Loaded for Bear

For those of us who live or travel in the countryside, the phrase “loaded for bear” is a good one to study and understand. The tactics and ammunition that can defend against a human antagonist are not the best choices for a large aggressive animal, and when you are in bear country, you need to load for bear. Or moose, or whatever else your part of the country offers for big bad beasts. I often

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hike to abandoned mines with a couple of my friends, and we occasionally see bears. Only once has a bear made any move toward us, and he gave up pretty quickly and ran off. Bears rarely attack, but it does happen and I am happy knowing I am prepared for that rare event. If a bear feels threatened, or is rabid, or has cubs to protect, it may very well come after you, and you stand no chance unless properly armed. They can run faster than you, they can climb more efficiently, they are excellent swimmers, and they are much bigger and stronger than you. And the wrong defensive round in your gun will give you false confidence, and may enrage the bear rather than dispatch it.

Calibre matters

On one mining trip, our party disturbed a moose. Avoidance being far better than conflict, we hid behind trees and held still while the moose crashed around randomly, grunting. You can circle a tree quickly, and a moose can’t, so this was a decent strategy, but the two of us who were armed had our guns out and ready just in case. It took several minutes for our visitor to move off: minutes that felt like an eternity given all the adrenaline surging through us. And when the crashing and grunting had died into the distance, I glanced over at my friend, saw what he had drawn, and said “A .32? Who carries a .32 into the woods?” Admittedly I only had a .45 ACP on me, not a heavy enough calibre to be truly loaded for bear, but…really? A .32? It was engraved and everything. Very stylish. He would have looked good while the moose stomped him.

Break out the Magnums

A rifle really would be more effective, but for those of us who carry handguns, there are some calibres that work well. Both the .357 magnum and the .44 magnum are big enough to do the required damage, and the 10mm option is a decent one as well. As far as ammunition goes, most people recommend using a hard-cast bullet.. A heat-treated flat-nosed hard-cast bullet? Even better. The hollow-points that make excellent defensive rounds against humans are a poor choice with thick-skinned animals – they are fairly likely to expand on the surface and lose their knockdown power. The flat ended bullet will fly true and not deflect as much when it hits the target, and will penetrate well. If your gun is finicky about shooting lead slugs, you can use a full metal jacketed bullet…but keep to the flat-nosed ones. You will need to carry a sizeable gun to use these cartridges, but concealment is far less of a concern when in the woods. Practice shooting those calibres if you don’t normally (they pack a punch).

The Best Gun for the Job

As much as I love my firearms, I must indulge in complete honesty right here and tell you that the best defense against a bear is probably a can of bear mace. That said, I still want my gun with me.

In Conclusion

Make sure that you are carrying the right tools for the most likely scenario. A .380 with hollow-points might help you out on the street…a .44 magnum or .357 magnum with hard-cast bullets is a better choice against big animals.