Quote Of The Day

Last word on the .444 Marlin comes from Reader Mike S:

“I shot a TC Contender w/14-in. bbl. chambered in 444 Marlin.  Once.
I couldn’t feel my right hand for 5 minutes.  Then wished I couldn’t.
“Muzzle Flash” is such an inadequate phrase.”

The .444 is not a pistol cartridge, no matter what you might be told.

The Swede

Longtime Readers will all know of my fondness for the venerable 6.5x55mm Swede (SE), and I happened on an article which gives chapter and verse to this wonderful cartridge.

With all due respect to its larger 7mm / .30 siblings, I stand firm in my belief that the Swede is quite possibly the perfect medium-game cartridge, the excellence of the .308 Win, .30-06 Springfield and so on notwithstanding.  When you take all the factors of shooting into account:  bullet velocity, flatness of trajectory, penetration, and most especially recoil, the sum of the Swede’s parts of this equation are probably higher than the bigger cartridges.  Here’s a pic I’ve posted before, comparing the Swede to its contemporaries:

Here it us with some other “quarter-inchers”:

And finally, vs. the .308 Win (my “1.a” choice for a do-it-all cartridge):

I will say unreservedly that if I were limited to only one cartridge for “ordinary” (i.e. excluding African large game) hunting whether human or animal, the Swede would get my vote ahead of every other cartridge I’ve ever fired.

The only caveat I have is that the Swede doesn’t seem to do as well in shorter-barreled rifles.  I think that in standard loadings — and certainly with the Hirtenberg mil-surp stuff — the bullet needs a longer barrel to get that bullet spinning towards its performance apex.  And the ultimate expression of that is in the wonderful Mauser Mod 96 with its 29″ barrel, as never used (in combat) by the Swedish Army:

In my earlier post on Great War Rifles, I said:

But of all the rifles issued to soldiers of that era, the one I’d have chosen to go to war with would have been the Swedish Model 1896 Mauser.  It has moderate recoil, yet the bullet travels flat and hits hard.  The rifle is also fantastically accurate: consistently-placed head shots at 400 meters and torso shots at 600 meters are quite possible even for an average shot like myself.

I haven’t changed my mind since.

That said, I have old eyes and the iron sights would be problematic — but mounting a scope on the old M96 can be tricky, with that 90-degree-lift straight bolt.  So I’d have to take instead my current love, the CZ 550 with its 24″ barrel:

Compromises… we all have to make them.

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.

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.

Ummm No

It appears that there’s a new kid in town:

New Cartridge for 2021: 6.8 Western

Forgive me, but I thought that one of the teaching points we got from all the “short magnum” cartridges of a couple decades ago was that these squashed little cartridge cases can cause feeding problems?  Or have there been developments in feeding ramps which I missed and that take these problems away?

Regardless, I can confidently predict that this new thing is doomed to failure, because if serious shooters like me can’t get their hands on their favorite .260 Rem, 6.5x55mm, .270 Win or even 6.5mm Grendel and 7x57mm — actually, cartridges of any description — what makes the Brains Trust [sic]  at Winchester think that we’re going to run out and buy a new rifle for a new cartridge that has an uncertain heritage?

Pro tip for the ammo guys:  get more existing ammo types into the pipeline first — yeah, I’ve heard your excuses for the shortages, and I only half-buy them — before you start fucking around with exotic new ones.

And frankly, I fail to see how much better the 6.8 Western is going to be than any of the cartridges I listed above — and Chuck Hawks would probably agree with me.