirty rounders in the truck.
    Although my rig is a virgin, I am confident I will prevail during any encounter.
    Although I will be upright, I have less confidence in my success with TheCriminaJusticeSystem©.

    1. In California I believe cougars are referred to as mountain lions. Cougar is reserved exclusively for aging starlets attempting to regain their squandered youth with a much younger man.
      Mountain lion attacks have increased exponentially since 1995 when the heretofore reclusive mountain lion was placed (erroneously and unnecessarily, as it turns out) on some Leftist protected animal list and hunting of these beautiful bundles of fur, muscle, fang and claw was banned. This gave the animals a lot of unneeded encouragement, and children and pets have become the objects of these stealthy animals.

  3. Reading through the list it looks like the one failure was a failure to hit, not that the caliber failed.

    I have Buffalo Bore Hardcast 9mm for bear country. Not that I get out there all that much.

  4. If I ever go where Popes shit (completely nonvoluntary, I assure you) I will be carrying a G20 Clown Gun stuffed full of Buffalo Bore 10mm Hard Cast 220gr loads. Sixteen rounds at 703 ft/lbs each of Go-The-Fuck-Away.

    So plebeian.

    Same loadout I wear when working the South 40 of my Floriduhian property, which borders on a gator crammed canal.

    Gators can never be dead enough. Apologies to our Sheriff Ivey.

      1. It’s a shame they can’t both lose.

        Fortunately, pythons haven’t made their way up here – yet. We’ve got enough problems with the gators, timber rattlers, cottonmouths, coral snakes, meth-heads, Florida Man and New Yorkers.

    1. Our tree farm in north Florida is occasionally overrun with coyotes. While a well-placed 38 will take care of the problem, a 12 ga. means you do not need the backhoe to bury it.

      The only way to know a gator is dead is when he is in the pot or on the grill.

  5. After more than 20 years of hiking, hunting and fishing in SE Alaska and now 3 years in Rocky Mountain grizzly and cougar country – if I’m concerned about bears, it’s not a handgun I carry – it’s a .45-70. But the best thing is to be aware of your surroundings – Stay Alert, Stay Alive. I’m out in bear and cat country every day, all year round. In all those years – and with many a bear encounter, I’ve only had one close call, and my big Kuvasz handled that particular bear and sent it packing. That event was not predatory nor did it involve cubs – simply a bear feeding in the tall grass on a windy day that got surprised. A bear and a human that suddenly find themselves 10 feet apart creates a lot of surprise on both sides!

    One thing that was fairly consistent in stories about bear encounters that went sideways in SE Alaska (but didn’t end up with a dead human) was the oft repeated – “I was just walking/hiking etc and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground with a bear on me”. It’s one reason that I hike with the dogs – they usually alert me to other creatures (bear, cat, elk, wolf, moose, deer, etc) long before I can actually see them.

  6. When hiking in bear country, I carry the 12 gauge, with alternating buck shot and slugs.

    My old friend commented on .44 magnum, “If a bear charges you, fall on your back put the gun between your knees, and wait until the only thing you can see is bear, then pull the trigger as fast as you can.”

  7. My stepsister ran a trapline in Alaska and for her the .44 Mag WAS the backup weapon. First line of defense was the 12ga in a scabbard on her sled – and the dogs.

  8. The linked list left off a famous polar bear encounter.
    National Geographic published an article, not sure the date, about a couple of skiers on their way to the Pole.
    One noticed a polar bear stalking them some distance off.
    Then the bear decided it was more hungry and headed straight for them.
    The photographer was ecstatic that he would get pics of the bear close up while the other guy decided that he didn’t want to get eaten so he pulled out his .44 Mag revolver, took off his glove, and proceeded to stop the bear about 20 feet away.
    Takes some major cojones to calmly aim and shoot a bear that’s 10 times bigger than you and stop it with a couple of shots when it’s 40 below zero.

  9. I am particularly amused by the guy who used a .45, and then spurned all the bearspray and sublethal nonsense the fishcops gave him after the fact and went into town to buy a bigger gun instead.

  10. This tends to confirm my general impression that a .44 magnum revolver is a good thing to have in bear country if you can’t always have a rifle or shotgun handy. I’m a little surprised at how well the 9mm and .357s did, but I still don’t think I would make them my first choice for the purpose.

  11. I’m just a little upset that there’s no entry for the venerable .45 Long Colt.

    I’m no where near bear country. More than likely, the animals that’ll get me in trouble are rattlesnakes, water moccasins, alligators, coyotes, wild hogs, cougars, chupacagras, and milfs in yoga pants. For the last, I practice staring straight ahead with no sideways glances, lest the wife catch me looking and skin me alive.

    1. The .45 Colt, as commonly factory loaded for SAAs and other “cowboy” guns, is little more than a .45 ACP using a solid lead slug. Yes, it can kill a bear with proper shot placement. But given the choice for bear defense between a 1911 with hardball or a revolver with cowboy loads, I would take the 1911 every time. More ammo between reloads, faster reloads, and, faster and more controllable shot splits.
      The .45 Colt only comes into its own as a .44 Mag alternative once you start hand-loading it to .44 magnum velocities. And you do NOT want to stuff those into an old Colt. (Nor is it a good idea to feed these “Ruger only” loads to a S&W – the gun will PROBABLY survive, but it will accelerate wear and do Not Nice Things to your spiffy Model 25)
      I’ve done some backyard ballistics using the .45 Colt on old expired and surplused out Kevlar panels. A Ruger load .45 Colt with a 250g jacketed hollowpoint from a 2.5″ snubbie Super Redhawk will make a mess of a Kevlar panel and cause significant backface deformation. From a lever-action rifle, that same load will blow clean through one panel and lodge in the second (or third!) with authority. (A .454 Casull fired from that same snubbie will do Ruger loaded Colt rifle-level damage, but at significant cost of noise, blast, and recoil)
      In contrast, a .45 Colt “cowboy” load as is commonly available will simply smash flat on the first layer of Kevlar with zero penetration. A 9mm hollowpoint goes deeper.
      But all that assumes the shooter has access to a loading bench and appropriate components. If you are NOT a handloader, just stick with the .44. Factory loads for it tend to be underpowered a tad, but it is still head, shoulders, and beltline above the factory offerings of the venerable .45 Colt.

  12. Even here in the Suburbs of Boston there are now Bear sightings….. Fortunately still just smaller Black Bear as the only thing available for self defense is an SUV which would still result in a fine for taking a Bear out of season without a Tag at a minimum. They do a number on local bird feeders, Bee Hives and Dumpsters.

  13. Are there any opinions on whether the Ruger Red Hawk, or the Smith and Wesson Model 629 pictured is recommended over the other?

    1. Windy,
      There are adherents to both Ruger and Smith & Wesson. The Red hawk is stronger I think since many reloading manuals have a Red Hawk only section for 44mag. The 29 might be a bit lighter and have a better trigger but we breaking in I’m sure both firearms will have a good trigger. Both are available in various barrel lengths. I know the 29 is available in 3″ 4″ 6-1/2″ and 8″ or so.

      The Redhawk comes in Alaska editions that are typically shorter barreled 44mag or heavier cartridges. The revolvers with longer barrels generate more muzzle energy and velocity I believe but they can be more difficult to carry. Either the Smith & Wesson or the Ruger would serve you well. The debate is like Ford vs Chevy but in that debate the right answer is Toyota.

      I’m in southern New England and had a bear in my front yard in 2020. A mother and a cub came in the morning. They stayed near the end of the driveway. Papa bear came right into the yard to a bird feeder and was probably 20feet from me. He posed for pictures and then sauntered away. I brought down a shotgun and loaded it with slugs just in case but Papa bear wandered away.

  14. For years, hiking in the Arizona mountains, my pistol was a Desert Eagle in .44 mag.
    When Glock came out with their 10mm it was a godsend, cutting my pistol weight in half.

  15. It might be a rural myth, but there was a story, printed in the Fairbanks paper about 15-years ago, of a trapper checking his trapline somewhere along the Prudhoe Bay Hwy who heard what he thought was a horse running, turned toward the sound, and found himself in the “crosshairs” of a big brown charging straight at him. He pulled his 500 and took a firing stance but had to step away as the bear bore down on him, was brushed back and down by the bear as it carried past him. He put one round in its butt, and it dropped in its tracks.

  16. My brother in law Ralph could testify that just one .357 Magnum round can stop a 300 pound charging black bear in its tracks – if you have the rock-steady nerves and skill to put that round between the eyes of a charging bear at a range too close for a second shot.

    Ralph was different that way. If he’d been born a century earlier, I think he would have either been a famous lawman or outlaw, but he was limited to punching holes in paper and the various animals you can legally hunt in Michigan.

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